History of Our Gravestones

Gravestone Monuments Over the Years

Learn about the monuments in the Center Street Cemetery
See photographs at bottom of page to demonstrate the various styles

Gravestone Monuments Over the Years
The Center Street Cemetery is comprised of monuments dating from the 1600s through the present day. Their diversity of size, color, shape and composition provide a landscape of beauty, culture and historical significance.
In the late 1700 and early 1800s, monuments were made of sandstone and slate, often carved with a winged death’s head. These engravings represented the fear of death and afterlife.

 During the Victorian era (1837-1901), there was a change of attitude towards dying. The winged death’s head was softened and often shown as a winged cherub. Marble and brownstone monuments were introduced in the early 1800s and often had verses, or even portraits carved on one side. Occasionally monuments were shaped in the form of a table and families would come to picnic as they visited their loved ones. Typical symbols during the 1800s included angels of death, star of David, the Dove, Egyptian symbol Ankh, Eye of Horus, weeping will tree, maple leaf, flowers, horseshoes, a sword or a broken column.

 In 1873, Secretary of War William W. Belknap adopted the first design for headstones to be erected in National cemeteries for the Union Civil War soldiers. The style was a slab design of marble or durable stone four inches thick, 10 inches wide and a height of 12 inches above ground. Within several years, these stones were being provided to private cemeteries and also extended to include Confederate soldiers so they became a common sight across the country.

 However, by the 1900s, it became evident that environmental factors affected the marble stones and blurred the engraved lettering. As an alternative, a very hard stone called granite became the material of choice. Granite is available in a variety of shades and colors and is still one of the most popular monuments used today. It holds up to the elements, clearly shows the engraved lettering and can be polished to a brilliant shine.

 So, based on this, is Center Street Cemetery reflective of the historical transitions which have taken place over the years? The most accurate way to answer this is to share sections of the Registration Document which was submitted to the United States Department of the Interior in 1996. This was prepared by Architectural Historian, David Ransom, and reviewed by John F. A. Herzan, National Register Coordinator in 1996. Based on this document, the Center Street Cemetery was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places.

Present and Historic Physical Appearance.

Center Street Cemetery comprises 9.69 acres of flat land in the center of downtown Wallingford, Connecticut. Established in 1670, the cemetery has been an active public burial ground over the centuries to the present time. Accordingly, its monuments reflect 300 years of changing tastes in funerary art. The ceremonial gateways and circumferential wall, dating from 1911, are in the second Egyptian Revival style, a mode often considered suitable for cemetery use.

 The principal gateway at the west end of the Center Street frontage opens to a roadway leading south which is lined with large sycamore trees. (Photograph 1) Other unpaved roadways run east-west, connecting to the second gate at the north end of Orchard Street. Additional grande allees of sycamores line several of these secondary routes. (Photographs 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3B, 4)

 The cemetery follows the open lawn plan, that is, there are no walls, curbs, or iron fences setting off individual plots. The acreage is free of any impediments to visual openness of the terrain and its monuments. (Photograph 5a, 5B) While there is some mixture of monuments from different eras, the general scheme of development was 17th- and early-18th-century interments at the east corner, near the intersection of Center and South Orchard Streets, more 18th-century stones along the Center Street wall, 19th-century burials in the northeast central section, and 20th-century activity to the southwest. The most commonly used materials for monuments over this span of time, as seen in Center Street Cemetery, were slate and sandstone for 17th and 18th centuries, marble in early 19th century, brownstone in late 19th century, and granite in the 20th century.

 The Elizabethan winged death’s-head with its blank eyes and toothsome grin appears in the earliest existing monuments of the early 18th century, now somewhat deteriorated, but many of Center Street Cemetery’s late-18th-century slate and sandstone monuments are in good condition. The Puritanical image had been softened somewhat by the time it was used for the Abraham Hall (d. 1761) sandstone monument, executed in carving that is sharp and crisp today. (Photograph 6) In further evolution paralleling the decline of harsh Puritan orthodoxy, the death’s-head became a cherub, still winged, in the well-preserved Caleb Merriman (d. 1770) slate stone. (Photograph 7) Both of these stones show the rounded top, narrow foliate vertical borders, and rows of lettering that remained standard into the 19th century.

