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CEMETERY TO TAKE ITS SPOT IN HISTORY CHEEKTOWAGA TO REDEDICATE BURIAL SITE OF SETTLERS

Descendants of early Cheektowaga settlers will join town officials and residents Sunday in rededicating the Bennet Cemetery, a part of the town's history just 200 yards from Thruway Mall.

The cemetery, acquired by the town, has been restored and beautified by town employees and volunteers as part of Cheektowaga's sesquicentennial. The ceremony will begin at 2 p.m.

It sits atop a hill northeast of the busy intersection of Walden Avenue and Harlem Road, on land that was part of the farm of Elnathan Bennet, Cheektowaga's first town clerk. His grave will be decorated during the ceremony.

The cemetery property was recently given to the town by Joseph Basil Jr., whose business, Basil Oldsmobile, occupies the site of the Bennet home and tavern, site of the first town meeting 150 years ago.

Among the guests at the ceremony will be Bennet's descendants, including his namesake and great-great-great-grandson, 8-year-old Elnathan Bennet of Holland. Other Bennet descendents live in Kenmore, Akron and Orchard Park.

Jerome Lewandowski, chairman of the Bennet Cemetery Citizens Committee, and Town Historian Julia B. Reinstein were instrumental in persuading the town to acquire and restore the cemetery.

Youths in the Cheektowaga Conservation Corps worked last summer to clear the tangle of weeds and brush from the graveyard. "It was like a jungle," said Robert Off, corps coordinator. "It hadn't been cleared in years."

The town Facilities Department will maintain the cemetery, which is protected by a high chain-link fence and a locked gate.

Sunday's ceremony will offer residents a rare opportunity to enter the cemetery. It will be open again in July in connection with bus tours of the town's historic sites planned by the Historical Society.

Boy Scouts of Troop 701, sponsored by Pine Hill's Rescue Volunteer Hose Company, transcribed all the legible grave markings, which will be preserved by the town Historical Society at the Cheektowaga Historical Museum.

For the ceremony, the troop will supply the color guard, with a 26-star flag from 1839.

The earliest legible grave is that of Roxana Hitchcock, who died in 1818. She was the daughter of Appolos Hitchcock, who became the town's first white settler in 1809.

But there was apparently an earlier burial of another child of Appolos Hitchcock, Mrs. Reinstein said.

Roxana Hitchcock was the first wife of Elnathan Bennet and the sister of Alexander Hitchock, the first town supervisor.

Bennet's two later wives, Jerusha Munro and Psyche Bullet, also are buried in the cemetery.

Graves bearing the Bennet name have been marked by white bricks placed by Boy Scouts of Troop 604, sponsored by Lord of Life Lutheran Church. Grave sites have been decorated by the Cheektowaga Garden Club.

Th cemetery may contain 65 or more graves, some now unmarked. About a third of the marked graves have the Bennet surname. Other names include Spaeth, Armitage, Ray, Felton, Watts, Davis, Sanders, Doat, Warner, Williams and Boothroy.

Town Board members and Senior Center and Historical Society representatives will wear early 19th-century dress for the observance, which will begin at the historic marker on Walden Avenue noting the site of the Bennet homestead and tavern.

The marker, misplaced during a recent road-widening project, was found by Lewandowski and erected anew.

Councilman Thomas M. Johnson Jr., chairman of the arrangements committee, will be master of ceremonies.

At the cemetery site, a historical marker and an information sign will be unveiled. The Rev. Earl B. Robinson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lancaster and a Cheektowaga resident, will offer a benediction.

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