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Riverside Cemetery


History of Riverside Cemetery,
by Ann Reed

Part I

Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Farmington's Riverside Cemetery
lies above and beside the banks of the Farmington River, a tranquil oasis from the traffic on nearby streets. Those who come to bury their dead take for granted the existence of such a facility, as do the many who are welcome to enjoy the well-kept grounds and roads for exercise and recreation. It was not always so. Attempts to create and maintain a proper burying ground required almost a century of effort before it could be said that a stable and enduring organization existed. Efforts began in the 1830s, after the old burying ground on Main Street was fully occupied. Not until the 1920s do we find continuous records and overall maintenance of the entire grounds.

Grave of Foone, one of the Amistad Africans
who lived in Farmington in 1841

By the 1830s, the School Society in Farmington, as throughout the state, was responsible for overseeing burial grounds. So it was from this group of unpaid citizens that a committee was appointed to grapple with the task of replacing the Main Street burying ground. To follow their efforts, and of those who succeeded them, is to witness an example of what the French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville observed: the willingness, even eagerness, of ordinary citizens to form voluntary organizations to pursue the public good. To Tocqueville, this was a peculiarly American phenomenon. In this case, the records suggest success required extraordinary perseverance.

In a large tan leather bound ledger, labeled on its spine "Rec. Central Burying Ground," the clerk Horace Cowles wrote in a careful hand, on page 1, "At an adjourned School Society Meeting held on Monday, November 10th, 1834 Voted: That the Prudential Cmte be directed to purchase of Gen Soloman Cowles, a tract of land, not exceeding three acres near the dwelling house of the Rev. Noah Porter [at the corner today of Maple and Main Streets] to be used by the Society as a Burial Ground: provided said tract of land can be had at the rate of Two Hundred dollars the acre, and a suitable and convenient passway from and to the main street, to and from said tract, can be had at the rate of Two Hundred and Fifty dollars the acre, and provided said Cowles will receive, in part payment therefore, at its original cost, a piece of land lately purchased by the said Cmte, of Timothy Pitkin, lying near Pitkin's basin." (Pitkin's Basin was a turning basin for the Farmington Canal at what is today 128 Garden Street.)

Farmington Canal Basin. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Subsequent entries in the old book disclose that the Prudential Committee of the School Society in 1835 turned over the organization of the new burying ground to a committee, without a title, consisting of Edward Hooker, Harvey Whittlesey, Samuel Whitman, Egbert Cowles and Horace Cowles. These gentlemen initiated a long tradition, of their own and future generations, of voluntary service in the cause of an association devoted to the proper management of the community burial grounds. No doubt in the old world the church performed this function.

The committee made a brave start. The provisions of the organizing articles and of the rules and regulations suggest the problems that spurred the School Society to act, not the least of which was probably a chaotic, unsupervised use of the area for burials in the recent past. Directives to the committee were explicit: It must record a plan or map of the burying ground and it must "be copied on a strong piece of paper or parchment in a neat and intelligible form...." The organizing articles reflected careful thought: Ownership of lots was to be in perpetuity, and "no person shall be deprived of any lot ... by any process for the recovery of a debt or damage against him." Lots were to cost $1, but the committee could "abate or remit the fee in favor of such poor and indigent persons as are unable to pay," and they then shall "upon producing a certificate of such abatement be entitled to the same privileges as if the money had been paid."

Plaque at grave of Foone. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Lot owners could sell their lots, but if there was a "surplus" (profit), one half of the surplus should go to the society's treasury. If a family moved or if it "became extinct" and made no claim for five years, the lot reverted to the society. The burying ground was to be enclosed by a "durable and substantial fence."

The ground was to be laid out into tiers and marked out by monuments of one rod square and the lots numbered in figures on the markers. The society reserved the right to remove any "tree, fence or anything erected on any lot ... which shall become a nuisance." And it was "voted that the Prudential Committee be directed to complete the leveling of the ground to be used as a burial ground." Perhaps the Prudential Committee was the body with access to the funds necessary for this important step. Prior to this leveling, the land no doubt sloped down to the canal (built in 1828) and to the river.

