SLINGERLANDS — Restoration works for the Slingerland Family Burial Vault began in late May and will continue through this July, according to Bethlehem Town Historian Susan Leath.
The project was supposed to start this past spring but it was temporarily held off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Built in 1851, the burial vault, located on 1566 New Scotland Road, is the final resting place for several significant Slingerland family members, including Leah Britt Slingerland (1776 – 1863), William H. Slingerland (1830 – 1910) and John I. Slingerland (1804 – 1861). The vault has since suffered from decades-long deterioration like insufficient maintenance and vandalism.
Restoration works finally commenced on May 19 when local gravestone conservator Chris White volunteered to clean the monument that sits on a hill on top of the burial vault. The cleaning solution White used will cause the monument to continue whitening in the next few weeks.
Since May 27, Ganem Contracting Corporation, a Capital District contractor that restores historic buildings and masonry, began construction at the site. At a cost of $58,000, it is repairing the burial vault’s entrance facade and its two wing walls as well as replacing its stonework, according to Frank Slingerland, a living indirect descendant of the historic Slingerland family.
Frank is in the ninth or 10th generation of the Slingerland bloodline and is a member of the Friends of the Slingerland Family Burial Vault, a community group dedicated to restoring the burial vault and raising awareness of the historic Slingerland family.
Leath said, “We’ve had an archaeologist come in and clean up the inside of the vault because it’s been vandalized and abused for many years and we wanted to be careful in cleaning it out. Also, the sarcophagi inside were broken and we had it cleaned out and repaired. We also had a structural engineer assess the vault and its top.”
Leath added that the $58,000 facade and wing walls’ restoration are just a part of the overall project to improve the whole site which would cost $105,779. Upcoming works include replacing the burial vault’s current rotten door, landscaping the surrounding area, fencing and setting up an informational kiosk about the vault and the historic Slingerland family.
Since spring 2018, the Friends of the Slingerland Family Burial Vault began fundraising to help pay for the project. As of Wednesday, June 3, Frank said $53,000 has been raised so far and the project’s fundraising remains ongoing.
Leath said donations have mainly come from Slingerland family descendants, historic public walking tours of the vault and surrounding area, local residents and historic preservation advocates, including a $2,525 grant from the Albany County Legislature.
“It’s awkward because given how difficult things are now because of COVID-19 but this is still an important project,” Leath said, encouraging the public to donate if they can.
Frank agreed, “It’s about preserving history and the members of the Slingerland family buried here had a huge impact on Bethlehem and the greater area. Preserving history leads to the education of future generations.”
Leath also noted that since the pandemic began, people have used walking trails and the nearby Albany County Rail Trail more, so the burial vault could benefit from that and be a so-called pit stop for walkers to appreciate and learn the town’s history.
To donate, visit www.slingerlandvault.org/donate. For more information about the project and its progress, visit www.slingerlandvault.org/progress or contact the Friends of the Slingerlands Family Burial Vault at [email protected]
Photos by Diego Cagara / Spotlight News