 Another example of incised lettering that is remarkably sharp 200 years after being carved, considering that the material is relatively soft sandstone, is the Mr. Abraham Stanley stone (d. 1788). This monument, while continuing use of the winged cherub, is different from many of its predecessors because its top is almost flat, and it carries verse: “He sleeps no longer on / the brink of fate, nor / leaves one x(?)ering / wish beneath the starrs [sic].” The stone of his consort Prudence (d. 1793) adjoins; it is equally well-preserved. (Photograph 8)

 Portrait carving came into favor as well toward the end of the 18th century. Center Street Cemetery has several examples of the mode, one of which is unusual because it has two portraits on a single stone, Hannah Hall (d. 1796) and her daughter Meria. (Photograph 9) Mr. Charles Dutton’s likeness is another excellent specimen (d. 1788). (Photograph 10)

 Affluent individuals of the colonial era were remembered by heavy table stones, which are flat slabs of brownstone supported by six ponderous piers. Memorial lettering was cut into a tablet inset into the top. The tablet often is missing. (Photograph 11)

 The early 19th century brought a new material, marble, and a new motif, the urn and willow, into use. Marble is an attractive stone when it is new, but tends to sugar rapidly with the consequence that the lettering and motif often are difficult to discern on many of Center Street Cemetery’s marble monuments. The urn, symbolically, contained the remains of human life from which arise the soul to heaven, while the willow denoted both mourning for the loss of earthly life and the joy of celestial life, moving funerary art even further away from the original religious emphasis on life’s brevity and the awesome power of death. The urn and willow design was one of the last of the series of motifs which had developed from colonial times. (Photograph 12, 12A)

 As the 19th century progressed into its second quarter and the use of symbols and motifs declined, marble stones of standard size with segmental tops and lettering, often nothing more than names and dates, became the norm. These stones tended to be arranged in rows, foretelling the standard government issue stones provided for Civil War soldiers. The marble material, segmental-shaped top, and simple lettering of pre-Civil War monuments became the standard for rows of Civil War grave- stones. Several examples are present. In addition, a Center Street Cemetery memorial for 19 Civil War soldiers who died in service assumed a different form in a non-standard arrangement of a circle using stones of gneiss, not marble, of smaller than usual size. Moreover, the stones are carved with a recessed field in the shape of a shield on which the letters are raised, rather than being incised in a plain surface as was common practice. The circular memorial to Civil War dead is well maintained, each stone having an accompanying flag and metal Grand Army of the Republic standard. (Photograph 13)

 Another 19th-century symbol of broken life was the truncated column. Eugenia H. Heckman (d. 1871) is memorialized by a classical column, truncated, in sugared marble saying, in a softened phrase, that she was “called home” at the age of 31. Verse continued in use, in this instance more severe than “called home” in the words “Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke.” Another truncated column is that of Mr. Hull. (Photograph 14)

 After the Civil War, which created an unprecedented demand for cemetery monuments, the monument-producing industry grew and offered new and more elaborate products. Obelisks, a funeral form dating from the Egyptians, came to the forefront of fashion with the help of extensive carving, as demonstrated by several in Center Street Cemetery. The top of the Talcott obelisk, marble on a brownstone base, is adorned with carved drapery in many folds and the Masonic symbol, (Photograph 15) while in the Francis brownstone obelisk the dado cornice carries a course of bosses and its finial is carved in a tiered foliate design, both typical of Victorian-era ornament.