Several of the regulations might have gratified Tocqueville's interest in American democracy. "Any person residing in this [School] Society is entitled to buy a vacant lot or part of a lot." And, "The lots in Tier #13 South of the middle aisle [today lined with oak trees], shall be and remain for the interment of such strangers as may from time to time decease among us who have no relations or friends in this society or elsewhere to provide any other place of burial for them."

Main aisle, lined with oak trees, Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

We can only guess what Tocqueville would have made of Regulation 14: "All the ground west of tier #16 South of the middle aisle shall be allotted as a place of burial, for the coloured population of this society and such strangers of that class as may decease in this place, who have no other place of burial provided for them." In 1845 an additional directive appeared, the first entry after 1836: "The School Society … voted that Tier # 12, North side of the main aisle in the new Central Burying Ground, be assigned for the burial of color'd persons."

Horace Cowles, in his meticulous error-free hand, as regular as printing, devoted a page of the ledger to a problem that vexed the society. How to assign lots in the new burying ground? An elaborate lottery system was spelled out by a committee made up of Martin Cowles, William S. Cowles and Egbert Cowles. Clerk Horace Cowles noted that the "foregoing report" was accepted by the society, at a meeting held on the ninth day of November 1835. There followed eleven pages of names matched in columns with lottery numbers and tier and lot numbers. Lots in the first twelve tiers, north and south, were assigned.

Monument to Tunxis Indians, erected in 1840, Riverside Cemetery.

It was not to be. In a different not-so-meticulous hand, there next appeared: "At a Special Meeting of the School Society Feb. 24, 1836, Timothy Cowles, Moderator, Thomas Cowles, Clerk pro.tem., a motion was made to do away [with] all the regulations respecting the burial ground adopted at a meeting held November 9th ... 1835 and carried."

"Chieftains of a vanished race, In your ancient burial place,
By your father's ashes blest, Now in peace securely rest.
Monument to Tunxis Indians, Riverside Cemetery.

A committee of one from each of the eleven school districts was then appointed to take the whole matter into consideration, with eleven representatives, none of them the three names above nor even the meticulous Horace Cowles, clerk. In fact, no Cowles at all.

Grave monument of Horace Cowles. Photo by Brooke Martin.

In the regulations this larger group devised may lie a hint of what the problem was: Families were now given the opportunity to locate lots contiguous to each other (a lottery to be used if there were conflicting requests). Were there too many Cowles (or not the right Cowles) or too much democracy, or perhaps a bit of both? Did the dedicated members of the committee that began the organizational process wash their hands of the whole affair after this reversal?

That may have been the case. At any rate, no record of elections or minutes of meetings were entered in the ledger between 1836 and 1845. Below the 1845 directive of where "color'd persons" were to be buried, there appears in a hasty hand, "From this date, Nov. 24th, 1845, no records of the School Society were kept." (It is safe to assume that this referred to the burial ground duties of the School Society.) And immediately, in the same hand, now signed by Thomas Fessenden in 1888, is a statement that in 1856 the General Assembly passed an act transferring the powers and duties of the School Societies relating to burials to the several towns.

View of the Meadows from Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

In fact, records of 75 lot purchases were kept (one page per lot) in the old ledger from 1836 to 1887, presumably by the School Society until 1856, and by the town until 1887. The same Thomas Fessenden is pained to report, in the last entry in the old ledger (probably in 1888), "Owing to a very improper use of the unoccupied part of this volume following the record of the lots ... it was found necessary to extract a considerable number of leaves as this volume shows. By so doing additional room is obtained for future records of the association." The stubs of the pages, an inch thick, remain, but no more records were ever entered.

Gravestone of John Treadwell Norton, prominent abolitionist.

