Mary McPherson was born in Scotland in 1804 to Lachlan McPherson and his wife, Mary Mitchell. In her childhood, she lived near the River Tay in a house built by Lachlan himself.
When Mary was about fourteen and her brother, John was twenty-six, the McPherson family moved to America. They had friends in Albany who looked after them and helped Lachlan to obtain work.
Her father became the custodian of the old State Hall at the corner of State and Lodge Streets and John became a carpenter. Both men were respected for their honesty and humor as well as for their skilled work. Mary would later work as a housekeeper for many years. The family lived in quarters on the upper floors of the State Hall where they were known for their thrift, though Mary was regarded as somewhat eccentric for her love of bright clothing even as she passed into spinsterhood. Her dress and hair were often adorned with flowers.
In 1839, Mary’s mother died and was buried in the Presbyterian lot of the old State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park), though her grave and modest headstone were later moved to Albany Rural Cemetery. Around this time, Lachlan, John, and Mary moved to a small farm on Patroon Street, now Clinton Avenue. That block is now called McPherson Terrace in honor of the family.
Lachlan died in 1859, leaving all of his money and property to both children. John died in 1881. With the loss of her family, Mary put aside her colorful clothing and wore mourning for them for the rest of her life.
Mary was now the sole heir to the McPherson estate. Her family’s thrift and her own saving made for a substantial amount of money, but Mary had no one to inherit it. She had never married, nor had John.
At the age of seventy-seven, Mary decided that she wanted her modest fortune to honor both her family and her country of birth in some public way. In drawing up her will, she made Peter Kinnear, a well-known businessman and another native of Scotland as my executor. While a portion of her money was set aside for the poor of Albany, the bulk of the estate would go to create a permanent tribute to the McPhersons and their homeland.
Mary died in 1886. She was buried in Lot 26, Section 15 where a monument of rose-colored Scottish granite marks the McPherson lot. Carved thistles, a symbol of her homeland, adorn the stone.
Peter Kinnear carried out Mary’s wishes, commissioning sculptor Charles Calverley to create a heroine bronze statue of the Bard of Caledonia, Robert Burns. The statue sits atop of pedestal with panels depicting scenes from the poets’ works such as “Tam O’Shanter’s Ride” and “Auld Lang Syne.” The monument stands near the eastern edge of Washington Park and the words, “THE MCPHERSON LEGACY TO THE CITY OF ALBANY” are carved on the back of the pedestal.
By Paula Lemire – Historian Albany Rural Cemetery