One of the most pleasing parts of being the Sussex County Historian is to be involved in awarding historical markers to significant areas of our collective heritage. This year of 2022 we had awarded Branchville for the cemetery that is in the middle of the town.
Branchville is one of the cute small towns that one could say, in a good way, that time has passed it by. What I mean is that if you wanted to see what a town in our rural Sussex County looked like a hundred years ago Branchville would fit the bill. It has hardly changed, both in buildings and friendly people. You may ride from the east from Newton and Lafayette on Route 206 through the green fields along the headwaters of the placid Paulinskill River, and then ease onto a road that takes you to the town that is nestled securely within several rolling hills. And along the way, in this most wondrous time of Autumn, you can see some of the best color for the leaf season that this author has ever seen (and I just got back from a Trans Canadian Railroad adventure, and our county’s leaves match the best along my continental excursion). If you go soon you can see the exquisite display of Pumpkin People that Branchville puts on for Halloween.
I am pleased to introduce the productive and talented president of the Branchville Historical Society, Ms. Debbie Anderson to speak about the cemetery’s importance to the town over the years. Here’s Debbie:=
The Branchville Borough Historical Society is proud to announce that The Branchville Cemetery will be the site of a new Sussex County Historic Marker. New Jersey passed a law allowing the formation of rural cemeteries in 1851. In January 1868, a meeting of Branchville leaders took place in the basement of the Presbyterian church and The Branchville Cemetery Association was incorporated. On Oct. 12, 1868, Nathaniel and Harriet Shepard Roe sold about 14 acres of their farm property near the “Calamus Rocks” to The Branchville Cemetery Association. A NJ Herald article from 1869 stated, “A meeting is called on the ground next Saturday, March 20, at 2 p.m. for the purpose of selling lots to all who wish them.” A second tract of 4.7 acres, referred to as “THE NEW SECTION”, was deeded on July 30, 1927, from the Weidenmuller families to the association.
There are a few sections of note in this burial ground. The Veterans Circle section was set aside in 1886, deeded to Captain Walker Post, GAR, “for the burial of all honorably discharged soldiers. No honorable discharged soldier shall dread a pauper’s grave.” More than 400 veterans have been buried or relocated to this very special area of the cemetery. Another interesting area is Paupers Hill or the Alms House Section for those who had no money for a plot or a stone. Names of the buried are largely unknown as they were placed under 6” square numbered markers. Some actual headstones are located here, four of which face away from the rest of the cemetery, presumably because they were for people of color.
A walk through the property today reveals some amazing artwork of the monuments along with the history of Branchville. The cemetery serves as the final resting place for more than 3500 people, some of whom “moved in” from a previous plot where they had been buried before the cemetery existed. The residents of this beautifully planned and maintained space range from the most notable citizens of the area to the unknown and unmarked graves of those who lived in and contributed to our community. It must be noted that it takes the Trustees and many other volunteers to continue to keep this amazing association and magnificent cemetery going strong!
Take a ride to Branchville and see some of the best of our county.