Instead, the old burying ground became, for the first time, a "cemetery," a new organization took charge and the cemetery records now appear in a new record book and include a printed manual, printed notices and type-written minutes. A special ledger now recorded lot sales and burials.

The printed gray booklet titled "Farmington Cemetery Association Manuel, 1888" was most likely written by Thomas Fessenden, the secretary of the new association, and was addressed to those who owned or might buy lots in the cemetery. It throws light on what had happened in the years since the energetic beginning in the 1830s, and on how concerned citizens were determined to remedy matters. "Under town control,” Fessenden wrote, the cemetery's "condition and management have been increasingly unsatisfactory and deplorable. The rules adopted by the School Society have been but little regarded. There has been no proper system of management or registration. Lots have been taken almost at will and without compensation. Interments have been made improperly, and graves left in an unsightly condition, and in some cases with nothing to mark the location of the names of the occupants. Different families have unintentionally buried their dead in the same lots, thus causing painful complications. The general appearance of the cemetery has been that of sad neglect. There has been no responsible party to which funds could be committed for the proper and perpetual care of the lots, or of the cemetery and thus it has become a source of grief to surviving friends and a reproach to the community."

Civil War Monument, Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

"At a meeting held in the winter of 1884 or 1885 [sic] a group of concerned citizens met and voted to form a Farmington Cemetery Association." A special charter was obtained from the General Assembly in 1886, and "in accordance with the provisions of the charter, a meeting of the incorporators was held at the office of the town clerk, March 27, 1887. T. K. Fessenden, Julius Gay, and W. M. Wadsworth were appointed to a committee to procure 40 subscriptions at $25 each."

Civil War Monument, Riverside Cemetery.

The committee reported in June 1887, that the requisite amount of stock had been subscribed, plus additional pledges and donations, and that the heirs of Thomas Cowles had agreed to sell a lot of about three acres, adjoining the cemetery on the north, for $300. At the annual town meeting in November, 1887, it was voted, "that the town of Farmington hereby transfers to the Farmington Cemetery Association, all its rights, title, and control in, and to, the cemetery described in the Act incorporating the Association." The minutes went on to direct the association "to enclose it and keep it enclosed when enlarged."

The Articles of Organization adopted in 1887 describe the cemetery as " the old burying ground in Farmington, situated on the new road so-called near the bend of the River." There were 19 incorporators and the by-laws established officers and a board of six directors, chosen by ballot by members of the association, for three-year terms, and eligible for re-election indefinitely. Both stockholders and lot owners were entitled to attend and vote at meetings that were to be properly advertised. In January 1888, however, the directors voted that "hereafter stockholders alone shall vote in regard to the affairs of the Association" (as stated on page 57 of Record Book #2).

View of bend in Farmington River from Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

The directors, or executive committee, were to have the entire management of the association's affairs with reports at an annual meeting. The first directors were Edward Norton, Franklin Wheeler, Charles Lewis, Timothy Root, Edward Deming and Newton Hart. Officers elected were Edward Norton, president, Franklin Wheeler, vice president, T. K. Fessenden, secretary, and Edmund Cowles, treasurer.

Explicit duties assigned the secretary suggest the disorganization that the new association hoped to remedy: He must keep a full record of the proceedings of the association, have custody of all documents, keep a record of all certificates of stock and of their transfer, and sign all sales and deeds of lots, or of other property. He must give notice of all meetings of the association and of the directors. He shall keep in a book suitable for the purpose, permits to those desiring to make interments, stating such particulars as are required by the association and by the laws of the state. He shall keep a map of the cemetery, showing the location, size and other particulars required, of lots and interments, which shall always remain in his office.

Rules and regulations addressed concerns large and small. A superintendent was to be appointed, and he must keep a map and supervise interments and all persons employed. Proprietors of lots could erect "any proper stones or monuments" on "stone foundations, laid in hydraulic cement, not less than five feet deep," and may "cultivate such flowers or shrubbery as shall not be improper or injurious to the adjoining lots or to the cemetery." Rubbish must be removed.

