The Grazing Ram: New Canaan Needs To Do More for Its Small Cemeteries 


The overgrown Canoe Hill Cemetery. Credit: Annamari Mikkola

“Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” 
—C.S. Lewis 

Cemeteries are an important part of New Canaan’s heritage. They house the legacies of the town’s past. This is why they need to be preserved and maintained appropriately. Sadly, many have been ignored and fallen into disrepair. This dishonors the many veterans and other important figures buried in these cemeteries and reflects poorly on our town. 


Why do they need to be restored?

Graves left shattered and forgotten at the Crissy Seeley Cemetery. Credit: Annamari Mikkola

Important members of the town are buried in these graveyards. Take for example the Carter Street cemetery. In it lies Captain John Carter and his wife Hannah Benedict. He bravely led minutemen in the Connecticut militia on many missions during the American Revolutionary War, capturing British captains and their troops, and was integral in the fight for our nation’s freedom. The Daughters of the American Revolution organization has extensively covered his contribution to the war effort and their work is available in the link above. His grave is currently sitting in a graveyard with unmanicured grass that threatens to grow out of control. In addition, many other headstones have been broken, left on the side, and uncared for. These memorialize the founders and origins of our town and they have just been left in ruins.

Another example of a forgotten cemetery that houses some of the heroes of this nation is the Parade Hill Cemetery. One extremely notable person buried here is Corporal Isaac/Isaiah Bennett. According to the Society of Cincinnati in Connecticut, Bennett “fought in 18 battles, including Monmouth and Yorktown, and was at Valley Forge. He was one of the forlorn hope in the storming of the redoubts at Yorktown.” He died peacefully in New Canaan in 1800 after valiantly serving our country. As someone with family members who are currently serving, have served in the military, and have died in war, I believe it is important to honor all who contributed in any way to our freedom. 

Overgrowth of weeds, invasive plants, and poison ivy at Parade Hill Cemetery. Credit: Annamari Mikkola

There appears to be a lack of interest in these older graveyards. Christopher Schipper, a resident dedicated to the maintenance and improvement of town land, especially open space, said, “Cemeteries are very important historical artifacts in our town. Improving town care and documentation of our 40 or so cemeteries would stimulate genealogy tourism. Cemeteries are often beautiful sanctuaries along our oldest, scenic roadways.” However, the grass is cut sporadically and the graves are dirty. This is in stark contrast to graveyards such as Selleck’s Corner and the Church Hill Burial Ground, which have recent burials. These graveyards have well-maintained, monoculture lawns that are cut and tended to regularly. The town must direct funds not only to keep up graveyards that have active burials but also those with graves from 50 or more years ago that house the founders of this town and veterans of our nation. 


Prior Volunteer Efforts

New graves at the well maintained Church Hill Burial Ground. This is in contrast to older cemeteries. Credit: Annamari Mikkola

There have been many volunteer efforts over the years. For example, Kristen Pace’s restoration of the Canoe Hill Cemetery was extremely effective. There was also a memorial put up by Boy Scouts in the Parade Hill Cemetery commemorating many veterans which required a tremendous effort and was memorialized in a very nice plaque. But in both instances, when the volunteers stopped, so did the work. And Public Works isn’t positioned to provide necessary maintenance. 

When I visited the Parade Hill cemetery, I found the Boy Scouts plaque had fallen and was sitting on a stone wall nearby. Whoever was taking care of the graveyard had not even bothered to fix it. After Mrs. Pace moved to London, the Canoe Hill Cemetery grew back into a jungle. Christopher Schipper and I voluntarily cut down weeds, but they have quickly regrown and neither of us can devote all of our time to maintaining this cemetery. All of this demonstrates that while volunteer work is very lovely, it is not sustainable as a standalone solution.


Current Town Efforts 

The Parade Hill Plaque honoring veterans left broken and forgotten on a trash-filled, broken stone wall. Credit: Annamari Mikkola

The town is currently spending approximately $10,000, according to Tiger Mann, director of the New Canaan Department of Public Works, on maintaining the graveyards. The figure represents a neglected cemetery grant ($5,000), the Chrissie Seeley Trust Fund ($1,500), Canoe Hill Cemetery Donations ($500), and outside contractors ($2,500 to $3,000), Mann said when asked about the spending. This demonstrably is nowhere near sufficient to keep the graveyards in good shape. The town currently has no dedicated budget item for cemetery upkeep—it’s handled year-over-year in-house with some outside contractors.


The Solution 

Broken graves at the Carter Street Cemetery Credit: Annamari Mikkola

The town must create a budget line to provide dedicated funding for cemetery maintenance and restoration. This should include regular mowing of all public graveyards, restoration and replacement of broken or fallen graves (similar to what was done in the Church Hill cemetery by the Daughters of the American Revolution), and landscaping improvements. Upgrades could include the planting of bushes, flowers and trees, installing benches, and fixing broken sections of the stone walls. This restoration and maintenance could either be done by town workers or contracted out to a suitable company.

