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The Case Of The Missing Tombstone: Part II (With Poll)

There could be a grave underneath the beech tree in back of 589 Boston Post Road, and the tree will be retained; On the other hand, and probably more likely, gravestones might have been placed there after having been retrieved from local cemeteries.

Timothy P. Geelan, executive vice president of Guilford Savings Bank, is confident that once Madison residents know more about the bank's plans for a new building at 589 Boston Post Road in Madison, that they will be pleased.

He's provided renderings of what the building will look like, after one of the existing structures is torn down and the other is retained in part.

"Attached are renderings for our planned improvements for 589 Boston Post Road," Geelan said via email Wednesday. "I thought your readers might find them of interest. After all, a picture says 1000 words. In our opinion (and as unanimously endorsed by [Madison] ACCA [Advisory Committee on Community Appearance] and P&Z [Planning & Zoning Commisson]), the care and sensitivity we have taken with respect to the property are clearly self-evident."

Property at prominent corner in downtown in between commercial district and historic district

The property is located at a prominent corner downtown. It is right across the street from the main retail and restaurant district, not too far from the bank's existing branch. The proposed new branch at 589 Boston Post Road is also right next door to one of the oldest houses in Madison, the Deacon John Graves House, and the parcel is right next to the Madison Green Historic District, which includes the Memorial Town Hall, Academy School, Lee Academy--all from the 1800s--and numerous historically authentic homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. The bank's plans to demolish a carriage house, and to move the main house, retaining only a portion of it, , who say both structures are an important part of Madison's history.

Geelan said the proposed structure will fit in with that history.

" ... We are confident that the vast majority of the Madison citizenry will agree and be quite pleased that it will soon be anchoring a prominent corner of  the downtown Madison district," Geelan said.

Addressing concerns that there might be a grave site on the property

Geelan also asked the archeologist who did to send information to Patch, shedding light on some questions surrounding a tombstone that was embedded in the base of a copper beech tree in the back of the property. William Plunkett, an award-winning Madison developer who has won praise for his work on historic properties in town, and who was the losing bidder on the property at 589 Boston Post Road, that the tombstones might indicate that there was a grave site on the property.

Gregory F. Walwer, the director of Archaeological Consulting Services (ACS) in Guilford, CT, who conducted the dig on the site this summer, said final reports for the firm's Phase I reconnaissance and Phase II intensive surveys have been submitted to Guilford Savings Bank, and that copies likely will be forwarded to the Madison Historical Society and the Madison Historic District Commission. He said the findings also will eventually become a matter of public record at the University of Connecticut special collections library

Walwer said that the decision to demolish the carriage house, which he referred to as a barn, was made after an independent evaluation of the house and barn by an architectural historian "who determined that the exterior of the structure has been altered significantly over the years to the point that further preservation of the structure is not recommended."

Missing tombstone? Gone before ACS started its survey

"Also, the interior of the structure was gutted and remodeled in the 1970s in order to convert the structure into commercial office space.  Historic photographs of the structure are available through the historical society and closely affiliated Charlotte L. Evarts Memorial Archives for verification of architectural modifications to the structure," he said via email.

As for the missing tombstone, he said it was gone by the time the company started its survey. "At the start of our survey, we were provided photographs of the gravestone that appears to have been embedded in the base of the beech tree behind the main house," he said in his email. "The gravestone was not present at the start of our survey, but we were able to confirm the former presence of the gravestone by retrieving some broken marble chips from the base of the remaining depression."

He said the three letters on the tombstone, "DIE," rather than initials, are probably part of the word "DIED", "with the rest of the inscription likely to have contained a name and date."

Copper beech tree will be retained in current position in case there are graves underneath

Walwer said Lynn Friedman, the chairman of the Madison Historical Society, provided ACS with the photographs at the start of the survey and could confirm that the embedded gravestone was missing at the start of ACS's work. Walwer said it was his understanding that the stone disappeared sometime in the fall prior to the excavation work at the property.

Walwer also addressed concerns about the location of the dig. Plunkett asked why the excavation was done on the eastern edge of the property, rather than around the beech tree, where the missing tombstone was embedded. Plunkett expressed concern that there might be bodies buried beneath the tree.

"One of our standard Phase I tests was plotted directly in front of the stone in order to evaluate the possible presence of a grave feature, but only natural stratigraphy [natural layering you find in soil where it is undisturbed by man] was revealed, indicating that a grave was not present on that side of the stone," Walwer wrote in his email. "There remains the possibility that a grave could be present under the beech tree, which is recommended to be retained and preserved."

