Concordia Cemetery, Inc.

Concordia Cemetery

Concordia Cemetery

156 Years of Buffalo's History Needs Your Help

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          Concordia Cemetery, at the corner of Walden and Sycamore, is one of only a few cemeteries which still remain in the City itself.  Other historic cemeteries have sadly been lost to development.

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          Established in 1859 as a final resting place for German Protestant immigrants, Concordia is the eternal home of thousands of early residents.  Currently 20,000 people of all ethnicities and religions lie within our 15 acres.  These include 450 veterans, 132 of them from the Civil War alone.

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The Founding of Concordia

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          Germans began arriving in Buffalo by the 1820s.  Many Protestants came in search of religious freedom.  Others left Germany due to the famine of 1846-47 and the revolution of 1848.  Nearly 7,000 Germans lived here by 1850, slightly more of the population than were of Irish heritage.  By 1855, the City was half-German:  One of every 100 German immigrants in America lived on Buffalo's East Side.

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          From 1830 to 1860 the population grew tenfold; so that, by 1859, more burial space was needed.  Fortunately, in 1853 the City had annexed the Town of Black Rock, which had 8 times the City's area, including the land that Concordia would occupy.  Concordia was founded in July of 1859 by 3 German Protestant churches:  St. Peter's Evangelical (1835); St. Stephen's Evangelical (1853); and First Trinity Lutheran (1839).  "Concordia" means "harmony", a unity of these churches for their mutual benefit.

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          The churches' idea was to have three separate but adjacent graveyards, each laid out by its governing church, all overseen by one caretaker.  The property being much deeper than wide, these cemeteries were positioned one behind the other -- a singular arrangement!

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          The Civil War began two years after Concordia's founding.  In 1861, Michael Wiedrich, who'd immigrated from Alsace, organized Battery I, 1st Regiment New York Light Artillery, and was mustered in as Captain.  "Wiedrich's Battery" served with distinction in a number of Civil War battles, and it is memorialized with a monument at Gettysburg.  A number of Wiedrich's men rest at Concordia, including Sgt. Wilhelm Moeller, who lost an arm at Second Bull Run.

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The Blossoming of Concordia

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          Concordia thrived for many years, borne on a tide of immigrants.  The Germans of Concordia had arrived in Buffalo not as peasants but as skilled tradesmen, well-prepared for life in the commercial world.  As woodworkers, bootmakers, tinsmiths, clockmakers, carpenters, butchers, stonecutters, bakers and brewers, these working-class Germans lived well.  They left their mark on the area, and their epitaphs reflect their lives and values, giving us a glimpse into the times in which they lived.

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          These settlers marked their loved ones' graves with expensive and beautiful monuments, including a cast-zinc marker, a metal cross, and many imposing red Medina sandstone memorials.  Many contain German epitaphs, poems, and Biblical passages, as well as the interred's place of birth, such as the Kingdoms of Württemberg, Bavaria or Prussia, which predate the German Empire.  Carvings reflect the Victorian perception of death as peaceful sleep, instead of something to be feared, and include lilies, ivy, passion flowers and willow trees; angels, cherubs, lambs, and other religious symbols.

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          As the 19th century neared its end, Buffalo and Concordia blossomed.  Before 1890, most Germans had come from the western part of Germany.  Beginning in 1890, large numbers arrived from eastern German lands, from Prussia, Austria, etc.  With more than a half-million immigrants arriving on our shores each year, the Federal government took control of immigration from the states, and Ellis Island opened at the start of 1892.  About this time, the growing City enveloped Concordia on all sides.

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The Post-Germanic Period

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          By the turn of the 20th century, pressure was building in some German Protestant churches for services in English.  Some congregations actually split.  Others only gradually experimented with English, perhaps once a month, or weekly at night.  The younger people led the way:  In some churches, there were two Sunday Schools, two Confirmation Classes, one in German, the other in English.

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          The German culture's slow decline was reflected at Concordia.  Beginning in 1913, on the eve of World War I, the yearly number of burials started to fall.  It was a foretaste of things to come.

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          World War I brought trying times for Germans in America.  No longer did their gravestones proudly declare their land of origin.  Even some names were Americanized:  The telltale letters ä, ö and ü became "ae", "oe" and "ue".  Some names that translated directly to English became the equivalent English word, and others were simply converted to the closest English-sounding name.

 

          Instruction in German was outlawed during the War, and restrictions in use of German only hastened its decline; so that, by 1925, two-thirds of all Missouri Synod services in Buffalo were in English, only one-third in German.  While first-generation German-American youth were often proficient in German, the second generation often learned just a couple of phrases or prayers; and this decline is easily seen on the markers at Concordia:  While many inscribed before the War have lengthy German epitaphs, those gravestones carved between the wars have only limited phrases, like "Mutter".

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          The early '30s saw the end of the great wave of immigrants.  The German culture began to die out.  Concordia started to be seen as "ethnic", old and out of date.  The number of burials fell until, beginning in 1951, Concordia on average was burying less than once a week.

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          But as the 1970s dawned, Concordia started to market itself to a changing demographic.  Concordia prospered once again, achieving 334 burials in 1975, a record standing to this day.  Formal church involvement, after having waned for many years, ended in 1977.

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          By the middle 1980s, space was starting to run out.  Plans were made to expand to the suburbs, but all the planning came to naught.  As the last century reached its end, the last of the burial space was consumed.  Unable to pay a caretaker, Concordia's Board saw no way out.  Concordia was abandoned.

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The Rebirth of Concordia

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          In 2003, a group of family members of those buried here brought Concordia back to life, maintaining the neglected grounds (the grass was over 3 feet tall), repairing the Victorian iron fence and replacing the stolen gate-arch.  Toppled and broken stones were repaired; and lost, sunken markers were dug up.  The dilapidated 1850s-era cottage was restored.  One volunteer, with more than 60 relatives in Concordia, spent countless hours organizing records into computer files, while others worked endlessly to photograph markers and to research interment records of churches that buried here.  Concordia has been added to the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places.

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          Mt. Calvary, the Gannett Foundation, the United Way, AmeriCorps, CityCorps, and religious, educational, and veterans' organizations have been great help to us, as has the Sheriff in sending out crews of prisoners to assist with maintaining the grounds.

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          The National Trust for Historic Preservation stated this about Buffalo:  "This lakeside city harbors an unexpected discovery around every corner.  Offering a staggering range of cultural resources...".  Concordia is one of these hidden resources.  Please help us preserve Concordia, by becoming a supporter.  We have no paid staff, and donations are gratefully accepted.  Thank you!