The History of Stonington Cemetery
The Stonington Cemetery - once known as Evergreen Cemetery – has a long history. It is an outstanding example of the three historic cemetery movements in this country: the family or church graveyard, the rural or garden cemetery, and the memorial style cemetery.
Our cemetery began as the family graveyard for the Phelps family with the first burials occurring during the mid-18th century on land belonging to the Phelps family and not far from the original house - later enlarged by the Paffard family - that still stands on a knoll across from what is now Route 1.
In the early 19th century new ideas from Europe about city planning and garden design began to be applied to American cemeteries. The new cemeteries were non-sectarian places meant for meditation, contemplation, and prayer, but also for gentle recreation. From their beginning, these cemeteries, were intended as civic institutions designed for public use. Before the widespread development of public parks, they provided a place for the general public to enjoy refined outdoor recreation amidst art and sculpture in settings previously available only to the wealthy.
The first of these new cemeteries in this country was Mt. Auburn in Cambridge MA (1831). It was followed soon after by Green Mount in Baltimore (1834), and Laurel Hill in Philadelphia (1836).
By the 1840’s, Stonington had become a prosperous village. There was an awareness of and a desire for the amenities of larger nearby cities. Thus in 1849, a group of civic minded men who wished to provide the area with an enlarged cemetery inspired by other grand American cemeteries of the period formed a corporation to purchase land from the Phelps family - land that included their original family graveyard. Thus Stonington Cemetery was created.
Our cemetery is a fine example of the rural cemetery with its carriage trails, fine Victorian monuments, and several lovely stone structures – the Phelps Memorial, the Billings Mausoleum and the Palmer Mausoleum. The grounds were expanded and developed over the half-century after its creation.
At the end of the 19th century, however, new ideas about cemetery planning gave rise to “memorial parks” – large grassy lawns fitted into a more gridded design with fewer imposing monuments and ornately carved headstones. By the early 20th century, Stonington Cemetery had annexed additional land and added its own memorial park. Today the cemetery includes land on the west side of Route 1 that is being held for future development.
Buried in Stonington Cemetery are members of Stonington families – wealthy and not so – who lived, raised families, worked here, created, and contributed to this community and the nation during the past two centuries as well as others who over the years came to call Stonington their home and who chose our cemetery as a resting place. Notable among these are Nathaniel Palmer, Stephen Vincent Benet, and James Merrill.
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