The first cemetery in Waterbury was located on Grand Street,
where the Silas Bronson Library is today. It was divided
into the main section, for white Protestants, and a smaller
section to the side for African Americans and Native Americans.
A third section was added in the nineteenth century for
Additional cemeteries were established beginning in the
1740s as new parishes were founded in what are now neighboring
towns. These new cemeteries do not appear to have been
segregated. In Westbury (now Watertown), for example,
Dauphin Freeman, an African American man, is buried next
to Wealthy Skilton, a white woman.
The Grand Street Cemetery and African American Burials
Founded by the Puritan ancestors of the Congregationalists,
the Grand Street cemetery was the first cemetery in Waterbury
and was the only cemetery for the center of Waterbury
until 1853. It was eventually divided into separate sections
for Episcopalians and later still for Catholics. In addition,
there was a burial plot specifically for non-whites. Sturges
Judd, caretaker of the Grand Street cemetery from 1862
to 1891, referred to this as the colored burial
plot in his inventory map of the cemetery.
The Grand Street cemetery began to decline in use and
condition following the opening of the new, picturesque
Riverside Cemetery in 1853. Some remains were relocated
by family members to Riverside, but the Grand Street Cemetery
continued to be in use for several more decades. By the
1880s, it was being called a closed up and desolate
place in the heart of the city. It was at this time
that the cemeterys custodian, Sturges Judd, undertook
the task of locating and mapping every grave plot in the
Grand Street Cemetery. His records found approximately
800 inscribed stones and roughly 1,800 unmarked graves.
Judds record book includes a map of the cemetery in
which he plotted out every marked grave, and overlaid a
grid on the cemetery. Each square of the grid is 25 x 25
feet and is both numbered and lettered to correspond with
his inventory list of grave stones. Section F1 is described
as Passway through the cemetery to part of the colored
burial plot. Section E1 is described as No headstones
- This plot was used to bury Colored people.
Location of the Cemetery
The main entrance to the Grand Street Cemetery appears
to have been on Hall Street. Hall Street, which no longer
exists, was a partial boundary on the west side of the
cemetery, in between what is now the library and Library
Park. Library Park was the site of a dozen homes, a few
businesses, and three small streets: Hall, Livery and
The Grand Street Cemetery Disappears
The original plans for converting the cemetery to a public
park or site for a public building included a provision
for relocating all of the graves in the cemetery. Many of
the remains were relocated by family members to new cemeteries,
but most of the remains, including ones with grave markers
as well as those without, were not relocated.
Some remains, including those of John Southmayd and Mark
Leavenworth, respected colonial-era ministers, were examined
by a local doctor, William H. Holmes, who published his
findings in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal
in 1891. Holmes was surprised by the high state of preservation
of Southmayds skull and ear bones. Photos of the
skull were published in the article, comparing it with
that of an American Indian from the midwest. Southmayd's
ear bones were given to the Mattatuck Historical Society
and were on exhibit in the Mattatuck Museum during the
early decades of the twentieth century.
In April of 1891, the remaining grave stones were buried
directly above the graves to which they belonged. In some
cases two or three stones were buried together. Others were
grouped together in what was once the cemetery vault.
Construction of the Library
In 1893, excavations for the construction of the Silas Bronson
library unearthed many of the buried grave markers and graves.
The exhumed remains were relocated to the southwest corner
of the librarys property, and the grave stones were
placed in storage in the librarys basement. Accounts
of the construction indicate that the excavations were limited
to the footprint of the library building, and the area to
the east of the building, leaving the colored burial
plot to the north untouched.
The library property was expanded in 1920 with the creation
of Library Park, which extended the grounds to Meadow Street.
Grave stones that had been in storage in the library basement
were placed along the outer wall of the park.
In the 1960s, the library was replaced with a new, modern
structure built almost entirely on the foundations of the
original building. Since that time, utility lines have been
run underground from Grand Street to the library, but were
not placed deep enough to disturb the graves.
A rough estimate puts the site of the colored burial
plot by the sidewalk in front of the current library,
near a sculpture, Benjamin Franklin, by Paul Wayland.
Dr. Preserved Porter and his family were buried roughly
200 feet south of the colored burial plot,
directly behind the current library. It is likely that
the Porter graves, like those of the African Americans,
were left untouched during the library construction and
are still there today.
View of the cemetery looking northeast. The African American
burial plot is outside the frame of the photograph, to
the left. Collection of the Mattatuck Museum.
Sturges Judd's Cemetery Book
A composite image of Judd's notations about the "colored
burial plot." Collection of the Mattatuck Museum.
Map of the Grand Street Cemetery
An overlay image of Sturges Judd's map showing burial
locations and an 1896 Waterbury atlas showing the Silas
Bronson Library. Sections E1 and F1, the African American
burial plot, are highlighted, as are the burial locations
of Jesse Porter and Preserved Porter in section E9. Both
maps Collection of the Mattatuck Museum.
Silas Bronson Library, c. 1905
Cyanotype photograph of the library constructed in the
Grand Street Cemetery in 1893. The photograph was taken
from Grand Street, looking southwest.
Rev. John Southmayd's Ear Bones
Southmayd's skull was examined by Dr. Holmes and by
Rev. Joseph Anderson. Anderson commented, in an article
published in the Waterbury American newspaper,
that Southmayd's forehead was "not high" and
that his head was "unusually long from front to rear."
Anderson went on to say that despite Southmayd's physical
appearance, he had been "a man of note," intelligent,
educated, and a "fountain of good influence."
Silas Bronson Library, 2004
The main entrance of the library. The African American burial
site is located approximately to the right of the photograph.