Police seize historic Veeder family gravestones after new homeowner removed them from cemetery

— Photo by Anita Martin
Peter Veeder, Guilderland’s first town clerk, was 34 years old when he died in 1810. He is buried at 6030 Nott Rd. in Guilderland, on the old family farm known as the Norman Vale estate. This photo is available on newyorkgravestones.org, as are photos of the other gravestones from 6030 Nott Rd. The gravestones were recently seized by police.

GUILDERLAND — The gravestones from a family cemetery of one of the town’s founding families are currently being held in a police impound lot, their future uncertain. They were seized on Oct. 12 after Guilderland Police received a tip from a neighbor saying that stones that had previously marked the graves of an old family cemetery at 6030 Nott Rd. were no longer at the cemetery but were elsewhere on the property.

Police got a search warrant to check both 6030 Nott Rd. and the home of the new owner, Douglas Bauer, who lives at 123 Chancellor Dr., to look for gravestones and other material such as caskets or human remains.

Bauer cooperated fully with police, said Curtis Cox, deputy chief of the Guilderland Police, and the gravestones were located at Bauer’s home. Bauer told The Enterprise that he had placed them in a back shed at his home.

Bauer said that he had removed the gravestones for safekeeping, that he has not broken any laws, that he believes it was “grossly inappropriate” for the police to take the gravestones, and that he wants them back.

Cox said that police found no evidence that any graves or human remains had been disturbed.

But in the course of the investigation, Cox said, investigators consulted with experts and learned that there is a procedure for removing gravestones and bringing them back, part of which involves mapping precisely where the stones were located, so that they can be put back in the right place.

“Our investigators determined that that was not happening, so there is a crime that’s been committed,” Cox said this week. “It’s now going to be the intent of everyone to restore the historical value and return the gravestones back to the burial plots.”

No charges have been filed against Bauer to date, but Cox could not say whether they might still be filed.

Asked what crime Bauer might be charged with, and whether it was the one listed on the search warrant — second-degree desecration of a cemetery — Cox said that that was something the investigators are working on, and he is not able to say.

Returning the gravestones to their proper places is likely to involve an archeological dig, by experts, who can determine where the graves are located, Cox said.

Bauer has told The Enterprise that his actions do not fit the definition of desecration of a cemetery because the graves were on his own property, and “I cannot steal from myself.”

Cox said, about that, “I think it doesn’t have to do with the property. I think it’s that the gravestones are the property of the deceased, and the family. The stones themselves belong on the graves themselves, and with the deceased and the family.”

The home is on the National Register of Historic Places. Bauer, the chief executive officer of the firm AllSquare Wealth Management, bought Norman Vale, also known as Nott House, last year in a foreclosure sale for $429,000, about half what the previous owners had paid for it in 2005, according to Albany County records.

Bauer received concept approval in June from the town’s planning board to subdivide the 8.8-acre Norman Vale property into four lots so that new houses can be built on three of the lots, with Nott House remaining on the fourth.

The grave markers had been lying on the ground, and he did not want them exposed to rain and the elements for another winter, Bauer said. Some of the gravestones are over 200 years old.

Also, Bauer said, he had found beer cans and litter on his property, and did not believe he could safeguard the stones properly, so he moved them to a shed at his home at nearby 123 Chancellor Dr. in Campus Club Estates, he told The Enterprise.

“I did not have security there, so I moved them to my property, and I put them under cover for safekeeping,” he said.

Bauer says he loves the property and the weight of its history.

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Among the Veeder family members buried in the private graveyard on the Norman Vale estate at 6030 Nott Rd. is Peter Veeder, first clerk of the town of Guilderland, whose role in the town’s founding is memorialized with a historical marker in front of the town hall.  

 

Buried there

The oldest known graves in the cemetery date from 1796 and are those of brother and sister Reynier Veeder and Margaret Veeder who died just two weeks apart.

According to the website newyorkgravestones.org, interred in the Veeder family cemetery are:

—Reynier Veeder, son of Volkert and Susanna Veeder, who died Oct. 1, 1796, aged 26 years, 5 months, and 17 days;

— Margaret Veeder, daughter of Volkert and Susanna Veeder, who died Sept. 13, 1796, aged 8 years, 4 months, and 9 days;

— Peter Veeder, who died July 28, 1810, aged 34 years, [illegible] months, and 16 days;

— Gertrude Veeder, daughter of Peter and Ellen Veeder, who died March 2, 1824, aged 15 years, [illegible] months, and 7 days;

— Volkert Veeder, son of Peter and Ellen Veeder, who died Sept. 25, 1815, aged 11 years, 9 months, and 29 days; and

— Infant daughter of Andrew and Ellen Wilkins, died June 29, 18—. The stone is broken off, and the remainder of the date is illegible.