Spring flowers, Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

The thorny question of who was to maintain the grounds would not be entirely resolved for years, but a beginning was made. As of 1890 the association planned to mow the area twice a year, but otherwise lot owners were exhorted to maintain their lots, preferably by buying a bond for this purpose. "For $100 or more, you can thus make ample and sure provision for the proper and perpetual care of your lot." Prohibitions were numerous: "No fences or hedges around lots, no fast driving of carriages nor any driving except in the roadways, no use of firearms, no disorderly conduct, no leaving of horses without proper care, no plucking of flowers or injuring of plants or shrubbery."

The "rural cemetery" movement that had produced park-like cemeteries in the region (for example, Cedar Hill in Hartford and Mount Auburn in Cambridge) does not appear to have tempted the practical organizers of the Farmington Cemetery Association. But they were clearly concerned about how the cemetery looked. In fact, in an 1888 meeting the secretary was directed to procure a copy of the rules governing the Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

As in the 1830s, the rules and regulations adopted by the association give us insight into the conditions motivating change. But by the 1880s, Farmington's efforts to systematize burials were typical of the maturing towns and cities of the area and, indeed, the state had for some time regulated certain aspects of interments.

In an appendix printed at the end of the gray manual are listed provisions of the relevant state statutes as revised in 1887 (Title 26, Chapter 115). Towns are empowered to form cemetery associations. Other sections address practical matters, as in "No person shall bury any corpse within 4 feet from the surface of the ground," and social concerns, as in "Every person who shall open the grave or any tomb where any corpse has been deposited, or remove any corpse ... or assist in any surgical or anatomical experiments ... or dissection thereof ... shall be fined not less than $200 ... or imprisoned in the state prison no less than two or more than five years." Vandalism exposed the perpetrator to a fine not more than $100, or imprisonment not more than six months or both. The same penalty applied to the discharge of firearms "except in the performance of obsequies at a military funeral." Justice was to be swift: "The superintendent ….may arrest, on view, any person violating (numbered) sections and carry him before the next justice of the peace, or other authority."

Until 1894 the association moved purposefully forward. Fessenden recorded minutes of eleven meetings of the board of directors, or executive committee, between 1887 and 1890. A new green and rust leather-bound ledger was used to record these minutes. Though no minutes remain of the 1845–1887 period, lot sales and burials had moved steadily forward. By 1887 the minutes recorded that there were 288 lots, and all but two on the north side and all but 46 of "the least desirable" on the south were occupied; hence the purchase of the three acres from Thomas Cowles. But a request to Dr. Carrington to "straighten the north boundary" was denied.

Grave of William Gillette, actor, dramatist and creator of
Gillette Castle in 1919. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Organization proceeded at a brisk pace. A finance committee was established and charged with the responsibility of keeping a record of all bonds purchased for perpetual care and with seeing that these lots received special attention. Dr. Wheeler was directed to serve on a committee to draw up proper burial forms meeting the requirements of the state and of the association. Elections were recorded. Printed flyers announced annual meetings, one at the Town Hall (at that time in the village), one at the "Congregational Chapel" (later moved to the corner of Church and Hart Streets to make way for the Porter Memorial).

Fessenden's minutes between 1887 and 1890 became increasingly hard to read and in July 1890 concluded, "The secretary reported that due to consequence of age and ill health he could no longer discharge the duties of secretary." Although the board of directors subsequently issued a resolution of fulsome praise thanking Mr. Fessenden, no more minutes are recorded. Brief accounts of annual meetings fill a few pages until 1894. And then a hiatus. Without explanation, no entries appear until the following: "Notice: a meeting of the Farmington Cemetery Association will be held at the Porter Memorial Building Tuesday even, September 9, 1924 at 7:30 o'clock Standard Time (8:30 Daylight Saving Time).

