The volunteer group that formed a few months ago to continue Christmas Eve caroling in New Canaan is seeking permission to create a flagstone terrace at the top of God’s Acre that would serve as a public gathering space year-round where the Town Band could set up each Dec. 24 for the beloved community tradition.
To feature a wall wide enough to sit on and to be stabilized by variously sized boulders dotted with low plantings below, the approximately 18-by-36-foot patio would be located directly across Park Street from the entrance to the Congregational Church, overlooking the new caroling tree, members of the caroling committee told the Historic District Commission during a presentation Thursday.
“We are here just to get guidance,” committee member Tucker Murphy said during the Commission’s meeting, held at Town Hall. “We will submit a formal application once that seems to be appropriate.”
Other members of the committee include Steve Benko, Leo Karl III, Steve Karl, Lisa Melland, Keith Simpson and Tom Stadler, she said.
Ultimately, the Commission voted unanimously in favor of the concept of the terrace, calling for more details and visuals, in part to determine just how the new structure would look from different points of view around God’s Acre.
In taking over responsibility of the caroling event from the Hersam family, Murphy said the committee learned that the single largest expense involved was about $2,225 to erect the wooden bandstand for the Town Band.
“This group started thinking, is there a way we could reduce those costs and is there something we could do to actually benefit God’s Acre and the town 365 days a year?” she said.
Ultimately, the committee came up with the terrace proposal, Murphy said, and has taken it to organizations such as the New Canaan Historical Society for preliminary feedback. The Historical Society’s executive director had no problems with the plan, she said.
“We do know there are as always challenges and concerns, and we do plan on having a sonar done of that area just to see what lies beneath if anything that we need to be aware of,” she said.
Murphy referred to a little-known bit of New Canaan history that holds that God’s Acre served as a burial ground for the early founders of the town.
Purchased for three pounds in 1773 and deeded to “the Proprietors of the Parish of Canaan,” what is known today as God’s Acre was to be a cemetery for “public benefit for the whole community,” Mary Louise King writes in her 1981 history “Portrait of New Canaan.” The money to buy it from two local men (William Boult and Jonathan Husted) came from a group called the “Proprietors of Norwalk” to whom the Society of Canaan’s clerk had applied for an addition to Canaan Parish’s “burying place,” according to King.
In other words, King writes, some part of the public land that had been granted in the 1730s for Canaan Parish to locate its “Meeting House for Divine Worship”—about where the Congregational Church stands today—“had been used as a churchyard cemetery.”
Simpson, of New Canaan landscape architecture firm Keith E. Simpson Associates, said the terrace was designed to be “simple but highly functional” and would include an “imperceptible” pitch so that rainwater flows back toward Park Street rather than puddling or dripping down God’s Acre itself.
The project is to be private funded, according to the committee. The group had formed the God’s Acre Caroling Foundation in December.
Commissioners asked how much of the base of the Congregational Church would be obscured by the projecting promontory of the terrace (that depends on where you’re standing), what would be the pitch for runoff (about 1 percent), whether a proposed new sidewalk for that section of Park Street would be concrete (it would be nice to use stone slabs), whether the terrace will have electricity running to it (yes) and whether it will meet ADA requirements for public gathering spaces (it will be completely wheelchair-accessible).
Commissioner Carl Rothbart noted that God’s Acre slopes “fairly steeply toward the east and asked, “What would be the view of the elevation if you are looking toward the west?”
“How high is that wall?” he asked.
Simpson responded that it’s about three feet from behind, though anyone looking toward the terrace would see “boulder slope which went around the corner and then it would have 16 inches of wall visible on both the back as well as the front.”
“It would be a16-inch high wall so the wall is not retaining, but just some stones and boulders to take it back down to the grade,” Simpson said. “In all directions it would be 18 inches high this wall, from back and side and front.”
Simpson offered to “flag out” the corners of the proposed patio so that the Commission could understand just where it is and what its final height would be.
Rothbart as well as Commission Chairman Janet Lindstrom, Vice Chairman Marty Skrelunas and Commissioners Mark Markiewicz and Tom Nissley voted 5-0 in favor of the concept of the terrace. The vote allows the committee to pursue more detailed plans for presentation at a future meeting. Under the Town Code, the project requires an approved Certificate of Appropriateness from the Commission.