Other gravestones may have been leaning against same tree

Walwer also said he received information indicating that other gravestones had been leaning against the same tree, and that those gravestones may have been later relocated to the basement of the main house, which he calls the Scranton House, after the family that originally settled the land in the 1700s.

"ACS is aware of one other gravestone that Guilford Savings Bank staff had retrieved from the basement and submitted to ACS for analysis," Walwer wrote. "The partial stone bears the date 11-20-1852, with an indicated age at death of 62 (or birth year of around 1790), but no name is present on this part of the stone.  The birth and death dates do not match any of the known occupants of the house, nor has ACS been able to secure a match from indices of local cemeteries."

"The fact that more than one stone is cited as having been leaning on the same tree, and given that the date on one of the stones does not match any of the known occupants, the theory that they merely represent collected partial stones from local cemeteries where relatives were interred appears most likely," Walwer wrote. "This theory was shared with us by by Lynn Friedman, who noted that dislocated stones have been found in other backyards and basements in town, and that it was common practice for family members to retrieve (and sometimes replace) broken stones from the graves of relatives at local cemeteries."

No positive traces of human remains

Walwer said there were no positive traces of human remains recovered from any of the subsurface soil tests.

"Most of the bone fragments recovered during the survey could be positively identified as sheep, pig, and cow," he wrote. "While we cannot state to an absolute certainty that there are no human remains present on the property, our research design and testing density was sufficient to demonstrate that this is most likely the case [that there are no human remains on the site]."

As to why the dig was done at the edge of the property, Walwer wrote that the bulk of the Phase I tests were placed at 25-foot intervals, four times the standard testing density (50-foot intervals) for typical Phase I reconnaissance surveys. This was done because of the "potential historic sensitivity of the project property as indicated by the presence of historic structures and our background research efforts."

Excavation done on east side of site due to high density of material there

"Much to our surprise, we found a very light density of historic artifacts in the vicinity of the historic house, but a very high density of material to the east of the existing parking lot," Walwer wrote. "Our first determination was that this eastern site area likely represented the remains of historic outbuildings that were formerly located to the rear of the existing barn, or possibly the remains of another former historic structure on the property.  Our Phase I recommendations called for the Phase II evaluation of this site area if it were to be impacted by the pending construction project, and Guilford Savings Bank authorized us to conduct the Phase II survey."

Based on the combined results of the architectural history report of the structures and the results of both phases of archaeological research, it is our conclusion that the eastern site area represents the earliest house occupation on the property, and that the core part of the existing house was likely moved from this location before being remodelled around 1841 to 1850 into the current Greek Revival structure that stands today," Walwer wrote.

"The architectural history report reveals that the core of the house is a cape, whose original fireplaces are consistent with a structure built just after the Revolutionary War, while a mean date analysis of the eastern site area indicates a site occupation of the 1770s through 1830s."

Recovered artifacts range from nails to gun flints

Walwer said the eastern site area contains an artifact density of approximately 50 per square foot, compared to just six per square foot in tests placed around the existing house. Artifacts recovered from the site include structural materials such as wrought and cut nails, brick, window glass, and mortar; household ceramic wares including Delftware, Staffordshire slipware, white salt-glazed stoneware, black-glazed redware, creamware, pearlware, whiteware, and others; bottle glass and fragments of other glass vessels; domesticated mammal bone and shell; coal and charcoal; and numerous personal items such as buttons, eyeglass lens, kaolin clay pipe fragments, buckles, and gun flints.

The artifacts recovered from tests around the existing house were mostly 19th to 20th Century in origin, Walwer said.

"One of the most compelling facts suggesting that the current house location was not original is that the structure is merely 30 feet from the neighboring Grave property, which would have been an unusual placement for the structure given that the property was originally eight acres and stretched east along the Boston Post Road all the way to Tuxis Pond," Walwer said. "An alternative theory to the placement of the structure is that the cape core of the house was in fact built at the present location (with an incredibly low density of artifacts deposited around it), and it was yet an earlier 18th Century structure belonging to Noah Scranton that is represented by the eastern site area."

Recommendation is that eastern portion of site be further conserved

Because of the potential historic information that this eastern site area could provide about the history of Madison and its early occupants, ACS recommended that the site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and should be further conserved, Walwer wrote.

"Appropriate conservation measures include in situ preservation, or alternatively and if so chosen because of potential impacts from the pending construction project, a Phase III archaeological mitigation program to further evaluate the site and hopefully answer some important remaining questions," wrote Walwer, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology with a focus in archaeology from Yale University, and is a member of the Register of Professional Archaeologists.

"For the record, it should be noted that the Guilford Savings Bank and its representatives have been fully supportive of our cultural resource investigations of the property, and appear to fully recognize the importance of maintaining high historic preservation standards in serving its community," Walwer wrote. "I look forward to offering any further clarifications regarding our archaeological studies of the property."

