Compiled by Lee Shurtleff, Village Historian
At the close of the 1700s, residents began to settle the Groton, New York, area, establishing their lives and homes and engaging in commercial and agricultural pursuits. Throughout the 1800s, Groton developed as a center of enterprise, ingenuity and resolve, and, indeed, early settlers introduced and established institutions common to civilized lands, among these being their early burial grounds.
The first birth in the area that contains the present-day community of Groton, as recorded in the writings in 1868 of Professor M.M. Baldwin (Principal of the Groton Academy), was that of a daughter of John Perrin, reputed to be Groton’s first settler, who died tragically at two or three years old, and thus was the first to be interred in what was established as the “burying ground,” an area adjacent to current-day Main Street, on the grounds of what now is the American Legion Post.
New York State Legislation
The community “burying ground” was replaced in 1858 with the establishment of the Groton Rural Cemetery on Clark Street, above the village. An Act of the New York State Legislature in 1868 allowed for the disinterment and relocation of those previously buried on Main Street up to the new lands. Professor Baldwin wrote of Esquire Blake, Groton’s first lawyer who moved here in 1819, “died soon after, and was buried on the north side of the old burying-ground, near the fence. The earth has since crumbled away and exposed his remains. Perhaps his sad fate has been the reason why so few lawyers have settled among us. As an Act has just passed the Legislature, (our lawyer drew it up,) for the removal of those buried in the old ground, perhaps his remains may yet find a quiet resting place.” Records at the Groton Public Library contain the names and locations of those subsequently removed to their new resting place.
In a “Historical Sketch of the Town of Groton,” delivered first as a lecture to the Groton Literary Association on April 10, 1868, Professor Baldwin wrote and spoke of the organization of the Groton Rural Cemetery in 1858.
Cemetery Among the Finest in the Land
“Permit me, in speaking of the Cemetery, to repeat in part, what I have said of it in an Address last autumn. ‘Among the many modest, rural burying-places to be found in our land, which evince cultivated taste, refinement, and a becoming respect for the dead, is that of our own beautiful and retired village. Happily located here upon the sides and top of this mount, with the pure waters of the quiet little stream laving its base, and the white pleasant edifices of our thriving village lying in the vale beneath, it contains treasures dearer to our hearts than the golden sands of California. Well adapted by nature for this purpose, it has been rendered more so by art. These winding foot-paths and carriage walks, these trees, both evergreen and deciduous so skillfully planted by the hand of man here and there throughout the grounds, and those tall old forest-trees planted by the hand of God, which have escaped the ruthless woodman’s ax, and still rear aloft their foliage as a fine back-ground to the picture; these flowers of many forms and hues, both native and exotic, which breathe their odors over many a grave; these marble slabs, tablets, and monuments whose beautiful forms meet the eye from every direction; and its seclusion from the noise, bustle, and turmoil of the business and activities of life, render this a most desirable place for the interment of the dead. If, for the next few years, as great improvements are made in these grounds as already have been made, The Groton Rural Cemetery will be among the finest in the land …
To show most clearly the resourcefulness of this locality, it may not be improper to state that the records of the Cemetery show that of the twenty-five interments for the year ending January last, more than half had reached, or nearly so, three score years and ten; and that one half of the remainder were infants but a few days or months old.”
Further details of the cemetery’s origins are contained in the “Grip’s Valley Gazette,” a Historical Souvenir (No. 6 in a series) of Groton, NY published in October, 1899. Grip’s wrote that “Groton has a very fine cemetery. The association was organized in July, 1858 by a party of gentlemen who contributed for that purpose. The site is a very pretty one, including rolling land overlooking the village. The first purchase was about nine and one-half acres. Last spring, fifteen acres more were purchased. The association has $4,300 on hand, a fund which is invested for the care of the cemetery.”
The first trustees were listed as Samuel J. Williams, Sidney Gooding, E. Jason Watrous, George W. Davey, Charles Williams, H.K. Clark, Samson S. Williams, John W. Halladay, Lyman Perrigo, Dr. E.C. Moe, Martin S. Delano, and Westel Willoughby. Several of these names figured prominently in the local business and commercial interests of the later 1800s.
Grip’s continued: “Much of the beauty of the cemetery is due to the foresight of G.W. Davey who was one of the first trustees and for many years President of the Cemetery Association which was organized in 1858. He was also Superintendent for many years. During the first year the association employed a landscape gardener but after that Mr. Davey went on and improved the walks and drives, set out the shrubbery and trees and graded the grounds.”
Civil War Cannon
The cemetery proudly displays a cannon, one of four used on the U.S.S. James S. Chambers
schooner during the Civil War and on loan since 1900. It was rededicated in 2006 in a
memorial service “to commemorate the memory of all men and women who served our
country in times of war, and especially to those who were wounded or died as a result of
that service. May this cannon remain here in perpetuity.”
The reverent care and dedication given by our citizens to the Groton Rural Cemetery is as
much evident today as it was then at the turn of the 20th century, and improvements
beginning in the 1960s have further enriched these hallowed grounds.