SOUTH VALLEY — With a mission to restore the old St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, the St. Mary’s Cemetery Restoration Committee of Guernsey Hollow invites the public to its seventh annual St. Patrick’s Day Fundraiser, hosted at the Horseshoe Inn at 2 pm. Sunday, March 10.
The restoration committee continues to focus on restoring the cemetery to its rightful place in the South Valley community, located in the far southwest corner of Cattaraugus County.
Gary Olson, president of the cemetery association, said the original cemetery began as a family burial site for a family by the surname of Murphy.
Significant progress has been made at the old, nearly forgotten cemetery along Guernsey Hollow Road, known to locals as Guernsey Hollow Cemetery. Olson said his group refers to the cemetery as St. Mary’s Cemetery at Guernsey Hollow.
He said numerous projects are at various stages of completion. The volunteers have done some cleanup, including clearing the brush from the front of the cemetery and resetting stones, as well as maintaining the lawn. Over 100 tons of overburden have been trucked in for the front yard.
Restoration and plans for the re-installation of the cemetery fence are ongoing, security options for the cemetery are being examined and evaluated and burial records are being sought. The committee welcomes new information from anyone that can help identify records of individuals who are buried at the cemetery.
The March 10 event includes live Irish Music, corned beef and cabbage dinners, 50/50 drawings, a Chinese auction and a raffle for a Henry .30-30 rifle with octagon barrel and brass receiver.
The raffle winner does not have to be present to win. Tickets are available at Have It Now Inc. in Jamestown, Ashville General Store, the VFW in Randolph and the Ancient Order of Hibernians of Olean.
“If the winner prefers cash, we will give them 75-percent of what we paid for the rifle,” Olson said. “This particular rifle is a sought after item by lots of people who revere the Henry name.”
Olson said if the winner chooses to take the rifle and they pass the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) test, they’ll qualify for a 50-percent off laser engraving of the brass receiver at Have It Now.
Through the efforts of Gene and Loretta Smith of Kiantone, the genealogical research part of the project is proceeding. Olson said when the church closed, the records went to the St. Patrick Catholic Church in Randolph, and they were fortunate to get access to them several years ago.
He said the Smiths have been working diligently to create a map of families and people who are connected to the cemetery and may be buried there. They are seeking burial records and any information that will shed new light of what went on in South Valley.
“The people worked in the lumber industry and were primarily shingle makers,” he said. “After gathering up all the things they needed for the winter, they would hibernate and make shingles. They often got a penny apiece for them in the spring. All that remains of the settlement are a few foundations, crepe myrtle and apple trees.”
Olson said when they first began researching the St. Mary’s Catholic Church the Diocese of Buffalo couldn’t find any records of a church being located on Guernsey Hollow Road. It turned out that the road was once called Brennan Run where the diocese said they had a church.
“St. Mary’s Church served primarily Irish-Catholic immigrants in the community. Many were from the Irish diaspora of the Potato Famine and were escaping to the New World to try to build a better life for their families and themselves,” he said. “The church was served by the friars from St. Bonaventure and Father Coyle at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, in Jamestown.”
According to Olson, one of the restoration committee members had a copy of the church deed turned over to the Catholic Church for them to help with the cemetery. He said the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo Division of Cemeteries has taken responsibility and they are helping.
Olson said the restoration committee had a big find a few years ago when a member discovered the brass bell from St. Mary’s for sale on Craigslist. He said the seller, who was from Canada, had family connections to South Valley and to the church. The committee was able to purchase the bell and install it at the cemetery.
Although Olson himself has no ancestors buried at St. Mary’s, he’s deeply committed to the hallowed ground. He said he discovered the old burial grounds while out for a drive with his wife and mother-in-law one Sunday afternoon. As they approached the Onoville area, his mother-in-law said there was an old cemetery nearby.
“Just as we were driving by, I happened to look to the left and there was a path through a bunch of brush where I got a glimpse of a headstone. When I walked up there, I saw it was the cemetery,” he said. “It had been heavily vandalized with gravestones knocked over, campsites, fires, ouija boards, condoms, beer cans — it was awful. … I got back in the car and said, ‘Somebody has to do something.’”
Olson took action and got in touch with Ray Sugg who, at the time, was Highway Superintendent for the Town of South Valley, and his wife, Jaymie Ferrara, who owns the Horseshoe Inn.
He said they formed a group that started meeting at the Horseshoe and talking about what they could do. He credits the late Gene Shields from Randolph for trying to make things happen, too.
“I went around the county and did some presentations and got members that way, so we’ve continued along our path trying to make a difference,” he said. “It’s been going on for about 10 years.”
The Horseshoe Inn is located at 1105 W. Perimeter Road, in Onoville. To find out more about the St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery Restoration Committee, visit their Facebook page or contact Olson at 763-6105.
(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at email@example.com)