Cox said that the police also seized a gravestone of Ellen Veeder, wife of Peter Veeder, who died in 1851. That marker was with the others Bauer had removed but it is not listed on newyorkgravestones.org.

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Sitting at a table in the center hall of the Norman Vale house he now owns, Douglas Bauer looks through paperwork related to the seizure by the Guilderland Police of gravestones he had removed from a historic cemetery on the property. 
 

Desecration?

The police executed search warrants, signed by Town Justice John Bailey, for both 6030 Nott Rd. and 123 Chancellor Dr., looking for evidence of “cemetery desecration,” including: grave markers, human remains, skeletal remains, clothing and artifacts from the 1700s and 1800s, caskets, enclosures and fence materials, and records or invoices for machinery used for excavation.

“Someone must have accused me of excavating graves,” Bauer said. He has not dug up any graves, he said. When he brought the tombstones off the hill, Bauer said, he wrapped them in a blanket and carried them down.

The gravestones were intact, Cox said, and were being stored, when police found them. The graves themselves appeared to be untouched.

The stones have been outside in the elements for 220 years and are still legible, said gravestone photographer Bill Donato, who visited the Veeder family farm graveyard in 2014 with another hobbyist, Anita Martin; Martin photographed the graves at the site.

Speaking of the home’s new owner, Donato said, “My notion is, he’s trying to disguise the cemetery there, so he can make the property worth more money.” Donato added of the tombstones, “Without them there, if someone wants to develop the property, they’re going to dig up the bodies, without any indication that they’re there.”

Donato said he and Martin had gone to the top of the hill and had found the graves. They had visited in the fall, and some of the leaf cover had blown off, exposing stones.

The leaf cover over the graves is protective, Donato said, helping keep the tombstones from deterioration, as is their location in a wooded area, which provides additional shelter.

The gravestones must have been made from a very high-quality stone, Donato said. He believes they were cut from a type of marble. The stones are not made of limestone or sandstone, “or they’d be gone,” he said.

If the town holds a hearing, he will be there, Donato said.

Bauer said he knows just where each gravestone was located and would be able to put them back, although he declined to elaborate on how he knew.

Bauer said he was “having a hard time thinking about putting them back on the ground,” lying down. “My plan is,” he said, “that I may put them back, but in a vertical way.”

At a Guilderland Planning Board meeting on June 27, Chairman Stephen Feeney asked Bauer’s engineer, Marc Jacobson of Insite Northeast, about whether there was a historic cemetery on the Knott Road property. Jacobson responded that there is said to be one. Feeney asked if there were any visible signs of a cemetery. Jacobson said no, there were not.

Bauer was present at the meeting, but did not say anything to the planning board about the gravestones.

Bauer told The Enterprise this week that he had already removed the stones at that time. No one, including his engineering firm, knew at the time of the June meeting that he had removed gravestones, Bauer said.

Why didn’t Bauer say anything?

“Everybody knows there’s a cemetery there,” Bauer said. “I was not public about my plans to restore the cemetery and allow access to the cemetery. I did not share that with anybody. I thought I was doing the right thing, and it wasn’t anyone’s business.”

Bauer said there was “no attempt to be illegal, illicit, immoral, or disrespectful.”

The previous owner, Dilip Das, said this week that he and his wife, Ana Das, had rarely visited the cemetery during the time they lived at Norman Vale, beginning in 2005; the home was foreclosed on in May 2017. Prior to that, Albany County records show, Robert and Joan Giombetti owned the Norman Vale estate, from 1977 to 2005; they could not be reached.  

“To my knowledge, nobody has done anything for the maintenance of that cemetery,” Bauer said this week. He wants the police to return the stones to him, and hopes to have a base built for each one, he said.

Building a base for each stone would make sense, said Donato, who added, “If he wants to totally restore the cemetery, that’s a fine thing.”

Concept approval for subdivision

In June, Bauer received concept approval from the planning board to subdivide the land into four lots, and to build a home on each of the three new lots. The historic house is on Lot 3, and would remain the only dwelling on that lot, according to the concept plans.

Bauer told The Enterprise that he does not plan to tear down the historic house, and that he will control any building plans for the entire property — perhaps by deed restrictions — so that any new houses to be built will be small and will not block the view of the historic home.