Establishing an official budget line for this work will help hold New Canaan’s funding bodies accountable and ensure that the cemeteries don’t again fall into disrepair. The work would make these graveyards more accessible to the public in addition to honoring those who are buried in these cemeteries.  In the upcoming budget season, the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, and Town Council must come together to allocate sufficient funding to the Department of Public Works. This will allow Tiger Mann and his team to effectively maintain the cemeteries. The 2023 budget for New Canaan was $166.7 million dollars. For example, if the town were to allocate $50,000, this would increase the budget by only .03% which is an incredibly marginal amount. This would allow for adequate maintenance and more of all public cemeteries. 

Sellecks Corners Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stephen Pinney

As it is, the town risks the perception of treating the older cemeteries with a disdainful “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. This is clearly not in keeping with the nature of our town and what we claim to stand for.

Private nonprofit organizations and groups such as the Beautification League, Garden Club, SLOBs and VFW could provide valuable help to supplement this restoration effort. This would not only lessen the burden on the town’s budget but also provide a productive avenue for volunteers to work more formally in an organized manner. 

I believe a successful course of action could be for volunteers to work on the initial restoration of the graves including resetting tombs, scrubbing grime off of stones, and helping install new tombstones when necessary. After this, the DPW would undertake regular maintenance using town funding.

Sellecks Corners chapel ( and Sellecks Corners Cemetery. Photos courtesy of Stephen Pinney

Additional sources of funding the town could use could come from promoting green interments which would not only be excellent for the environment but could also help relieve some of the financial burden on the town. There are burials that focus on environmental consciousness and are typically small burials that could generate much-needed revenue for the town. Another source of funding is the neglected cemetery grant program created by the state government. While small in the grand scheme of this restoration this could also help with overall funding. 

So New Canaan, let’s do what we can to solve this problem to make sure those who fought so hard to get the freedoms we have in this country are not forgotten. 

Let’s live by C.S. Lewis’s dictum and be a town with integrity even when no one is looking. 

7 thoughts on “The Grazing Ram: New Canaan Needs To Do More for Its Small Cemeteries 

  1. Thank you to Leo for his well-researched piece on New Canaan’s burial grounds. One other often overlooked cemetery is the Maple Street Cemetery.

    According to, the Maple Street Cemetery was “established about 1825 as a private burial ground by Ezra Benedict…” and is located south of Maple Street, between South Avenue and Park Street, now located on/near the Vue (formerly Merritt Apartments) property via a small access way.

    Signage was created by volunteers when the cemetery was under threat (2016-2020) and the remaining portion of the cemetery has been fenced in and is currently maintained in part by the town and in part by volunteers.

    Google Maple Street Cemetery New Canaan for more details.

    Terrific idea to add a line item to the budget to maintain these wonderful old reminders of our history and former residents who created our town.

    • Susan–to be accurate– the Maple Street cemetery was never ” under threat”. It was the developer of The Vue who brought the issue of preservation to light during the PZC hearings on the project with an offer to fence and provide access. Additionally, the developer paid for all the archival and historic research on those who are interred there and notified living relatives. For all the community concern–there was a fence installed recently by others that was placed right through the middle of the cemetery and graves, and there were graves paved over by the South Ave condos (we know this from the old maps we discovered). And the reaction all that got? Nada. All the concerned residents who were incorrect in saying The Vue was encroaching on the cemetery should feel free to return and do some maintenance in this important cemetery.

  2. Thank you, Leo and Anna Mari, for this well-researched and convincing article. I agree that we owe it to the town, past and future, to maintain these graveyards. One thought is to engage the immediate neighbors of each cemetery to help out with weeding and cleanup work. But, to your point, most of the preservation cost needs to be borne by the town.

  3. Love this article. We have one of these cemeteries in our yard and sadly it is in disrepair. I have reached out to the town in the past to see what could be done and unfortunately have heard nothing. It’s fascinating to have history in our yard and hate that it is falling apart.

  4. Leo – Thanks for putting together a well researched article that highlights the state of the historic cemeteries in town. Some of them are in very poor shape (although Carter Street where Captain John Carter and his wife Hannah Benedict are buried is generally very well maintained).

    I also wanted to note that there is one group in town has not forgotten these cemeteries – VFW Post 653 led by Mike McGlinn. The VFW honors the veterans buried in all of New Canaan’s historic cemeteries by placing flags on each veteran’s grave at Memorial Day and wreathes in December with the help of the Fire Department and other volunteers. They raise money for the flags and wreaths through there annual Poppy Appeal over Memorial Day weekend and through their donation site year round –

  5. Wonderful article. As a contributor to Kristen Pace’s restoration of the Canoe Hill Cemetery, it was wonderful to see that neighborhood landmark be brought back from an overgrown eyesore to a memorial we can be proud of. To add to the idea mentioned in the article, if there is sufficient space available in these cemeteries, why not allow New Canaan residents be buried there when they pass? In addition to paying for the burial itself, the burial fees could be set to provide an ongoing funding source for the cemetery upkeep. Thus, we could keep this costs from adding to the tax burden. Plus this would add to the continuing interest in maintaining the gravesites and the precious history they represent.

  6. Bravo Leo Mikkola Patel for bringing this historical cemeteries story to light and suggesting solutions for future preservation and maintenance. And Keith Richey, thank you for suggesting new burials might be a way to sustain these artifacts of New Canaan for future generations.

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