City Commits Money, Volunteers Commit Time For Renovations
By STEVEN GOODE
November 21, 2012
HARTFORD —— Not too long ago, an invitation to take a walk through Old North Cemetery with noted historian William Hosley meant one thing: that someone wanted to point out how the landmark resting place of some of the city's earliest captains of industry, politics and architecture had fallen into disrepair.
"Nobody invested a dime in this site for a hundred years," Hosley said. "It was neglected for a century."
That neglect will end with the city's commitment of $1.25 million over the next 10 years to restore the cemetery and "sculpture park" to its former glory.
"What the city has done is astonishing," Hosley said.
This year, the city is spending $250,000 on monument restoration in the 17-acre cemetery, where Samuel Colt's grandparents, Bushnell Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, three governors, and the founders of the American School for the Deaf and the Wasdsworth Atheneum – among others -- are buried.
"The city has a new awareness about cemeteries," said Antonio Matta, the city's architect, who is overseeing much of the work being done at Old North, which opened in 1807 when the Ancient Burying Ground on Main Street ran out of room. "Cemeteries are a resource and a teaching tool."
Mayor Pedro Segarra said he was saddened by the condition of the cemetery when he took office and felt compelled to commit resources to its revival.
"It's important because it's Hartford at it's best, in terms of the caliber of people who have Old North as their final resting place," Segarra said. "Going there is almost like having a history book."
Segarra said improvements to the cemetery are also part of the city's economic revitalization as a tourism draw that could be paired with Coltsville if or when it is designated a national park.
Earlier this week, Hosley showed off some of the restoration work, including the replacement of the wrought iron fence at the North Main Street entrance, roadway improvements, the renovation of the Colt family plot, and new trees planted along the main roadway.
"The No. 1 museum in Hartford is right here," Hosley said. "Everybody that left a footprint is here."
Hosley is hopeful that his group, the Friends of Old North, can make the cemetery a destination for students studying the city's history, as well as other visitors.
To that end the group has organized "A Walk Among Angels," a guided walking tour and workshop of the cemetery. The tours, which will be conducted Saturdayat 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., will focus on new discoveries, state-of-the-art restoration work and landscaping improvements.
"There's no place I enjoy telling stories more than here," Hosley said.
Hosley said he hopes that by continuing to make improvements to Old North and exposing more people to the beauty and history there, it can one day rival cemeteries such as Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, which draws more than 250,000 visitors a year.
Segarra said partnerships with organizations like the Friends of Old North are important to keeping a long-term, costly project like the restoration of the cemetery moving forward.
"I have found that when you enter into partnerships with passionate people it accelerates progress," he said. "We provide resources and they provide energy."
For information on Saturday's tours call 860-944-8349.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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