The Alder Brook Cemetery in Guilford, which houses the gravestones of many prominent Guilford families dating back to the 18th- and 19th centuries, is planning an increase in fees to offset losses to the cemetery's endowment fund caused by the down economy. While many believe the town maintains the cemetery, the cemetery is managed by a volunteer-run board of directors.
"It's a labor of love," said Sherwood Parmelee, a member of the Alder Brook Cemetery Board of Directors since 1996. "It's our responsibility to pass it on to the next generation and to do as good a job as we can and to make sure there's enough money in the endowment fund to carry this on in perpetuity."
Members of the board of directors enjoy a strong sense of history; the minutes from the group's meetings date back to 1865 and the positions are often handed down within families.
"It's something that's handed down from one generation to another. You get a real sense of history," said Ray Dudley, a member of the board of directors for the past 10 years.
The story of the cemetery dates back to 1818, when Guilford decided to clean up its Town Green. At the time, the Guilford Green housed cattle pastures, church buildings, and a cemetery.
"New Haven decided to clean up their Green [in 1817], so in 1818 Guilford decided we'd clean up our Green, too," said Parmelee. "There were churches on it, people pastured their cattle on it. It took about 40 years to clean up the Green."
The bodies were not removed from the Guilford Green, but the gravestones were either taken home by relatives of the deceased or moved to the East Burial Grounds or West Side Cemetery. In 1865, the former was expanded and rededicated as the Alder Brook Cemetery.
One notable occupant of the cemetery is an unidentified Native American whose remains were excavated at Jacobs Beach 30 years ago. The remains, which date back hundreds of years, were buried at a ceremony presided over by Native Americans last year.
Today, revenue from selling graves is the only source of income for the cemetery, which costs about $60,000 each year to maintain. The money is invested in the endowment fund to provide for the cemetery's perpetual care after all the lots have been sold.
"It all comes down to our sale of graves because that's where our income comes from," commented Dudley. "We have to get enough from the sale of graves to pay for operations, plus we have to be able to put something in our endowment fund each year."
The hope is that the cemetery can continue to operate unchanged.
"If a cemetery becomes insolvent, it gets taken over by the town and then the town has to maintain it," said Parmelee. "We certainly don't want that to happen."
"We're particularly proud of the appearance of this cemetery and the way it's managed," added Dudley.
The non-denominational cemetery, which encompasses a little more than 20 acres, has space for about 1,200 more graves. Graves currently sell for $800 and cremation graves cost $250, prices that are lower than those of many other cemeteries. Fees are likely to increase to $1,000 per grave in 2011. The board of directors will consider and vote upon increases at its annual meeting in December.
The cemetery, which is home to a population of unique black squirrels, should be operational for another 30 to 40 years before all the graves are sold. From that point on, the endowment fund must supply all of its income.
For more information about the Alder Brook Cemetery, call Ray Dudley at 203-453-4384.