Bauer told the planning board in June that he plans to build his own home on Lot 4. This lot is large and sweeps around from the side yard to encompass all of the back. An existing garage in the side yard would be torn down, and a house built in about the same spot. The cemetery is also in Lot 4, at the top of a large hill.

All three new houses would be visible from the front porch of the existing 18th-Century Federal-style home.

Bauer told The Enterprise that he separated the cemetery and historic house into different lots because he wants to be able to control what happens to the cemetery.

That way, if he were ever to sell Nott House, he could be confident that the cemetery would continue to be well maintained, he said.

Bauer noted that the home is assessed at more than he paid. The county rolls say it has an assessed value of $540,000 and a full-market value of $693,710. Guilderland is currently undergoing town-wide property revaluation with the goal of having all properties assessed at full-market value.

That is much higher than other historic homes, he said. As examples, he mentioned two historic homes that are both owned by the town: the Mynderse-Frederick House at 451 Route 146 in Guilderland Center, which is assessed at $84,300 and has a full-market value of $108,216; and the Schoolcraft House at 2299 Western Ave., a partially restored Gothic Revival mansion with an assessed value of $129,300 and a full-market value of $165,982. Neither of those town-owned homes have updated modern kitchens.

The town’s assessor, Karen Van Wagenen, said that the two buildings Bauer referenced are both tax-exempt and said that the assessments of those two properties have not been been adjusted in “probably 15 or 20 years.” She said that, as part of the town-wide revaluation, “We’re updating all of the tax-exempt properties. It’s definitely not going to be that low.” She said the current assessments date back to revaluations done in either 1993 or 1997.

Those two properties are not good comparables for many reasons, Van Wagenen said, listing: Their assessments have not been adjusted; they’re not up for sale; they’re tax-exempt; and they have far less land than does the house at 6030 Nott Rd.

Bauer did an informal review and a grievance this spring, on both 6030 Nott Rd. and 123 Chancellor Dr., Van Wagenen said. He couldn’t take the case on 6030 Nott Rd. to small-claims court because he doesn’t live there, she said, noting that, through the grievance process, he got the assessment of his Nott Road property reduced by $73,600; it had been assessed at $614,000.

“A lot of unanswered questions”

Town Planner Kenneth Kovalchik said of the old private graveyards that dot the town and the village of Altamont, “You’re not supposed to be touching.”

In most old private cemeteries, nobody really knows how many bodies are interred there, he said. Sometimes, he said, the State Historic Preservation Office deals with situations where people believe that 10 or 15 bodies might be buried in an old graveyard, and the number turns out to be closer to 100.

Sometimes development proceeds around a graveyard, as with the roundabout in the Vista Technology Campus in Slingerlands that encircles a historic graveyard, or the small fenced-off graveyard at the front of the ViaPort Rotterdam mall. The cemetery in front of the mall in contains graves of the Vedder family, thought to be part of the same extended family as the Veeders of Guilderland.

What the State Historic Preservation Office may do, Kovalchik said, is draw a 50-foot or 100-foot buffer area around a graveyard and add a deed restriction saying that no vegetation can be planted, no sheds can be erected, and that the area must be avoided altogether.

“I can see SHPO doing something like that, a minimum,” Kovalchik said. Or, he continued, the State Historic Preservation Office can issue a “letter of no effect,” allowing the remains to be transported to a different site.

In that case, the protocol for moving remains involves getting the Albany County Department of Health and the coroner involved, Kovalchik said. “They have to remove those human remains according to State Historical Preservation Office protocol, and they are usually moved to public cemeteries,” he added.

“But who makes the determination that they can be removed? I don’t know,” Kovalchik said.

Kovalchik said he needs to talk to Bauer’s engineer, Jacobsen, to let him know that, if they are not already doing an archeological study, they will need to.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions right now,” Kovalchik said. “This is going to be more than just the planning board involved in this.”

The town code is mostly silent on family cemeteries.

Cemeteries are mentioned in a chapter on stormwater management, as an exemption from the requirements outlined in the chapter.

The code also says that new cemeteries in agricultural or rural-agricultural zones must be located a minimum of 100 feet from a residential lot line, and that crematories may only be located in cemeteries.

Old family gravestones are found on many properties throughout the town, planning board Chairman Feeney noted at his board’s June 27 meeting. In the case of development, avoidance is usually the approach taken, he said.

A home for two centuries

The first owner of the Norman Vale estate, which was built in the 1780s or 1790s, was John Tayler, who was, at different times, a senator, lieutenant governor, and eventually acting governor of New York State. According to the Conservation Advisory Committee’s report on its visit in July 2018 to the land, Tayler became acting governor in 1817 following the resignation of Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, when Tompkins left to become the sixth vice president of the United States, under James Monroe.

