Monthly Archives: August 2018

Cemetery of the Week #169: Grove Street Cemetery

IMG_0053Grove Street Cemetery
Also known as the New Haven City Burial Ground
227 Grove Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06511
Established: September 1796
Size: 18 acres
Number of interments: 14,000
Hours: 9 am to 4 pm daily

In New Haven, an 18th-century campaign to close the overcrowded churchyards led to a new type of burial place. Thirty-two wealthy men formed a private association to establish a burial ground—and created the first incorporated cemetery in America. Its 1797 charter said, “Any person or body politic, their heirs, successors, or signs, who shall be the proprietor or owner of a lot which now is, or hereafter shall be located or laid out in said burying ground, shall be a legal member of said corporation and entitled to one vote for every lot he or they shall own or possess.” In other words, the lot holders owned the cemetery. That was revolutionary.

The 18-acre cemetery was laid out as a rigid grid, a design considered innovative, just as the cemetery was considered huge. The avenues and paths between the lots were named Spruce, Sycamore, and Laurel, names which have been echoed in cemeteries across the United States.

IMG_0088Also revolutionary: People could be buried with their families, rather than in the order in which they died. In the churchyards which predated Grove Street Cemetery, people were planted in the order in which they fell, filling up any available space. At Grove Street, families invested in large monuments with the family name—often an obelisk or an ornate marble confection—as the centerpiece for their plots: celebrating kinship, rather than individual achievement. Cemetery lots were large enough to bury family members for generations.

The landscape design combined the aesthetic of 18th-century English gardens with the flowering orchards of Connecticut. Tall Lombardy poplars emphasized the geometric design of the grounds and underlined the stability of the institution. Weeping willows, recently accepted as metaphors for grief, added movement and color to the grounds. Dogwoods, redbuds, and other flowering trees were added later.

Rhoads_GroveStgate_0122.jpgA massive brownstone Egyptian Revival Gate, designed by Henry Austin (buried here), greets visitors. The gate was dedicated in 1845, after the popularity of the smaller Egyptian gateway at Mount Auburn. Egyptiana became a worldwide fad after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt at the turn of the 19th century.

Many distinguished people are buried here: Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin; Noah Webster, lexicographer who standardized American spelling with his dictionary; paleontologist Othniel Marsh, who first reconstructed dinosaur skeletons; Charles Goodyear, originator of rubber vulcanization; Theodore Winthrop, a novelist who was one of the first officers killed in the Civil War; Hiram Bingham, pioneer missionary to Hawaii; and Roger Sherman, the only man to sign all four fundamental documents on which the United States government is based: the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.

Rhoads-GroveStMiller_0100A cenotaph stands to the memory of Major Glenn Miller, the swing band leader who went missing in action while stationed in Europe in 1944. Other cenotaphs line the back wall of the cemetery: the gravestones removed from the New Haven Green, where the Colony’s original burial ground lay. As I noted in the entry on the New Haven Crypt, all remaining grave markers were removed from the Green and lined up in Grove Street Cemetery in the early 1800s. Unless specifically transferred by their descendants, all the bodies were left behind, undisturbed, in the Green. At Grove Street, the monuments are aligned in alphabetical order, for ease of locating your ancestor’s name.


The cemetery also encloses several figures important in African American history. Yehudi Ashman, an agent of the African Colonization Society, promoted the settlement of Blacks in Monrovia, Liberia. Mary Goodman, an African American businesswoman, established the first scholarship for African American students at Yale. She died in 1872.

Rhoads-GroveStRemington_0058The cemetery continues to be in use. Modern graves are marked with geometric spheres of granite, copies of Remington’s western statures, and cryptic epitaphs, including at least one that quotes The Little Prince. Members of Yale’s faculty have come to rest here under some of the most unusual modern stones. The cemetery has been called the Westminster of Yale.

