SYNOPSIS: We all know why cemeteries exist, and we try to forestall our permanent residence in them as long as we can. But if you’re a temporary visitor, they can have a unique peace to them, and they offer a way to be outdoors, explore local history, and gain some perspective about what is, and is not, important in our own lives. Union Valley Cemetery and Chapel provides such an experience.
APPROXIMATE TIME: 30 minutes.
DIRECTIONS: Union Valley Cemetery and Chapel is a little less than a mile north of the Westchester border. To get there from the intersection of Stoneleigh Avenue and Drewville Road in Carmel, head southwest on Drewville Road for about 1 mile. Make a left onto West Shore Drive and go 2.1 miles, then make a right onto Union Valley Road and go about .8 miles. The chapel and cemetery will be on the northwest corner of the intersection with Sandy Street. There is an area to park in front of the cemetery fence along Union Valley Road.
THE VISIT: The small white chapel sits a few steps above the road. The cemetery spreads out behind it, sloping uphill from the church. A small knoll marks the high point of the 4.5 acre property.
We walked up to the knoll, circled around it and then came down toward the back of the chapel. Close to the rear of the church, we came across a headstone for Charles Vores. His headstone reads that he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. I did some research, and an article from the July 12, 2000 Putnam County News & Recorder indicates that he was officially declared missing by the government on the first day of the three-day battle.
The names on many of the headstones are familiar for the area – Ganung, Sloat, and others. Over time, many of the older stones have weathered or broken, rendering them unreadable. The grounds themselves, however, are well taken care of.
HISTORY: In February of 1860, James Ganung’s home was host to the meeting that established the cemetery association. A month later, in March 1860, the property was acquired from Gilbert Wright (who was also at the initial meeting). The chapel was built and dedicated by the end of 1860, and was in use until 1923. The chapel was at one point a branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Lake Mahopac.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Today, the cemetery is still in use. The chapel seems to be in great shape, but is used only for occasional events (it is rentable for weddings and other events).
We discovered the cemetery and chapel in August 2010. As fate would have it, the site was about to celebrate its 150th anniversary, so we returned a few weeks later in September to attend the event. In fact, each year on the second Sunday of September, the cemetery association has an annual service at 3pm. It’s a great time to visit because the chapel is open, local memorabilia is on display, and many of the day’s hosts are in period-style clothing.
As of May 2010, there is no official website. If you want to take a peek inside on a day other than the second Sunday in September, the email address is UnionValleyCemetery@gmail.com, the phone number is 845/628-3867, or you can reach them the old-fashioned way at Union Valley Cemetery Association, 743 Union Valley Road, Mahopac, NY 10541. There is additional info at www.putnamgraveyards.com, including a plot map.