(Photograph 16, 16A, 17) Such large monuments often were the central feature of a family plot of many graves, each grave marked by a headstone. In some cemeteries the custom was to surround such a family grouping with iron fence or stone curbing, establishing a series of discrete units, but such practice was not followed at Center Street Cemetery. Large monuments well-spaced from one another contribute to the sense of openness.
The growing influence of classicism as the 19th century progressed found expression in other round columns in addition to the truncated-life example. For Moses Y. Beach (d. 1868) the shaft of the tall column is embellished with a spiral, after Hadrian’s Column erected in Rome in the second century. (Photograph 18) The Beach monument is signed N. Swezey.

 Introduction of steam power during the 19th-century industrial revolution had an impact on funerary art because it made possible the working of granite to an extent theretofore not possible. Granite is the best stone for monuments because it is the hardest, giving longer life, less deterioration, and less need for maintenance, but being the hardest could not be economically worked by hand. The advent of steam power made it feasible to shape and polish granite and to carve with pneumatic tools as never before. A new type of monument took its place in Center Street Cemetery, for example, the Bartholomew obelisk, where the lettering of the base is raised and polished, the entire die is polished, and decoration at the top includes foliate and star motifs with gablet and urn, all embellished and polished, and all far too labor intensive prior to steam power. (Photograph 19)

 Another late-19th-century technological development in fabrication of cemetery monuments was the use of cast zinc, called “white bronze.” The technique was developed and the monuments produced by Monumental Bronze Company, Bridgeport, Connecticut. In shape and design they often mimicked steam-powered granite monuments, but at a much lower cost. Center Street Cemetery has four examples of zinc, of which the Williams monument is one. (Photograph 20, 20A)

 In the 20th century, granite has continued to be the stone of choice, often in a shaped slab two or three feet high by three or four feet long. Decoration is often accomplished by yet another technological development, sand blasting, which provides a further reduction in the amount of labor required, especially to make the letters.
The late 19th century and 20th century have brought a new look to Center Street Cemetery through the appearance of names from diverse ethnic backgrounds and their associated funerary art, as the cemetery has continued to serve the changing nature of the community. The stone for Edward Janisck identifies the country of his birth as Bohemia (Photograph 21). Mary Dziubiel with roses, pierced heart, and cross is nearby (Photograph 22). Monuments such as Roberto Orozco introduced the Crucifixion, adding to the broad spectrum of funerary art exhibited by the cemetery’s manifold collection of monuments (Photograph 23).

 The Egyptian Revival gateways and wall of 1911 have battered piersr characteristic of the style, at the gates and periodically along the wall. Capitals of the piers at the gateways have a finer texture of cast stone than the balance of the piers and the wall.

 The capitals are ogee shaped, decorated with bands of small raised hemispheres over three vertical lines terminating in larger hemispheres (Photograph 24). The tops of the capitals are coved in a manner designated by Whiffen as “gorge and roll” (Whiffen, p. 49), as is the top of the entire length of the wall.

Funereal Art

For New England’s deeply religious Puritans of the 18th century, images and symbols were forbidden in daily life. Only in their death rituals did the early settlers indulge in any sort of image making. The motifs carved into their gravestones carried great impact because they were unique, the only such expression. Amongst the funeral images the death’s head often was the principal symbol, designed to give a fearsome reality to man’s mortality. Graveyard imagery as abundantly displayed in Center Street Cemetery was an art of the people, the only art, and significant for that reason.

 Graveyard imagery was not static. By the end of the 18th century the death’s head began to soften, reflecting the introduction of love as an alternate to reason in the religion’s theology. After Jonathan Edwards’ Great Awakening, which introduced love as an element equal in force to reason, concepts changed, and the change was reflected in the graveyard images, still the only imagery in the community. The death’s head in Center Street Cemetery was softened to become a winged cherub, demonstrating the effect of theological changes in stone carving advances. The winged cherub came to symbolize man’s immortal side, suggesting life rather than death. Accompanying epitaphs went through corresponding change. Instead of “Here lies the body of … ,” wording stressed the joy of resurrection and immortality.