What happened in the intervening 30 years? It is not clear. Lots were sold and burials made. There must have been some sort of management. But it is clear that those who had bought bonds ensuring "perpetual care" might have reason to complain. An undated old newspaper clipping tucked into the volume of association minutes begun in 1924 begins as follows: "Anyone passing along Garden Street this spring would surely notice that Riverside Cemetery is in a more presentable condition this year than for many years past. The newly reorganized 'Farmington Cemetery Association' started last fall to clean up the cemetery. Fences in a poor condition were removed, overgrown shrubbery, blackberry vines and other unnecessary decorations cut down or dug out, and the whole north side of the cemetery was plowed. This spring this will be planted with grass." The author continues, "Judge A. Dunham Barney this past year spent much time studying the old records of the Association before a meeting was called to reorganize [it]."

Gravestone of Robert Bolling Brandegee, painter and teacher,
and Susan Lord Brandegee. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Once again after a period of neglect, as in 1886, citizen volunteers stepped forward. The number who attended that 1924 meeting is not recorded, but the names of the directors elected would continue to appear in the minutes, decade after decade. For the most part death alone would end that service. In 1924 the Farmington Cemetery Association elected six directors: Everett House, N.O. Keyes, L. C. Root, W.S. Cowles, Jr., Robert Porter Keep, and W. A. Hitchcock. These gentlemen then elected Winchell Smith, president and A. D. Barney, secretary. (Barney became a director in 1928.) Almost all were, like their successors, remarkable for their long tenure. A. Dunham Barney served 47 years, and his son-in-law, William Lidgerwood, from 1967 until 2003; W. S. Cowles 53 years, and his grandson, Evan Cowles, from 1987 until the present; Leonard Root 38 years and Robert Porter Keep 43 years. John Christensen served as board member, secretary and/or superintendent for 46 years.

Typical tenures of later directors include: J. Harris Minnikin, 36 years; Wilmarth Lewis more than 35 years; E.H. Cady, 43 years, members of the Haworth family, C. Arthur and David, from 1945 until the present. Wellesley Wright was on the board for 39 years; Robert Smith for 36. Current members whose institutional memories go far back include; William Wollenberg, 1974; Lucius Whitaker, 1979; Alden Warner, 1985; and Lawrence Rose, 1987. It is no wonder, then, that the dry minutes of the meetings are occasionally refreshed with resolutions of regret on the death of members – carefully worded, heartfelt resolutions.

Gravestone of Theodate Pope Riddle. Photo by Brooke Martin.

The Riverside Cemetery Association, as reorganized in 1924, continues to this day as a robust successful organization. How and why did the new trustees and their successors avoid the failures of previous efforts? The early leadership of A. Dunham Barney was probably crucial, and conservative management and persistence characterized the reconstituted board. Continuity is perhaps the word that best describes the succession of directors and employees. While more elaborate beautification became the ideal in some urban cemeteries participating in park-like developments, those buying cemetery lots in Farmington gave no indication of a desire for innovation from (or diversity within) the board of directors. Throughout its history the trustees, meeting for a few minutes as the association, have habitually re-elected their members and officers; they have hung on to faithful employees. Neither the inhabitants of the cemetery nor those who placed them there complained.

Gravestone of Austin Dunham Barney. Photo by Brooke Martin.

No criteria for election to the board were ever mentioned in the minutes of the meetings, but today, as in the past, those chosen have closer ties to the village than the typical resident of the town. The transformation of Farmington into a commuting bedroom suburb with a more diverse population did not result in a transformation of board membership. Virtually all members, today as in the past, live in the village and/or have businesses in the village. The board has always included men with investment experience. In fact, these were almost the only directors who worked outside of town.

Grave monument of actor, playwright and director
Winchell Smith. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Unusually, the directors rewarded faithful service by its sextons/superintendents with board membership. John Christensen's elevation to board membership, where his minutes as secretary – though typewritten – were as meticulous as his 19th-century predecessors', enabled him to combine the superintendent's role with board management. (Otto Christensen, John's father, had been the superintendent before him from 1924 until 1961.) Jim Collins capped his 40 year service as caretaker/superintendent with membership on the board. And David Haworth, who began his association with the cemetery as assistant treasurer – a part-time paid position – in 1983 was elected to the board in 2003. (He succeeded Assistant Treasurer Mary Crossman, of the Farmington Savings Bank, who had served – with occasional small honoraria – for 50 years.)

