Spring has finally sprung here at the Center, but if it was based off the weather of the past month most people would probably call me a liar. But all the correct signs are there, the ducks have returned to the cricks, the deer have emerged from the woods, and the tom turkeys are spreading their tail feathers and putting on their mating display for the females. Yet the month of April has been a miserable one with a constant barrage of overcast and cloudy skies, various amounts of rain, and wind, wind, wind.
The wind has particularly been bad this past week, though damage around the neighborhood looks to be minimum. But there is one area of the Center that has suffered from these winds and that is the Massena Center Cemetery. I cannot say how long its been like that but as I’m one to pick up on slight changes assume this happened over the past week. The cemetery is considered the oldest in the town and is home to many many names of founding families, especially those who settled in East Massena. It is also home to several large pines, the kind that drew people to the area in order to harvest them. One of them had snapped about 12 feet up its trunk and stage dived into the cemetery. I first noticed it on Friday as I drove back from the village.
Anyone who cares about anything knows that slight sinking feeling when you see something like this. As I passed the cemetery I slowed down to a near crawl as I crossed over Rickard’s Crick right before the center to see what if anything I could see. My hope was that the tree had fallen backwards towards the crick and avoided everything. My eyes confirmed my fears and told me that Lady Luck was not on our side this time. So I picked up speed again and made a U turn at the crossroad at the other end of the hamlet, came back through and entered the graveyard gates.
While my family has lived in Massena Center since the 1840s, combined with the fact that I’m a hobbyist historian who concentrates specifically on East Massena, I have actually never spent too much time inside the cemetery. This is because it was primarily a burial ground for Methodist folks, and my family tended to be Catholic so when I do visit the family, its across town in Calvary Cemetery.
I began to make my way across the cemetery and quickly took notice to the uneven grounds. The place is pretty flat but you can see in the old section how the grounds have settled from the decay of the old wooden caskets. I know I made one step and when I looked it was square on someone’s plot. I apologized and moved on. The further back and closer you get to Rickard’s Crick the older the cemetery becomes. Sadly the tree fell down in a pretty old section. On the plus side its old branches are holding it up and above multiple stones, but on the other hand it had also damaged several, including one particular monument to a family plot.
The Payne Family, in particular the site of Joshua Payne and his family. The monument at the center of the family plot had been slapped off its base by the falling pine tree. Thankfully the stone itself survived and was more disassembled than damaged. Pressed for time so I did not explore too much and just snapped some pictures. There are plenty of other stones in the area and under the tree but its hard to tell what wasn’t damage and what was in this section of the cemetery without exploring deeper. Stones in this section has tilted, some are twisted from age and others from the 1944 earthquake. Its hard to tell where everything stood before the tree decided to stage dive into the stones.
With little more than I could do beyond stare, I took several pictures and slowly wandered out of the cemetery, taking in some of the graves such as the Burpees and Robinsons. It was time to do a little research and see who this Joshua Payne was. The surname was something I was familiar with, it appears on various maps over the years. But what made me curious was the fact that the monument appears to be a more modern piece rather than the late 1800s stones that surrounded it and the entire cemetery section. If it was from the 1800s then it would had been quite expensive, but I felt it may have been a descendent honoring their past family members.
The next morning was dedicated to research. Thankfully there is an old historical article that was published several times in the past century that talks about the family, giving at least a few details. I had searched the historical newspaper archives for particular articles on family members but brought up very little. To recap the article dubbed “Along the County Lane”.
Barnabas Payne was one of the first settlers in the Massena area in the late 1790s alongside other families such as the Robinsons and Barnharts. He settled on the southern banks of the Grasse River just upstream from its mouth with the St. Lawrence and built a homestead. No one is exactly sure when he arrived but it is assumed he came here with his wife and at least two of his six children. His 4th child Joshua is known to have been born in Massena and possibly one of the first official citizens born in the Town, as he was birthed on June 19th 1802 and the Town of Massena (and County of St. Lawrence) was incorporated into New York State on March 3rd 1802.
The only historical note on Barnabas was that in 1816 he was the trustee of the District 3 Schoolhouse, which some believe he had also built as it was located between his farm and his neighbor to the east. It is noted that he paid a school teacher $20 for their services and that the school taught 17 children that year. Barnabas would pass away in 1820.
After his passing it appears that the family homestead was divided between two brothers, Joshua and Barnabas Junior (Barney) as future maps show the two brothers living side by side. It is noted in the paper that Joshua served as the Commissioner of Highways for the Town of Massena in 1836 and again in 1842. It is also noted in the papers that Josh along with his brother Barney were the first two trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the Hamlet of Racket River along with a third member, Addison Smith.
Joshua had two wives and two children. His first wife Nancy bore him two children, a son named Levi and a daughter named Alvira. Nancy passed in the 1840s and it is assumed he re-married to Eliza for the remainder of his life. Joshua passed away in 1888 and his second wife 15 years later. It appears that he lived on the family farm for most of his life, and only in his twilight years did he retreat to a modest house on Main Street inside the village. The original family farm owned by Joshua was eventually sold to the Haverstock family, while his brother’s portion would pass down to his own son, C.C. Payne. Over the course of his life he would also own land on the northern side of the Grasse River which eventually became the home to his son Levi.
Eventually all of the farms faded away from the family. Levi’s farm below Massena Center passed down to his wife upon his death, and was sold. The lands of the original Payne Farm were incorporated into the Haverstock Farm. It is unknown how long the farm house stood, but this area of town was razed and abandoned around the era of the Seaway as what was not purchased by the Haverstock Family was eventually purchased by the Reynolds Metals Corporation for its aluminum smelter.
So what happens now?
Honestly at the time of writing this article I am unsure. The tree will definitely be removed but it is very unknown of the monument will be addressed. Like many other things in the cemetery, probably not. But I am unsure of who is even in charge of the place. Once upon a few decades ago it was under the stewardship of the Rickard Family, but I believe the county has long since taken control of its maintenance and probably burials. The sign at the entrance declares John Alden and Martha Palmer to be the President and Secretary so at least some of its control is local. But I figure with this article, I will find out soon enough.