The property passed to the Veeder family, several generations of which are buried in the small graveyard at the top of the hill behind Nott House.

Guilderland Historical Society President Mary Ellen Johnson reports that the house has a Revolutionary War connection in Lieutenant-Colonel Volkert Veeder.

According to a 1940 booklet, “Pilgrimages to the graves of 126 Revolutionary Soldiers in the towns of Guilderland, New Scotland and Bethlehem - Albany County, NY” published by the Tawasentha chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Volkert Veeder was born in 1736 and died in 1807.

The narrative says: “He married Susan Mynderse, whose father was a state senator from 1777 to 1789. Volkert Veeder’s farm was a little southeast of Guilderland village along the Norman’s Kill, now known as the old Nott homestead. He was a justice of the peace in Guilderland in 1805. He was made captain in the 4th Regiment, Albany County Militia. On April 4, 1778, he was made a lieutenant-colonel of the 5th Regiment. His original burial place is believed to have been on his old farm.”

One of the Veeders buried at 6030 Nott Rd. is Peter Veeder, the first clerk of the town of Guilderland, whose name appears on a historical marker outside the town hall. He died in 1810.

According to Johnson, Veeder is listed in the 1886 Howell & Tenney History of Albany County as having been justice of the peace in 1803, election inspector for Senate and Assembly elections in 1803, and assessor in 1807 and 1808. His name no longer appears, she said, after 1808.

His gravestone in the private cemetery at 6030 Nott Rd. lists him as 34 years old at the time of his death in 1810.

Norman Vale was later owned for about a century by the Nott family, for whom the road is named, beginning with Eliphalet Nott, the fourth president of Union College, which was founded in 1795 as the first non-denominational institution of higher learning in the United States. Nott was president for 62 years, from 1804 to 1866, and was the longest-serving college or university president in the history of the United States,

Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have visited often, and a wing on the second floor was known as the Eleanor Roosevelt Wing,

Bauer bought the property in August 2017, after the bank foreclosed on the property in May 2017.

The previous owners, Dilip and Ana Das, bought the property for $800,000 in 2005 and set about restoring the home to its former grandeur.

Bauer bought it for $429,001, according to a deed dated Oct. 26, 2017.

He lists projects he says he has been doing around the house: cutting dead trees, building a back patio using Helderberg bluestone found on the property, working on the plumbing, and updating the electrical system.

He plans to open the house — and the cemetery — to the public in May 2019, he said.

“I can’t steal from myself”

The search warrant directed police to look for evidence of second-degree cemetery desecration under New York State Penal Law 145.22, a misdemeanor. Bauer pulled out a copy of the law, with many phrases underlined.

Cemetery desecration is defined as when “with intent to damage property of another person, and having no right to do so nor any reasonable ground to believe that he has such right, he damages any real or personal property maintained as a cemetery plot, grave, burial place or other place of interment of human remains; or with intent to steal personal property, he steals property … which is owned by the person or organization which maintains or owns such place …”

“I didn’t break any laws, I can’t steal from myself, and I’m responsible for the maintenance of that cemetery,” Bauer said. He added, “I’m so upset about losing my property. I can find no precedent for anything like this in Guilderland.”

Bauer said that “What happens is you get into who owns — normally the person who owns the property the cemetery is on.” He does not like to use the word “own,” he said, “because I believe, morally, that there’s a question of whether anyone can ‘own’ a cemetery.”

He questioned the appropriateness of the town’s sending five police officers over for five hours one day, “and the amount of research they’re doing.”

The gravestones are all monolith, the type that do not have a base, but “stick into the ground,” Bauer said.

While the gravestones were in his shed, there were times that he would go out and clean them with water and a toothbrush, he said.

He said that he has a meeting next week with Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor and Investigator Tom Funk. He plans to ask them for the gravestones back.

“The stones belong on this property,” he said, “in that cemetery.”

He added, “I think I’m best qualified to make that happen.”  ​

More Guilderland News

  • Since the plaza is owned by Jeff Thomas the addition would be an amendment to his existing special-use permit on Altamont Corners, not to the owner of Curry Patta, Nadia Raza.

  • In November 2019, Albany Country Club proposed changing the zoning of 549 acres from Rural Agricultural to Country Hamlet for a 290-unit development consisting of 100 single-family homes, 100 townhomes, and 90 multi-family units.

  • Speaking about the white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on a cuffed George Floyd until he was dead, Altamont Police Todd Pucci was unequivocal, “That officer should go to jail; what he did was murder.”

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.