Useful links:

Grove Street Cemetery’s homepage:

Grove Street’s history:

Tour schedule for 2018:


Friends of Grove Street Cemetery on Facebook:


Cemetery of the Week #168: the New Haven Crypt

IMG_0181The New Haven Crypt
Center Church on the Green
250 Temple Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06511
Founded: late 1600s
Closed: 1821
Size: small
Number of interments: an estimated 1,000 people are buried here
Tours: can be scheduled at (203) 787-0121.

Originally people in New Haven, Connecticut were buried in the green in the center of town. The space started to be used as a burial ground by settlers of the New Haven Colony in the 1600s. Estimates range from 5-10,000 people were buried there before 1821, when the Grove Street Cemetery opened nearby.  At that point, headstones were moved to the new cemetery, but the bodies were left in place below the sod in the Green.

The original First Church of Christ in New Haven was built on a corner of the Green in 1639.  It was rebuilt twice in the same place, but when the congregation voted to expand their meeting house, there was no open space on the Green.  Instead, they decided to build on pilings above part of the graveyard on the Green. Construction of Center Church began in 1812 and was completed in 1814.

IMG_0137The graves beneath the church were left in their original places and enclosed in what’s called a crypt, even though it stands at ground level.  The surviving stones date from 1687 to 1812 and have been called the “last remaining evidence on the New Haven Green of the first colonists who settled here to establish a new life in America.”

IMG_0132An estimated 1000 people (or perhaps more) are buried beneath the church. Plaques inside the church’s foyer list names and death dates of people known to be buried in the crypt. In those days, it was common for a family to reuse the same name for a child over and over in the same generation until one of them finally survived to adulthood.

The first map of the crypt was made by Henry Trowbridge in 1880. 139 gravestones survive inside the crypt, some of which have been rendered illegible by time. The oldest stone marks the grave of Sarah Rutherford Trowbridge, who died in 1687.

Originally the floor of the crypt was dirt, which was replaced by concrete as a way to control the damp. In 1985, they (who?) realized that the concrete was too successful in trapping moisture beneath it. The gravestones were acting as wicks, pulling the moisture upward, which was leading to degradation of the stone.  In 1990, the concrete was broken up and removed by being passed though the little windows to the Green outside. Walkways of unmortared bricks were laid between the stones, allowing them to breathe.


The ceiling is low down there. At one point there was talk of lowering the floor so there would be more room, but the bodies are not actually buried very deeply.  In the end, the decision was made to leave the skeletons in place. The crypt is plenty bright enough, but it did make me feel slightly claustrophobic when all our tour group gathered in one area.

Among those buried here include Benedict Arnold’s first wife, Margaret; the family of President Rutherford B. Hayes; Reverend James Pierpont, a founder of Yale College, and many more. One of the stones remembers Sarah Whiting, “the painful mother of eight children, of whom six survive.” When she died in 1726, she was called “fruitful, virtuous, and weary.”

The New Haven Crypt Association preserves the site, trains volunteers as tour guides, and offers public tours most Saturdays from April to October from 11 am to 1 pm.

Outside the church is a cenotaph in honor of Theophilus Eaton, first governor of the New Haven Colony, who served for 19 years. He was also a founder of the First Church of Christ, from which Center Church derived, and is buried beneath the church’s foundation. The large marble plaque was placed on the church by the city when the gravestones were removed from the Green.

IMG_0179In what’s left of the churchyard, there are also plaques for General Edward Whalley and Goffe, two “regicides” who fled to New Haven to escape execution. Whalley and William Goffe signed the death warrant for King Charles I during the English Civil War. A tall monument remembers John Dixwell, one of the Regicide Judges, who settled in New Haven in 1665 under an assumed name.

Useful links:

A history of the Crypt on the Center Church site:

Tales from the Crypt:

Facebook page of the New Haven Crypt Association:

The Findagrave page:

I meant to say that I know of at least one other church built above an earlier graveyard in the US. The graveyard where Edgar Allan Poe is buried in Baltimore has a church up on piers above the graves: