The Grove Street Cemetery
From Essex Events -- Spring 1996: The Grove Street Cemetery
"During the past few months the vault at the Grove Street Cemetery has been rebuilt, renovated and improved. This work was accomplished by the A.J. Shea Construction Company and Mr. Duane Perrault. It entailed initially removing all the outside granite stones and labeling them for exact replacement. The exterior of the vault was then rebuilt and reinforced. The face stones were put back in exactly the same position with the mortar trim duplicating the original. The vault doors were repaired, and finally the dirt was removed from the top of the vault and a drainage system installed.
"The impetus for repair first came from Mr. Chris Yoder, a career United States Army person, currently serving in Saudi Arabia. Although Mr. Yoder is from Michigan, he is a descendant of people buried here, and was curious about what could be done to improve the condition of the cemetery. He volunteered to try and raise money to start repairs. Subsequently, money came from his campaign, the Essex Historical Society, and a very generous anonymous donor.
"The next questions concern the history of this cemetery. Why is it here, who is buried here, who was responsible for it at its inception, etc. Initially, let me state that I consider this to be one of the most important artifacts (historically speaking) in the lower valley. It is a final representation of Essex (or Potapaug, as it was once called) during the heyday of wooden sailing ship building. Some of the people interred here are among the most prominent to ever live in town, and were highly influential in local ship construction and financing. The three main people, Mr. Henry Champlin, Mr. Joseph Hill, and Mr. Joseph Hill Hayden are extraordinary examples.
"Joseph Hill turned over one acre of land he owned here to a group of trustees for use as a cemetery, because "of the good will that I have for the inhabitants of the borough of Essex" (Saybrook Land Records 31/202-10/20/1842). The trustees were Henry L. Champlin (first president of Essex Savings Bank), Elias Redfield, Richard P. Williams, Samuel Hayden, and the famous sea Captain Joseph Post. Mr. Hill specified that vaults were to be built, that the front walls were to be kept in constant repair, and that there must be "proper gates" (where have they gone?). He was an attorney, financier, politician, and one of the wealthiest people ever to live in our town. Indeed, Hill's Academy was named for him.
"Ironically, the cemetery's date of construction (early 1840s) corresponds to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, and the "sunset" of the pre-industrial period, which was when Essex had so much affluence and influence. Therefore, as I have indicated, this burial yard is very symbolic. A total of thirty-three persons were buried here, most being members or descendants of the Hayden family. Their surnames are Hayden, Hill, Champlin, Kelly, Chapman, Thompson, and Pratt. The last interment was in 1887. Mr. Hill named this the "Grove Cemetery." There was no Grove Street at this time, so it is very revealing that this street was named after the cemetery. The road that did go through here in 1840 was not formally named, and was referred to as the road from the home of Joseph Hill Hayden (currently Schenck, adjacent to the library) to the New City, as that area of town was once known.
"As the various trustees passed away, apparently no provision was made for the care of this cemetery. The Cheney family subsequently took up the mantle, overseeing it for many years. As a matter of fact, in the 1929 Essex tax lists, it is called the Cheney Cemetery, although there was no ownership involved. After the Second World War, the town was left with its care and has maintained it since. The ultimate plan is to fix up the rest of this burial ground and designate it as an historical place, for all to visit and appreciate."
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