Women have been conspicuous by their absence on the board, although Florence Gay served from 1935 to around 1950. (Catherine Barney was once elected as a director, but no minutes record her presence thereafter, and Harriet Barney Lidgerwood declined an invitation to join. A letter from a director tucked into a 2001 file suggests concern about gender equity.)

Perhaps the requirement met consistently by those who serve was a willingness to give of their time and, sometimes, their substance. Good company and refreshments may also have kept members in attendance. Until recently, the board's annual meetings were usually held around five p.m. at members' homes and the minutes usually thanked the member and his wife. In 1998 the board began meeting at a nearby restaurant, the Grist Mill, to be joined later by their wives for dinner.

Mausoleum, Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

The fiscal history of the association mirrors the changes taking place in the world of finance in the 20th century. As in the 19th century, minutes of meetings containing financial reports were conscientiously enclosed in special ledgers, with numbered pages, until 1988. An auditor, often a board member, approved the financial statements. After 1988, minutes became less detailed and hard copies were usually, though not always, placed in folders as computers replaced the typewriter. Since 1987, financial reports have been made and audited by professional accountants (Budwitz and Meyerjack) who receive their data from the treasurer and assistant treasurer.

The assets acquired by the reorganized association in 1924 were modest. At the first meeting directors agreed they would need $20,000, plus future bequests, to provide perpetual care for lot owners. By 1925, an appeal for funds had produced $6,715 in subscriptions, including $4,000 from Mrs. Barney and $500 from Theodate Pope Riddle, and the balance stood at about $16,000. Six thousand dollars of that came from the Horse Thieves Society. This society had long been defunct, for obvious reasons, and A. Dunham Barney had pursued a legal challenge to the Farmington Savings Bank, which was not prepared to turn over the funds in this account, to win a judgment in favor of the association.

Gravestone of Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis, author, collector and founder
of the Lewis Walpole Library. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Expenses were modest as well: Otto Christensen, called at that time the caretaker, was paid $125 a month for eight months, $50 a month in the winter. A major cleanup of brush and rubbish and fence repair cost $542.15. In 1926, the association received $496 for lot sales and grave openings. By 1930, thanks in part to another $2,000 from A. Dunham Barney and $1,000 from William Gilette, the $20,000 goal had been met. Additional donations and bequests reflected the support the early organizers enjoyed in the community. Other gifts or bequests included $750 from Winchell Smith, $500 from Noah Wallace, $100 from David Colt, $100 from Ellen Deming and, in the 1940s and 1950s, $1,600 from Florence Gay, $2,000 from William Hitchcock, $2,000 from Steven Lawrence and $2,000 from Thomas Hughes. After that, such gifts dwindled, the last being $10,000 in 1971 from A. Dunham Barney, $10,000 in 1972 from W. Sheffield Cowles and, in 1993, $2,971 from Phillip Brown. Insignificant in the light of a 2006 budget, these contributions were crucial in the early days.

By 1939, the permanent fund (as distinquished from the general or operating account) contained only $25,551; but this followed years of Depression. In 1942 a new committee, the investment and finance committee, chaired by E. H. (Buck) Cady, a Hartford stockbroker, began to steer the finances of the organization in a more modern direction. More of any accrued surplus now went into investments. Prior to this, most funds were kept in a variety of savings accounts at the Farmington Savings Bank. (And under the direction for years of J. Harris Minikin, president of the bank and association board member, the books were kept by bank employees for more than 50 years.)

Gravestone of William Sheffield Cowles and Anna Roosevelt Cowles,
 sister of former PresidentTheodore Roosevelt and aunt of
Eleanor Roosevelt. Photo by Brooke Martin.

