Wolcott Historical Society News - December 2012
By Florence Goodman
What does the word "cemetery" mean to you? I'm sure there are different meanings for everyone, but I would hope that when this word is mentioned, it brings to mind, "a place to respect the dead or Rest in Peace (RIP)." Sad, but true not everyone thinks this way; thus our old Northeast Cemetery has suffered greatly over the years because of lack of RESPECT.
Wolcott has five old cemeteries; they are Edgewood, Southeast, Pike's Hill, Northeast, and Woodtick. Of these five cemeteries two are still in use today, Edgewood in the center of town on Bound Line Road and Woodtick at the corner of Woodtick and Todd Roads. I have discussed the histories of each of these cemeteries in various articles, but this month I would like to give a brief history of the Northeast Cemetery and update you on some improvements that have taken place there through an Eagle Scout project.
The Northeast Cemetery can be found at the end of lower Beecher Road about one half mile in on the old dirt road which is located on the New Britain Reservoir property. This section of Beecher Road is just past Hillside Equestrian Stables on Woodtick Road. It was originally referred to as the new Northeast Burial Ground because Pike's Hill Cemetery, circa 1774, which was the original cemetery in this area, became too small. The following quotation taken from Reverend Samuel Orcutt's book explains when the town decided to create a new cemetery. It stated that on April 8, 1805, at a town meeting the following was voted. "That the selectmen be authorized to purchase at the expense of the town such quantity of land and in such place as they in their discretion think proper and best, to be appropriated as a burying ground in the northeast quarter of the town; and that one rod in width be taken from the south side of the highway running east and west by the proposed burying ground the whole length of said ground and appropriated as a part thereof." Orcutt also stated that this new burying ground was located on a gravel knoll at the foot of the hill east of the old ground. Thus you can also get to this cemetery by following the Tunxis Trail off of Woodtick Road.
So in 1805 the town selectmen authorized the purchase of land for a new burial ground in this part of town and it became know as the Northeast Cemetery. This cemetery was in use until the late 1920's; the last burial date found on a tombstone located in this cemetery was on January 18, 1927 for Benjamin L. Bronson.
I have always loved visiting old cemeteries since so much local history can be learned there. They can reveal information about the life span of residents, wars, epidemics, or natural disasters that might have affected the town and its people. Not to mention that early tombstones have many intriguing inscriptions and designs carved into them. The first time I visited the Northeast Cemetery was 1989 when I took my sixth, seventh and eighth grade Project Explore students there to study the history of our town. At that time, though the grounds were unkempt and some tombstones were broken, the tombstones were still in relatively good shape. Since then this cemetery has slowly, but constantly been vandalized because of its remote location. Tombstones have been broken or totally destroyed; there is even a bullet hole through the Joel Alcott stone. Dirt bikers and quad riders have added to the destruction by knocking down much of the old chain-linked fence that surrounded the cemetery, as well as increasing the erosion on the hill at the entrance by riding up and down it. The town has tried at various times to have the area cleaned up and patrolled, but it has been futile since those responsible for the destruction fail to understand that burial grounds should be respected not destroyed.
Several years ago, I met with Mayor Dunn to discuss ways to improve several of these old cemeteries. Since then some town funds have been allocated for improvements to these historic burying grounds. This has been an ongoing process and has involved various groups that include the town crew, the Boy Scouts and the Wolcott Historical Society.
In the fall of 2008 the grounds were totally overgrown and in much need of cleaning; the town crew improved the road leading into the Northeast Cemetery to make way for a major clean up by the Boy Scouts. The Scouts and their leaders spent a full day removing many large and small trees to make room for a new fence that was installed shortly thereafter. Since then the town crew has kept the grass mowed during the spring and summer months.
That fall day in October of 2008 left a lasting impression on many of the scouts that were part of the cleaning crew, but one scout in particular just couldn't let it go. It was after that day that Michael Jacobson decided he wanted to do more to improve this old cemetery. He wanted to use his improvements to achieve his Eagle Scout badge. Erosion and abuse from dirt bikers and quad riders had caused the entrance to the cemetery to constantly wash out and Michael wanted to change that. His idea was to stop the erosion by having large barrier blocks placed at the bottom of the entrance hill then backfilled with gravel and soil. He presented his ides to Mayor Dunn and Pete Carey and they agreed to help. Next he had to get approval from the Boy Scout review committee; which again met with approval. The town crew was able to complete their part of the job, which opened the way for Michael and his team of workers to begin the next stage of the project. They built large steps leading up into the cemetery and also planted shrubs and grass seed on each side of the steps. A stainless sign with a brief history of the cemetery was ordered and placed on one of the concrete barriers to let visitors know about its historical significance. Michael, his dad and the team of scout workers did an outstanding job in helping to preserve the entrance to this cemetery for years to come and we are greatly indebted to him for this project! The Historical Society will now have a large slider gate installed at the top of the hill in hopes of keeping vandals out. We still have much work to be done inside this cemetery to try to repair some of the tombstone; hopefully that will be completed in the future.
If you enjoy hiking, you might like to visit this cemetery, which is only a short walk from the end of Beecher Road. If you'd like a longer hike, park on Woodtick Road across from Wilson Road and hike the Tunxix Trail down to the Northeast Cemetery. Along the way, you will pass Pike's Hill Cemetery that was brought back to life by another Eagle Scout, Steve Lago. Both cemeteries are worth the hike.
(Information for this article was taken from Samuel Orcutt's, The History of the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut From 1731 to 1874.)
Our Schoolhouse Museum, which is usually open in the fall on Sunday afternoons, will be closed for several months this fall and winter because of painting. You may visit the Museum in the spring when it reopens by calling Carl Hotkowski 203-592-8237 or Flo Goodman 203-879-9818.
Benjamin L. Bronson died on January 18, 1927. Last to be buried in this cemetery.
View from front of cemetery looking toward the back. Taken in 1989 before tombstones were damaged.
Updated view from front of cemetery looking toward the back. Notice the broken tombstones.
Bullet hole through the Joel Alcott stone.
Entrance before project began.
Entrance after project.
Plaque attached to concrete block.
Mr. Jacobson and Michael.
Flo Goodman, President of the Wolcott Historical Society with Michael.
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.