History of Riverside Cemetery,
by Ann Reed
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
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.)
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
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
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
John Treadwell Norton,
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
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
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
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,
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
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 18451887 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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 19961997)
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 postWorld
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, 19441945.
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
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
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
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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