While proceeding down Grove Street, the outside boundary
of New Haven's "original nine squares," one encounters
an open area in pleasant contrast with the commotion of a
busy city and a large university: the Grove Street Cemetery,
officially called the New Haven Burying Ground. Should one
venture further down Grove Street he would find some view
of the area possible through a wrought iron fence; further
on, to the intersection of High Street, would place him in
front of the massive Egyptian Revival Gates to the cemetery
designed by Henry Austin.
Lured inside by the aura
of tranquility sensed from without, the visitor finds immediately
before him the Chapel designed according to the strictest
tenets of Victorian decorum with its gilded butterfly which,
to the Greeks, symbolized the flight of the soul. Behind
the Chapel, and to either side, stretches the cemetery proper:
its rigid grid of avenues and paths softened by well-groomed
trees and shrubs, and named after such living things as Spruce,
Sycamore, Myrtle and Ivy. The cemetery, established in 1796,
is perhaps the oldest in the nation with this type of layout.
For example,the famous Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, dates from 1831.
Establishment of the Cemetery
For the first one hundred-sixty odd years of her history,
New Haven buried the dead in a common burying ground beneath
and behind what is now Center Church on the Green. Efforts
to improve conditions in the old cemetery gained important
impetus after the yellow fever plague of 1794-5 when James
Hillhouse and others searched for a solution to the unsightly
clutter of the upper Green. Hillhouse is known to have considered
two possible solutions to the problem: the first was a private
cemetery for himself and his family, but discarded the idea
for the resting place might not remain in his family; this
led to the second alternative, a new public burying ground
for the city.
Fortunately, there was
such a site available in what was known as the "Second
Quarter" bounded by what is now Prospect Street, Grove
Street, but not extending beyond what is now High Street.
The site was crossed by two roads, one since discontinued:
a diagonal from High Street to the Plainfield Road and another
then called the Second Quarter Road, later Pleasant Street
and now Prospect Street.
Of some interest, and worthy
of some consideration, are the old owners of the land and
the uses to which it was put before it was acquired for a
burying ground. One Nathan Mansfield had a farm on acreage
owned by the Fitch Family. Captain John Mix (see number 3
below) and later his estate owned land between the two roads
and Grove Street. Further north, James Hillhouse and James
Dana owned land.
Hillhouse owned a small,
triangular piece of the site acquired from Mansfield as early
as 1791. After agitation for a new burying ground became
acute in the mid-1790's, he bought a large part of the land
between Prospect, Grove and the end of High Street in two
equal purchases. Another acre was obtained from the Fitches.
The remainder was acquired by means of a transfer of land
between Hillhouse and the Mansfields. Thirtytwo prominent
citizens raised the funds to purchase the property, but it
is unknown whether Hillhouse was their agent or whether his
initiative caused the formation of the association.
|MARTHA BEARDSLEY TOWNSEND,
FIRST PERSON BURIED IN GROVE STREET CEMETERY
Martha Beardsley was born in Stratford, Connecticut
in 1752. She married John Townsend of New Haven
and they had four children: James, born 1782,
Lucius died at the age of 17 months, Fanny born
1785 and died 1845, and Rebecca born 1788 and
When John Townsend's mother died in 1788, leaving
his father Jeremiah alone in their home on the
corner of College and Elm Streets, John and Martha
and their children moved into that house to live
with John's father. On February 2, 1789 Jeremiah
sold his property to his son John for 240 pounds "together
with the dwelling house and other buildings thereon
standing being my home lot and house." Martha
Beardsley Townsend died on November 7, 1797,
having lived in New Haven at the corner of College
and Elm Streets for about eight years. She was
the first person to be buried in the city's 'new'
cemetery on Grove Street. The remains of her
son Lucius, who had been interred previously
in the original city cemetery, were moved and
buried next to his mother.
Thus, in September 1796,
the southeasterly part of the Cemetery was established and
laid out. Lots were sold, and where appropriate, donated
to the City (for the poor and for deceased strangers), to
Yale, to the various Protestant Ecclesiastical Societies
and for "People of Color." It appeared that the
venture was off to a good start, but within three years interest
had cooled despite lowering the cost of a gravesite from
five to three dollars. On assumption of the cemetery's debt,
the unused portion of the cemetery was returned to James
Hillhouse, exclusive of paths and alleyways, for him to sell
and cover his expenditure. One former historian of Grove
Street Cemetery felt Hillhouse was not successful in this
By 1814, all the lots in
the eastern part of the cemetery had been sold. In response
to public distress, Hillhouse and a group of others purchased
another tract of land west of the Plainfield Road, almost
doubling the cemetery's size, from Henry Daggett. The Plainfield
Road was discontinued and replaced by Ashmun Street; Lock
Street and Prospect Place made a complete circuit of the
burying ground possible.
Several years earlier,
three new churches had been completed on the Green in sharp
contrast to the cluttered appearance of the old burying ground
which continued to deteriorate for the next decade. A study
committee concluded that it would be less costly to move
the old tombstones and level the Green than build a wall
around the old cemetery. By 1821 the project was complete
to the satisfaction of most of the populace.