What securities were owned were in insurance companies (in Hartford, of course), utilities (especially the Connecticut Power Co.) and New York financial institutions. Conservative investing such as this continued to be the norm. (An anomalous $4,600 mortgage loan made to Mr. Robert Terry of Garden Street in 1942 was unexplained.) In fact, when Director Florence Gay died in 1950 and left the association stocks in a variety of industries, they were promptly sold.

In 1959 the directors asked an opinion of attorney William Hoppin: Was it legal and appropriate for the association to invest the monies in the burial lots account? With his affirmative response Hoppin wrote, quaintly, "I will leave to you the problem as to whether I should charge the Association for this opinion." No record exists of the directors' response. But subsequently, in the same year, after helping the association acquire a tax-exempt status, he submitted a bill for $100.

Income from lot sales and interments helped keep the books balanced, especially in the early years. Lot prices reflect the economy's inflationary tendencies as well as a growing scarcity. In 1926 a lot for eight graves cost $125. (At that time lots south of the main entrance drive were considered less desirable and an eight-person lot there went for $25.) By 1971 an eight-grave lot cost $800 (anywhere) and the minutes recorded 32 burials and four cremations, the first mention of a cremation. In 1978 the directors raised the large lot price to $1,500, a single grave to $130 and the charge for opening a grave to $150 (now turned over to a contractor with a backhoe), fending off possible complaints as follows; "All the above changes were made after due consideration to the future needs of our Association so that….perpetual care means just that."

Spring flowers, Riverside Cemetery, 2008.

Until the 1980s fewer than 20 lots were sold each year. A sharp increase in the '80s and '90s (82 sites were sold in 1990 and 78 in 1996–1997) no doubt motivated the directors to act on the long-considered idea of developing the lower land to the north and west. (See below.) Although this development provided the potential for about 2,500 single burial sites, and the construction of a columbarium many more, the pace of sales continued at a brisk pace. Prices in 2000 were: single grave $700, eight-grave lot $6,000, burial of a cremation urn $225, and a two-urn niche in the columbarium $950. Even at these prices, however, it has not been income from lots and burials that account for the association's financial health.

The Investment and Finance Committee, with its conservative investment philosophy, put the association in a position to ride the tide of prosperity that characterized the country's post
–World War II economy. By 1967 the fund had grown to $188,986 (now reported as market value), by 1980 $423,071 and by 1986 $1,042,885. In 1988 Treasurer Alden Warner, a stockbroker, reported that the investment fund had survived the 1987 stock market crash with only a 2 percent loss "because of our defensive conditioning."

This position consisted of 36 percent stocks, 33 percent bonds and 33 percent cash. In 1987 the association turned over its bookkeeping to Budwitz and Meyerjack, certified professional accountants. Among their recommendations in 1989 was that changes in this allocation result in a portfolio with 50 percent stock. As the portfolio value increased, income from dividends and interest became significant. In 1990, for instance, revenues from interest ($64,784), dividends ($31,079), sale of lots ($31,750), and burials ($9,260) totaled $136,873. Such income meant that the association could fund expensive expansion projects in the 1990s without reducing its net worth. In 1991, Treasurer Warner notified the board that they could expect a slight drop in dividends because "it will be prudent to realign our portfolio, over time, to reflect better growth opportunities." By 2003 the market value of the net assets of the Riverside Cemetery Association totaled $3,001,883.

Throughout the 20th century, as lot sales steadily reduced the number of lots available, the association moved in a deliberate fashion to acquire more land. In 1935 the association bought property on its northern border from the Connecticut Institute for the Blind. For $4,000 they acquired the land formerly occupied by a home for blind children. This home, sometimes referred to as the Blind Nursery, had burned.

Monument to those who died in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Not until 1945, however, was a road laid out "to service 50 new lots" in what was now called the Northern Extension Section, and not until 1963 was the area graded and "left to firm up." In 1965 Superintendent Christensen reported that the association would soon need to sell lots in the new area and that it should be surveyed. In 1970, Merton Hodge was paid $380 to survey the Northern Extension. Meanwhile, the Goodfield property on the southern edge of the cemetery became available. In 1967 Christensen was authorized to negotiate for "property owned by Mr. Keep and Miss Porter's School and not desired by neighbor Dr. Dodd." In 1968, the Association paid $2,800 for about half an acre between a cottage on Garden Street and Dr. Dodd's property. Moreover, handwritten notes in two files in the 1990s indicate that the board had looked elsewhere in town for more property, without success.

Gravestone of Admiral David L. Martineau, skipper of the USS Metcalf, 1944–1945.

A major expansion into the lower ground north and west of the cemetery in the 1990s was preceded by years of discussion and delay. The Northern Extension, below the high terrace, was bisected by a stream which flowed through a deep crevice into the river. There seemed to be agreement on the part of the town of Farmington and the association that the town would pay for some part of the expense of burying the stream. But the minutes refer to this project for years (from 1975 to 1989) as "under discussion with the town" or "no progress with the town."

In 1987 it appears that the town accepted a compromise: The town would install the drainage pipe and the association would pay for it. In 1988 the grounds committee spent $4,676 for the pipe and for tree clearing. In 1989 the grounds committee was authorized to spend up to $60,000 for elevations to determine final grades, for an engineer's design for the storm water system and catch basin, for grading and clearing of the site, and for filling the hole formed by the brook with cheaper material. This would ready the area for up to six feet of top fill. Most of this was done in 1989 and 1990. A report in 1991 suggests that the entire expansion project cost around $300,000. (The annual financial reports submitted by the accountants do not detail capital expenditures.)

Such progress was not accomplished without controversy. On the west below the steep bank, the cemetery owned wooded land by the river. There, through the trees, remains of the 19th-century Farmington Canal could be glimpsed. As more and more trees were felled, both along the canal site and on the upper level, various voices were raised in protest.

West side of Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

The Farmington Historical Society begged the association to consult with state archeologists and historians before eliminating the contours of the old canal. One woman reported that she was unable to sleep as she thought of the trees lost. A couple who identified themselves as "the owners of a plot" wrote that "the appalling devastation we witnessed reduced us both to tears," and "the slaughter of so many ancient trees without any apparent effort to save any is what one might expect of Georgia Pacific." Another was "disturbed and distressed" at the "reprehensible destruction of … historic evidence of the old canal from New Haven to Northampton ... and the wanton destruction of ancient trees." Even a director complained that the board had not been properly consulted. The grounds committee, chaired by Lucius Whitaker, was stung.

Site of Farmington Canal and its towpath, off Garden Street, north of
Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.

Perhaps no one on the board expected praise for their efforts, but they certainly were not accustomed to such criticism. Work was halted. In a long memo to the board, and indirectly to the public, the chair explained the committee's response: All members of the board were conservation sensitive; they consulted a historian, the Plainville expert on the history of the canal; they met with the state archeologist, who in turn consulted the very first aerial maps of the state, and the Yale historian who researched the canal to identify sites for the National Register of Historic Places. All concurred: "The canal remains on our property were so dramatically changed and elevation so altered when the town installed two sewer trunk lines over the years (the association had sold the town a right-of-way in 1935) that what remained was not historically significant."

Tree removal was defended as necessary to the project; some were removed because planned changes in the land contours would result in exposed roots or buried trunks. In conclusion, the chair reminded the board that the future cemetery would be measurably more attractive with better walking paths and access to vistas of the river. Unmentioned in this defense, but implicit in the project, was the compelling need for more burial lots; 2,628 grave sites were created by the clearing and leveling operation. Certainly, the steady stream of walkers and joggers who enjoy these amenities today are testimony to the success of the transformation. Few remain who mourn what was lost.

Continue to History of Riverside Cemetery, Part II

South Gate, Riverside Cemetery. Photo by Brooke Martin.


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