 By the beginning of the 19th century a more intellectual approach to religion and its funereal art evolved, represented in Center Street Cemetery by the urn and willow motif, which continued to symbolize both mourning for loss of earthly life and the joy of celestial life, while epitaphs were likely to read “Sacred to the memory of … ,” thus avoiding discussion of both death and eternity. Simultaneously, interest in gravestone art declined. By mid-19th century the only carving on stones was lettering. The many marble stones of this description in Center Street Cemetery testify to the change. (Foregoing three paragraphs are based on Jacobs, pp. 17-55.)

 Patriotism, a non-religious motivating force, also influenced cemetery art, for example the design of Civil War stones at Center Street Cemetery. The incised shield of the circled monuments is a national emblem, here found in an unusual application, but reflecting the cemetery’s function as a reflection of the history and mores of the community.

 Widespread increased cultural interest in antiquity and the classics as the 19th century wore on is evident in the cemetery’s monument designs of that period. The obelisk had been known for centuries as an Egyptian funereal object; many obelisks were erected in Center Street Cemetery, some with mourning drapery carved in the stone. The column from Greek and Roman architecture was adapted to monument use with added funereal symbolism when it was truncated and with specific classical antecedent in the case of the spiral image from Hadrian’s column. The Beach column with spiral motif is signed N. Swezey, but no information has come to hand regarding him.

 Another non-religious, and non-cultural, influence on cemetery art was technological development in working stone, notably the use of steam power. With steam power polished surfaces and intricate shapes of visual quality theretofore out of the question, became possible in hard stone such as granite. Sandstone and marble fell from favor as their soft workability became less important. Zinc casting and sand blasting were other technological advances impacting appearance of the monuments.

 The significant architectural feature of Center Street Cemetery is the Egyptian Revival gateways and wall. The great Connecticut example of the Egyptian Revival style in cemetery application is the entrance to
Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, 1845, designed by Henry Austin. The mode was one of the series of revival styles of mid-19th century. Whiffen notes that there was a second Egyptian Revival in the 1920s whose architects took advantage of the decorative potential of concrete (p. 50). Center Street Cemetery provides a case in point. Hillside Cemetery, Naugatuck, also participated in the second Egyptian Revival with its perimeter concrete wall.
The array of grave markers surrounded by an Egyptian Revival wall at Center Street Cemetery is a significant demonstration of artistic values in funereal art for a period of three centuries.


Center Street Cemetery is significant artistically because it is a distinguishable entity made up of a significant array of grave markers and monuments representing the common artistic values of historic periods from colonial times to the present. It is significant historically because the centuries-long record of the town is summarized in the accomplishments of the distinguished and common people who are buried there.

National Register of Historic Places  (Photograph 25)

Major Bibliographical References
Crofut, Florence S. Marcy. Guide to the History and Historic Sites of Connecticut,
vol. two. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1037, pp, 653-656.
The First Congregational Church Wallingford, Conn, 1675-1975. Wallingford:
First Congregational Church, 1975.
Jacobs, G. Walker. Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye. Brattleboro, Vermont: Stephen Greene Press, 1972.
Kelly, Susan H., M.A., C.A.S., contributing researcher Association for Gravestone Studies.
Letter, October 27, 1996.
Kendrick, John B. “The Center Street Cemetery.” 1928. Copy in author’s possession.
Phelan, John G. “Wallingford’s Ancient Burial Ground.” N.d. Copy in author’s possession.
Ransom, David F. Hillside Cemetery. Historic and Architectural Resource Survey of Naugatuck, Statewide Historic Resource Inventory. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1986, form #158.
Rockey, J.L., ed. History of New Haven County Connecticut, volume 1. New York:
W.W. Preston & Co., 1892, pp. 411, 412.
Whiffen, Marcus. American Architecture Since 1780, A Guide to the Styles.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1969, pp. 48-51 

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