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: http://www.grovestreetcemetery.org/

Grove Street’s history: http://www.grovestreetcemetery.org/history_of_grove_street_cemetery.htm

Tour schedule for 2018: http://www.grovestreetcemetery.org/tour_schedule.htm

Findagrave: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1607917/grove-street-cemetery

Friends of Grove Street Cemetery on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/grovestreetcemetery/


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