Old cemeteries, like old buildings, need to be used to be preserved. That may be the key to saving one of Hartford's most historic graveyards.
The Old South Burying Ground off Maple Avenue, established in 1800, is the final resting place of many Hartford notables, including Thomas Seymour, the city's first mayor, and the legendary Hannah B. Watson Hudson, who became publisher of this newspaper, then known as The Connecticut Courant, in 1777.
Today, however, the burying ground is in dire need of rescue. It was halved by the construction of Benton Street in the 19th century, leaving about two acres, and has been heavily vandalized over the years. And while the Ancient Burying Ground downtown and the Old North Cemetery on Main Street have received attention and financial support, Old South has continued to languish.
A group of volunteers has been pushing to preserve the cemetery since the 1990s. Though its numbers have dwindled, the group may finally see success. Antonio Matta, the city architect, told The Courant that a master plan is being developed for Old South, and that work could begin within a year.
Though this should have happened years ago, this is good news. Old cemeteries honor the departed who helped build the city and add to the city's appeal for heritage tourism — they have a mystique, and people like to wander through them. A well-kept cemetery can be an asset to a neighborhood.
What to do with Old South? Ruth Shapleigh-Brown, director of the Connecticut Gravestone Network and one of the state's great advocates for historic cemeteries, suggested a few years ago that it become a park that invites visitors. It could also be used by Fox Elementary School across the street to teach the city's history.
Prominent families used to help keep up old cemeteries; alas, many that once supported the Old South cemetery have dispersed or died off. They have left an asset today's citizens should preserve.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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