Restored vault gives ‘hope of something new to come’

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Family matriarch and patriarch Leah and John Slingerland are entombed in the vault as are two of their sons.

BETHLEHEM — The Slingerland Family Burial Vault, which had fallen into ruin, was resurrected by a cadre of community caregivers.

They gathered together on Wednesday, Sept. 8, to rededicate the vault that holds the remains of the founders of the Slingerlands hamlet.

Each of the people at the rededication ceremony had a singular reason for being there.

For Sue Virgilio, a direct descendant of people entombed in the vault, it was part of her family pride.

Her journey started when her mother gave her a Christmas present in 2016 of a DNA kit to trace her ancestry. It led to the vault. She contacted Bethlehem about the vault’s condition and became a member of the Friends group that worked with the town to restore it.




Virgilio expressed her gratitude and said, “I was very thrilled to see how many community members had interest in this project who were not related.”

The vault was first dedicated in 1852 when John A. Slingerland was entombed there. The town took ownership of the property after William Slingerland died.

Family matriarch and patriarch Leah and John Slingerland are entombed in the vault as are two of their sons: a United States congressman at the time of Abraham Lincoln and an engineer with prominent projects in the New York State Capitol building. Their wives, children, and grandchildren are there as well. One son was a veteran of the Civil War. 

For Susan Leath, the town’s historian and leader of the Friends group, the vault is important because of the history it embodies.

“Everything you see around you except the vault would not have been here,” she said of 1852, the year the Slingerland family voted to build the vault. The area became a bustling hamlet, a Victorian enclave for city dwellers to get into the country, and was developed further when the railroad came through.

“Unfortunately over time, the area became overgrown; it became neglected ….,” said Leath. “Vandalism and Mother Nature had their way and it led to this crumbling edifice.”

Now, she said, “It’s a place to enjoy and kind of invite some quiet contemplation of our history and those who have come before us and it’s also an educational resource.”



The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Now, says Bethlehm town historian Susan Leath of the restored Slingerland vault, “It’s a place to enjoy and kind of invite some quiet contemplation of our history and those who have come before us and it’s also an educational resource.”


Leath spoke of the fourth-graders from Slingerlands Elementary School who visited the vault where she taught them about Teunis Slingerland’s encounters with native people in the 1600s.

She also taught them that both John and Leah Slingerland’s fathers had served in the American Revolution on the patriots’ side while a Slingerland cousin remained loyal to King George.

Leath stressed the importance of local history’s connection to state and national history, as embodied in the vault.

For David VanLuven, Bethlehem’s supervisor, the reconstruction of the vault is a matter of civic pride, showing community members who worked together with town employees to bring the site back to its former glory.

The supervisor said he was “in awe of the hard work and the successful efforts.”

He also said, “Our real history lies in the people who lived here …. It’s arguable that the Slingerland family has left some of the most indelible marks on our community.”

For Albany County Legislator William Reinhardt, who happens to live in a Victorian house built by a Slingerland, the vault is part of an economic drive, bringing tourists to the rail trail that stretches from Voorheesville to Albany.

Reinhardt helped secure county funds for the vault restoration project. He praised the Hilton Barn in neighboring New Scotland as another site near the rail trail that illuminates history. “Piece by piece, these things are happening,” he said.

Reinhardt described himself as someone who was a history buff since he was a kid and then went on to get a liberal arts degree from Cornell where he kept studying history.

He stressed, though, that learning about history is an ongoing process, not limited to school.

“Even now, there is a national debate about what is our history,” said Reinhardt. “We need to understand our history … if we are to know who we are and where we’re going.”

Finally, for Chris Vande Bunte, pastor of Delmar Reformed Church, the vault and the remains of the people entombed there are part of his church’s history.

When his church began in the 1840s as an offshoot of the Unionville Reformed Church, Vande Bunt said, “From the beginning, the Slingerland family was a large part of the congregation, both in a figural and literal sense.”

He named many of the Slingerland family members who helped the church at its start and described the family as having “a long legacy of connection to the community.”

The pastor went on, “After such a monumental, pun may be intended, effort to fundraise and then repair this Slingerland family vault, we join all of you in giving thanks to the many who have made this day possible.”

Vande Bunt read Psalm 121 — “I lift up my eyes to the hills …. — describing it as “an ancient poem of faith, which speaks to the eternal presence surrounding and supporting us.”

Then he said a prayer.

“In a time like this of recognizing our mortality, we pray that you would help all of us to have the hope of something new to come,” the pastor prayed. “We join in thanksgiving for all of those who have offered time, expertise, and funding to make this day possible as we pray that those entombed here may continue to rest in peace for many years to come.”



The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.