Some time later, the question
of an enclosure for the New Burying Ground arose due to the
proclivity of wooden fences to rot. A total of $14,000 was
raised through donation and matching funds from the City.
The success of this venture caused the idea of a mere fence
to be discarded in favor of the familiar stone wall. Initial
and quickly approved construction of the north wall was equally
quickly followed by similar enclosures for the east and west
sides. The problem of allowing some view of the grounds and
yet erecting an adequate barrier was considered by such tasteful
men as architect, Henry Austin and sculptor, Hezekiah Augur.
They decided on the familiar wrought iron fence and the sandstone,
Egyptian Revival style arch. Egyptian Revival was in vogue
at that time and was considered sufficiently massive but
without offense to denominational sensibilities. The gateway
was dedicated with appropriate pomp and circumstance in July,
Besides the enclosure around
the cemetery, there were several developments within the
grounds between 1820 and 1850. Through the first two decades,
the tiers between cemetery streets were extended as necessary.
The original Potter's Field behind the present Chapel was
sold off to individuals in exchange for another plot in the
northwest corner. During this period, the northeast corner
of the Cemetery was lost to the Farmington Canal. The closing
of the Plainfield Road left the City with some irregular
lots which was rectified when the Cemetery Proprietors deeded
land to the City.
A two-fold sylvan, beautification
program was undertaken consisting of the removal of unwanted,
wild cedars and the planting of trees and shrubs. Sponsors
of the project were probably inspired by Biblical passages
on tree-shaded tombs which were to be imitated but not equalled
From 1870 to the present;
time has been less compressed by feverish activity devoted
to improvements. The Chapel, described above, was built in
1872. In 1877, land was ceded to the City for the completion
of Canal Street. During the 1880's a major project was initiated:
curbstones for the avenues and paths. A resolution for removal
of stones from the Green placed on City plots was adopted
relegating the colonial monuments to placement in alphabetical
order along the north and west walls.
IV. The Cemetery as an Institution
To this point, discussion of Grove Street Cemetery has been
directed at physical development of the grounds to the point
where they are recognizable to the visitor in the late twentieth
century. Before concluding, it is necessary to mention several
less tangible but highly important aspects of institutional
history: the corporate Charter and family plots.
Among the thirty-two subscribers
who associated with James Hillhouse were prominent lawyers
Simeon Baldwin, David Daggett, Pierpont Edwards and Jonathan
Ingersoll. These gentlemen soon had the venture organized
and formally recognized by the General Assembly of the State
of Connecticut as a corporation. Such action in 1797 makes
Grove Street Cemetery one of the oldest corporations in the
A further consequence of
the enormous public interest generated by the construction
of the wrought iron and sandstone enclosure during the 1840's
was the assumption of the cemetery's care by the City of
New Haven. During the 1870's the charter of the Burying Ground
was changed again to make the cemetery trustee for perpetual
care of gravesites. The estate of Mrs. Learned made the first
such endowment, and the practice continues to this day.
As recounted above, Grove
Street Cemetery was established because of the cluttered
condition of the old Burying ground. This caused problems
for families who wished to bury their dead with their ancestors.
The Charter of Grove Street Cemetery makes it clear that
consideration of family plots was highly important to the
original subscribers. One of the first clauses of the Charter
reads that the cemetery be, ". . . better arranged for
the accomodation of families . . ." This makes Grove
Street Cemetery one of the oldest cemeteries, so organized,
in the nation.
In conclusion, a word is necessary about the people who chose
Grove Street Cemetery as a final resting place and who have
been neglected thus far in the narration. Their representatives
of national stature or interest will be found enveloped in
this history as their places of interment are surrounded
by the wall and fence. Along with these famous people are
brief summaries of their accomplishments and a tour for those
who would care to see their monuments. With these representatives
are many others, doubtless great in their own special way,
who are too numerous to note, but to whom Grove Street Cemetery
is a very special, indeed unique, monument.
I. Grove Street Cemetery in Particular
Heddin, James, S. Civil and Military Records of Men Moved
from the (New Haven) Green to Grove Street Cemetery, unpublished
paper (New Haven, 1944), in the collection of the New Haven
Colony Historical Society, 114 Whitney Avenue, New Haven,
Connecticut. Stokes, Anson Phelps, Memorials of Eminent Yale
Men, Yale University Press (New Haven, 1914), Includes a
chapter on eminent Yale Men in Grove Street Cemetery. Townshend,
Henry H., "The Grove Street Cemetery, a Paper Read before
the New Haven Colony Historical Society October 27, 1947." In
the Society's Journal and Collection (See Heddin, above).
Ludwig, Allen J., Graven Immages, New England Stone Carving
and its Symbols, 16301845, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown,
Osterweis, Rollin G., Three Centuries of New Haven, 1638-1938,
Yale University Press (New Haven, 1953).
Credits from the original printed
brochure: Funded and researched by the Junior League of New
Haven, Inc. in cooperation with the Proprietors of the New
Haven Burying Ground and Malcolm Munson, Superintendent.
David L. Daggett, IV, editor, artist. John McCrillis, typographer,
Yale University Press.