At Mapleshade Cemetery,

even finality is uncertain

Graveyard committee seek plot records



Ridgefield Press Staff


RIDGEFIELD, March 10, 2005 – Weather-beaten stones inscribed with names and dates speak silently of life’s brief commotion and eternity’s long breathless pause.

The names  -- and the bones beneath -- are those of people who built and lived in Ridgefield, planted its hills with crops and houses, bore its children, defended it in wars.

Mapleshade Cemetery is a final resting place that surrounds the dead with peace, tranquility, history, honor -- and, it appears, some uncertainty, some confusion.

“The future of the cemetery is in question because no endowment fund had been built up, and it’s a question of how it’s going to be managed,” said Jeanne Timpanelli of the town’s Graveyard Committee.

“And one of the problematic situations is that the records are incomplete. They’re incomplete and there isn’t a precise knowledge of the plots that have been sold, who owns them.”

Five cemeteries

Mapleshade Cemetery accounts for about four acres of the headstone-filled triangle between North Street, North Salem Road and Mapleshade Road. It adjoins four other cemeteries -- The Old Town Cemetery, The Ridgefield Cemetery, Lounsbury Cemetery and Fairlawn Cemetery -- all five of them amounting to about 14 acres.

 To the eye of someone strolling among the chiseled stones, the cemeteries blend together. One is distinguished from another only, perhaps, by the level of upkeep apparent.

But while the Old Town Cemetery, dating back to the 1700s, is public property, the other four are privately held.

“Mapleshade Cemetery has been privately owned since its creation in mid-1800’s,” Ms. Timpanelli said.

Of the five adjoining cemeteries only two are “active” in the sense that there are plots still to be sold.

“The inactive ones, all the plots are sold -- there may still be families with plots that aren’t full, and they’re still burying people there,” Ms. Timpanelli.

 “The two active ones -- Fairlawn and Mapleshade  -- there are still plots to be sold.”

Scott family

In recent decades the cemetery had been run by two bothers, Ed and Sidney Scott. The Scott brothers, descendants of some Ridgefield’s earliest settlers, are both now deceased themselves. The brothers’ heirs have been investigating what to do with the property.

“We’re in discussion with responsible parties in town to see what can be done,” said Tim Malarky, Ed Scott’s son-in-law.

Connecticut law governing cemeteries has changed, and today a cemetery cannot simply be owned by a private individual or family. Only a few legal entities -- towns, ecclesiastical societies, cemetery associations -- may run cemeteries.

Doug Clewell, chairman of the town Graveyard Committee, said this is part of reason for discussions between the Scott family and the town.

“We recognize that by state law we can’t own and operate it,” Mr. Malarky said. “And we want to make sure it finds a happy home where it will be cared for and families that are there will have some assurance that it will be cared for.

“At this point there is no committed plan on anyone’s part,” he said.

“I will say, from a Scott family perspective, that there’s a genuine concern for the future of the property,” Mr. Malarky said. “The Scott family has family in that cemetery, and there’s a concern that it be handled appropriately in the future.”

Perpetual care

Cemeteries also need money for maintenance -- generally, an endowment provides income to ensure what is called “perpetual care” of the property.

“The future of the cemetery is in question because no endowment fund has been built up, and it’s a question of how it’s going to be managed,” Ms. Timpanelli said.

“The Graveyard Committee and the town are concerned about the future of Mapleshade. The first step toward arranging for a new management -- we don’t know exactly what that’s going to be -- but the first thing is to try to try to get as complete a record as possible, so we can know what plots can be sold. Because that’s where any future income would come, for the care of the cemetery.”

An original layout of Mapleshade Cemetery shows 272 family plots.

“There can be numerous graves in those plots,” Ms. Timpanelli said.

“I think it’s up to 16,” said Graveyard Committee member Susan Law.

“A full plot is 16 feet by 29 feet,” Mr. Clewell added.

Seeking records

Committee members are asking people who own plots or have records of plots or the ownership of plots to contact them through the Ridgefield Historical Society. To reach the graveyard committee, call the historical society at 438-5821 and leave a name and phone number.

“That’s our major request,” Ms. Timpanelli said. “People who own plots in Mapleshade, to share their records or any information they may have about the people who own the plot next to them.

“We do have some maps showing the plot numbers -- we’re not just starting with no information,” she said.

“And this map, as best as we can figure out, probably is from about the 1950s, maybe early ’60s -- so obviously, it’s very incomplete.

“We do have bills of sale,” she added. “...We requested a few people that we knew had owned plots there to give us copies of whatever records they had,” Ms. Timpanelli said. “That’s what we’re looking for now, more people who owned plots there and who have a bill of sale or any indication as to the plot numbers. That would help us.”

Writ in stone

Committee members have been collecting what information can be gleaned from walking around the cemetery, reading the headstones.

 “But that doesn’t give us a complete record of the cemetery,” Ms. Timpanelli said.

“Plots available,” Mr. Clewell said.

“Or even plots that have already been used, because not everybody has headstones,” Ms. Law added.

“The long-term goal is to get a new administration,” Ms. Timpanelli said “...which would be able to sell the remaining plots, and offer perpetual care. This cemetery never offered perpetual care. In order to do that you have to build up an endowment fund and form an association.”

The idea is simply that a cemetery -- a final home for those who have died, a place those who remain may go to remember  -- should be well cared for.

“It’s a way of remembering and honoring people,” Ms. Timpanelli said. “...That’s why we’re concerned  about Mapleshade -- that some provision for its future is made.”