This, the first meeting of this ad-hoc committee, was held in the Town Supervisor's office at the Thompson Town Hall, 4052 Route 42, Monticello, New York, on Thursday, June 13, 1996 at 12:30 P.M., with the following named persons in attendance:
Hon. Anthony Cellini, Supervisor, Town of Thompson; Mrs. Marjorie Smith of Rock Hill, Town Historian; Mr. William Smith of Rock Hill, former County Historian; Mr. Jens Meyer of Bethel, District Deputy Grand Master, Sullivan Masonic District and member of Monticello Lodge #532 of Free & Accepted Masons; Hon. Burton Ledina of Monticello, Sullivan County Court Judge and past DDGM, member of Fallsburg Lodge #1122; Mr. Samuel "Moishe" Kleinberger of Liberty, present Worshipful Master of Monticello Lodge; and Mr. Thomas Rue of Monticello, Secretary of Monticello Lodge and chairman of its Lodge History Committee, who took Minutes. Masonic History Committee members who were unable to attend today's meeting were Mr. David Silverman of Bethel, a former DDGM; and Mr. Arnold L. Levy of Monticello, a Trustee of Monticello Lodge and chairman of the Monticello Masonic Lodge Brotherhood Fund.
After introductions by Supervisor Cellini, Mr. Rue explained that the meeting had been called to discuss what could be done about the poor condition of the marble obelisk grave-stones of John P. Jones and his immediate family, situated in an "abandoned" cemetery known as the old Presbyterian graveyard, located on St. John Street, Monticello, New York. An instant photo of the stones was circulated, as the life accomplishments of Mr. Jones were discussed.
In addition to being credited as the founder of Monticello, John P. Jones served as the first Worshipful Master of the first Masonic Lodge in Sullivan County, Sullivan Lodge No. 272; was the first Supervisor of the Town of Thompson, from 1809 to 1811; was a member of the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors; superintended the construction of the original Court House; served as a New York State Senator from 1835 to 1838; as postmaster in Monticello for 38 years; as County Clerk; and was otherwise instrumental in pioneering the local community and Freemasonry in the Sullivan Masonic District. Much of what is known of Mr. Jones' life is documented in Quinlan's History of Sullivan County. Mr. Rue said he had recently been in touch with the office of Senator Charles D. Cook (R-40) of Delhi. The Senator is interested in sponsoring a Senate resolution regarding the project. See attached letter of June 14, 1996 confirming and providing additional details on Senator Jones' activities in the Senate.
Mr. Rue reported that he recently accompanied some five volunteers from the Sullivan County Department of Community Services, who each spent over an hour raking and weeding the Jones cemetery plot as part of a "citizenship" group.
Supervisor Cellini stated that the Town Board has authorized up to 40 hours a week by Highway Department employees to tend abandoned cemeteries in the Town. In-kind assistance and labor are available to assist in repairing the damaged Jones stones, Mr. Cellini pledged. It was noted that the Presbyterian church has no fiscal responsibility or liability for the cemetery, though their members have done a significant amount of maintenance work in the cemetery over the years. Mr. Rue suggested that the Presbyterians be kept informed of any work done by the Masons in the cemetery, due to their historic interest and activities.
Mrs. Smith summarized the Matter of the application of Edwin Olmstead for a Judgment under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules mandating proper care of the Hoyt Cemetery in Bridgeville, New York, of July 1994. She promised to provide a copy of the resulting Order issued in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Hon. Robert C. Williams presiding (see copy attached).
Mr. Cellini said funds might be available from the State of New York for historic preservation work. He passed out photocopies of an item entitled "Grants Action News" issued by NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, dated June 1996. Mr. Cellini mentioned that he was aware that Mr. Rue had experience writing grant applications, suggesting that perhaps public funds might be solicited for this purpose. A related idea discussed was that the Sullivan Masonic District and the Sullivan County Historical Society join forces for purposes of tax-deductible fund-raising. Mr. Smith said he would contact Mr. Jim Slater of SCHS to ascertain the level of interest there in the proposed project.
Joint Committee proposed
Judge Ledina recommended that all five lodges in the District join to build a dedicated fund for the refurbishment of the resting place of the founder of Monticello. In furthering the activities of the committee, school involvement may be solicited, as well as participation by the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution, and other interested societies and organizations. If successful, the current project could be used as a prototype by the Grand Lodge of New York in other areas. Judge Ledina recommended the committee assemble a Project Manual documenting the course of its activities.
Supervisor Cellini noted successes the Town has already had in cleaning up the Thompsonville cemetery as a cooperative effort between Town and private entities. Mr. Smith agreed, noting the increase in tourism which results from genealogists and others coming to pay their respects at local historic graves. A question was asked, but not answered, whether Judge Thompson, for whom the Town of Thompson is named, may have been a member of the Masonic fraternity.
Mr. Meyer agreed with the concept of involving the entire Sullivan District in the proposed Monticello cemetery project.
Mr. Smith suggested inviting the participation of the Sullivan County Office of Veterans' Affairs. Mr. Cellini spoke well of that Department's work, but noted that their emphasis is exclusively on veterans, and the present project could become diverted. Mr. Rue suggested keeping the office, through its director, Mr. Al Etkin, aware of this project.
It was agreed by all present that a non-partisan Joint Committee of municipal and Masonic officials be appointed to oversee a professional study of the proposed cemetery rehabilitation project, to consist of the following:
Three Master Masons appointed by the Worshipful Master of the local Lodge; The local District Deputy Grand Master or his designee; Two appointees of the Town Supervisor, including himself if desired; If the cemetery is located within the confines of an incorporated Village, the Mayor of the said Village or his/her designee; Two appointed by a private, tax-exempt historical society. Once formed, the committee will appoint a Chairperson and determine its rules of operation. The Jones plot of the old Presbyterian cemetery in Monticello will be a pilot project for the Joint Committee. The committee may then move on to work on the rest of the cemetery, followed by other cemeteries in Sullivan County.
Steps to be completed in the near future include the following:
Mr. Smith will contact Mr. James Slater and advise Mr. Rue of his response on behalf of the Sullivan County Historical Society.
Mr. Rue will contact Mayor James Kenny of the Village of Monticello to ascertain his ability to participate on the Joint Committee himself (preferred, due the Mayor's membership in the Monticello Lodge, as well as his professional expertise and associations as a Funeral Director), or to appoint a designee.
In consultation with the Lodge History Committee represented today, Mr. Rue will organize a press conference to be held at the site of the Jones burial plot, for the purpose of drawing public attention to the condition of the founders' memorials, proposed repairs, and to recall the life and accomplishments of these local pioneers, as well as the beneficent influence of Freemasonry in building early Sullivan County.
Dated: June 30, 1996Respectfully submitted,
THOMAS RUE, Chairman of Lodge History Committee
Monticello Lodge #532, F&AM
Monticello, New York