Cemetery Wall To Remain Undisturbed

In a victory for preservationists and the spirits of the dead, a controversial proposal to replace sections of the historic Grove Street Cemetery wall with cast iron fencing has been withdrawn.

nhigrovefence%20002.JPGThe proposal, made by Charles Ellis, a member of the cemetery’s governing body,  aroused deep concern both among preservationists and plot holders of the cemetery.

The latter group, known as the proprietors, assembled in rare large numbers on Oct. 6 for the burial ground society’s annual meeting. They gave Ellis and the plan’s architect Robert A.M. Stern an earful.

Chief among the objections raised at the impassioned meeting was the potential disturbance a peek-a-boo fence and consequent noise from the street would have on the solitude and sacred space inside.

Apparently those concerns were heard.

On Tuesday afternoon, G. Harold Welch, Jr., the president of the plotholders’ decision-making standing committee, said in a phone conversation that he had polled each member of the 11-member committee.

“Following that, I spoke to Mr. Ellis. As a result he has withdrawn his proposal.”

According to a statement issued by Welch, noise intrusion was the deciding factor.

Following is the full text of the statement:

The Standing Committee, the governing body of The New Haven city Burial Ground (known as the Grove Street Cemetery) has been considering the proposal of Mr. Charles Ellis, a member of that committee, to replace a few small sections of the cemetery wall along Prospect St. with iron fencing similar to that along Grove Street.

After discussing this idea with members of the Standing Committee and Mr. Ellis, particularly concerning possible noise intrusions, he has withdrawn this proposal. We are most grateful for his proposal and for his willingness to fund same.

It is hoped that we can now concentrate on improving the Prospect St. exterior space with lighting and plantings.

It has been most gratifying to discover the wonderful interest in this historic National Landmark by the Proprietors and the community at large.

I hope that all will take a keen interest in the restoration of the Meeting House, the building immediately behind the Henry Austin Gate, the entrance to this wonderful place.

Welch added that ideas for new plantings and other exterior improvements on Prospect Street, which were part of the fence discussions, were so well received, he hoped that that aspect might proceed.

“It ought to get done, and it will. Question is: who will pay for it?” he said.

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posted by: Bill Hosley on October 13, 2009  8:06pm

Preservation, visibility and use are not incompatible but mutually reinforcing which is one reason I was open to the possibility that tinkering with the great wall of Grove might have an up side. New Haven has one of the most significant concentrations of historic resources of any town or city in CT, but no plan, process or advocacy group explicitly dedicated to marketing, programming and/or interpreting it or even seeing it in all its holistic glory. I am all for “historic preservation” but HP is more about hardware than software and more about buildings than other stuff. The K of C Museum is an historic resource. Grove is an historic resource. The Yale Furniture Study Center is an historic resource. New Haven Museum, and 20 more things one can point to, most of which are not “arts organizations” or historic buildings per se.

New Haven would get a lot of mileage by adopting or developing a process (I hate to advocate for another organization - perhaps the Arts Council needs to remission itself more broadly?) so the all these elements come together under a more inclusive umbrella of care.

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on October 13, 2009  9:59pm

Your point is well taken, however.
Grove Street has headstones that are hundreds of years old, but it is a functioning cemetery as well. Many at the meeting have loved ones there. It is historical, but it is not a museum.
Open cemeteries can pose problems too. Visiting Massachusetts years ago, we saw family headstones worn away by tourists who took rubbings to decorate their condo walls. That may be ‘hardware’ but those folks have families. Your husband or great-grandfather’s grave is not a building any more than a cemetery is a museum. It’s sacred space.
You need more security to protect the stones from tourists and vandals when you ‘open’ it up. The families were very concerned about noise as well, and the Proprietors agreed.
The Prospect Street concerns - dead space and speeding cars - that this proposal attempted to address are legitimate concerns. Those concerns remain. But Becton’s dead space is more of a problem on Prospect than Grove Cemetery.

posted by: RAY WILLIS on October 14, 2009  1:17am

Thank ... god. The GSC is one of New Havens overlooked gems and should be valued in its current state on par with the fine art galleries. Now if we can only get the cops to stop parking inside and taking naps…

posted by: Obaasan on October 14, 2009  8:59am

Parking cops make me feel safe while I am walking or jogging in the cemetery. I am glad to see them there.

posted by: Beaver Hill Resident on October 14, 2009  9:27am

Aren’t parking cops often writing their reports?  As with Obaasan, their presence makes me feel safe also.

posted by: RAY WILLIS on October 14, 2009  12:26pm

The caretaker has described the cops presence to me as them goofing off and has cited examples like a cop coming in at 10am and then finding him parked in some corner at noon sleeping. I’ve never felt threatened in the GSC, the old crotchety caretaker keeps a pretty close eye on things. I personally think that the police presence could be put to better use on neighboring Shelton Ave. or enforcing traffic laws right outside the gates.

posted by: JB on October 14, 2009  1:07pm

Taking down a perfectly good wall and replacing it with a new iron fence?  What a waste of money and energy.

posted by: anon on October 14, 2009  6:40pm

Please fix the street so that it isn’t a highway for trucks speeding through the Yale campus at 50 miles per hour. 

There is no reason that traffic should be allowed to flow at more than 15 miles per hour along this street.  To accomplish this, simply narrow the lanes. Anyone could do this overnight with a few buckets of paint.

The wall will be a much more pleasant presence, and to Bill Hosley’s point, appreciated much more, when pedestrians don’t feel as if they are about to be run over and flattened against it.