Niagara County officials are hoping to buy back part of a 103-acre tract in the Town of Lockport that is said to contain at least 1,247 graves dating back to the mid-1800s.
The land is owned by Angelo Papistomos, a developer from Hamilton, Ont. Part of it is on the rocky Niagara Escarpment on the northeast corner of Niagara Street Extension and Sunset Drive, near the County Jail.
Papistomos bought the land about a year ago from a town resident and reportedly is interested in building housing on the site, once labeled the county's "poor farm."
Most local officials were unaware the tract once was known as the Poor Persons' Cemetery. It was used from 1830 until 1915 to bury the area's indigent.
"I can document 1,247 graves there on about 10 acres of the property. There could be many more," said Niagara County Historian Dorothy Rolling.
She said she was aware of the site's history, but only became concerned when she learned of the prospects for development.
She talked about it with County Legislator H. William Feder, R-Niagara Falls, chairman of the Legislature's Senior and Youth Services Committee, which also is concerned with historical matters.
"These graves . . . should be properly marked and cared for . . . this is a county responsibility," Feder said. "It would certainly be unthinkable if there was a development nearby."
Feder's committee took the matter to the Legislature Tuesday, and County Attorney Edwin J. Shoemaker was authorized to negotiate with Papistomos for the purchase.
Neither Shoemaker nor Papistomos could be reached to comment Saturday.
Mrs. Rolling said the county stopped using the old farm in 1915, when the former "welfare department's poor farm" was moved to Davison Road in Lockport.
The county disposed of the property in 1945.
The exact location of the cemetery is unknown, but it's believed to be on the south side of Niagara Street Extension and the west side of Sunset Drive.
Only the remnants of a barn and silo remain at that location, Mrs. Rolling said .
The old farm area also had been proposed as a recreational site a few years ago by a private group interested in developing an archery range, she said.