Stonington Cemetery seeks inclusion on National Register of Historic Places

Stonington Cemetery is seen on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Stonington Cemetery is seen on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Stonington — Officials of the Stonington Cemetery are seeking to have the centuries-old nonsectarian burial ground on Route 1 and North Main Street added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Last month the state Historic Preservation Offices review board approved the application and will now forward it to the National Parks Service for a decision on inclusion on the register.

Among the criteria used to evaluate properties for listing on the National Register is that they “embody distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction, represent the work of a master, possess high artistic values or are otherwise distinguished.”

The cemetery’s extremely detailed 70-page application stressed how the burial ground meets those criteria.

The now 22-acre cemetery has evolved from a 1-acre family burial ground in the mid-18th century to 6 acres when it was incorporated in 1849 and then expanded to 22 acres in 1881. Lined, landscaped and shaded with mature trees, the cemetery contains more than 2,150 markers carved from all types of stone along with three mausoleums, a receiving vault and a caretaker building. Originally known as the Phelps Burial Ground and Evergreen Cemetery, it also features stone walls, wrought iron fencing and a small pond.

“Each geographical expansion illustrates contemporaneous practices in cemetery design and monumentation. Today, the cemetery retains its integrity of location, design, materials, association, setting and feeling,” the application states.

The summary of the application says the cemetery “represents changing burial practices and funerary customs" across its more than 250-year history are reflected in three ways.

First, the multi-sectional cemetery “represents evolving approaches to the organization and administration of burial space within the Stonington community, since the site developed from a colonial family burial ground in the 1750s into New London County’s earliest incorporated public cemetery in 1849," and still is in operation today.

Second, its variety of period-specific interment patterns and landscape features such as scattered individual graves, gridded family plots and spacious burial rows, “reflect changing attitudes and approaches to cemetery design that are representative respectively of colonial burial ground design, nineteenth century formal garden cemetery design and twentieth century memorial park design.”

Third, its states that the cemetery’s markers, monuments and mausoleums “reflect historical trends in the design and production of American funerary art, ranging in style from simple engraved tablets, to elegant Victorian sculpture and neo-classical sepulchral architecture.”

The president of the Stonington Cemetery Association, Lynn Callahan, said that after she submitted an application in 2014, the state Historic Preservation Office contacted her and offered to fund the preparation of the application by a consulting firm. Callahan said a listing on the National Register “signifies the location is important to the history of the area and the history of the nation.”

“It’s another level of validation for us,” she said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Stonington Cemetery is seen on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Stonington Cemetery is seen on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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