Edward October 27, 2011 at 01:38 PM
Once again someone or in this case a business has to come in and screw around with something that has been around for hundreds of years instead of finding a vacant building to do their business. They got money, (the account holders money) and instead of paying a higher interest rate, they go and mess around with a historic building. A bank should be spending their money frugally so they can help keep down the interest rates of loans and pay higher interest rates on accounts. "Hey GSB, stay out of our historic buildings, if you want to play with old buildings, do it in your own town of Guilford". Those gravestones were removed by GSB people so no one would know that there is a graveyard there (hallow grounds) but thankfully pictures were taken to show there is a place of final rest. Rest in peace to those who are buried there.
H Roark October 27, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Intriguing article! The fact remains, though, why did Guilford Savings Bank feel compelled to remove the stone? Where is it? Happy Halloween!
Nerissa October 27, 2011 at 01:52 PM
I agree although I don't know if the money they use for capital improvements can be used to pay interest on savings accounts - are they two things inter-mixable? Our GSB savings account return is dreadfully low - I'm not even sure it keeps up with inflation.
H Roark October 27, 2011 at 02:03 PM
nola, Trust me, it doesn't! Check out this link for much better rates than GSB's: http://www.bankrate.com/cd.aspx
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 27, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Hi H, Nola was talking about her savings account. Those are rates for CDs. And perhaps there is some merit to putting money in a healthy mutual bank that is headquarted one town over, one that perhaps has more of an emphasis on the community than an out-of-town, stockholder-owned corporate bank might? Just a thought. I think reasonable people can debate the best use of the property, but by no means is GSB some big, anonymous corporate entity out to take advantage of our small village. "Commercial Bank: A financial institution that is owned by stockholders, operates for a profit, and engages in various lending activities." "Mutual Savings Bank: A financial institution that accepts deposits primarily from individuals and places a large portion of its funds into mortgage loans." (Definitions from the Federal Reserve's National Information Center.) GSB is a mutual, and has been around since the mid-1800s.
Lucy October 27, 2011 at 03:00 PM
The Madison Historical Society is also interested to hear the comments and thoughts of the Madison community as to the future of the Thomas Scranton house and barn. Our mission is to "to preserve, collect, interpret, and promote the history and heritage of Madison for present and future generations." We consider the proposed alteration to main house and the demolition of the barn, which together make up a unique configuration not seen anywhere else in Madison, to be a sad loss to the current and the future landscape and history of Madison, and one which we like to see averted if at all possible. We do acknowledge the efforts the GSB have made in altering their plans to preserve elements of the house and their actions to preserve the Copper Beech tree. Please let us know your thoughts and opinion on this issue at contact@madisoncthistorical.org Lucy Van Liew Chair Preservation Committee Madison Historical Society
Edward October 27, 2011 at 05:31 PM
They have a bank already in town! Why do they have to go "there"? Plenty of our places to go other than that historic property. They are just trying to keep up with the Joneses (Essex Savings on Durham road) and put up a nice looking bank. STOP looking for form and do some real function GSB. BTW, I took my money out of their bank after I heard about this fiasco and put it in a better bank and "NO" it was not BofA. You have a bank already in town GSB....use it!
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 27, 2011 at 06:02 PM
They are currently renting both of their other locations in town (one downtown and one the North Madison Shopping Plaza) and were interested in investing in the community. Also, the current downtown location is smaller. They have a larger location in Guilford, for example, in a historic house (you can barely tell it's a bank from the outside), and another historic house next door to that (you can't even tell they own that one). In the second building, GSB provides office space to a variety of community groups, for free. In Madison, despite their small quarters, they already provide some space to The Madison Foundation, which does a lot of good work in town. They hope, in their new building, to provide community space for other groups. And, let's say they are trying to keep up the Essex-Joneses ... if they are willing to invest $1.9 million in the property, and then almost another $2 million, which is what they expect to spend when it is all over, there is some benefit to the community here. Keep in mind that, by all accounts, this is a healthy bank that can afford to invest in our community without depleting its capital reserves. Again, I think there is merit to debating the future of this particular parcel, but when it comes to GSB itself, many would agree they've been a good neighbor and have contributed to the Madison community.
Michele Cahill October 27, 2011 at 07:42 PM
Although it wouldn't be the ideal solution, perhaps Guilford Savings Bank would agree to pay for the re-location of the Scranton "barn" to a nearby property such as Bauer Park. The historic building would be preserved and may even be used for education purposes through the Recreation Department.
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 27, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Hmmm ... and ... or ... maybe they could team up with the Madison Historical Society to do a fund raising campaign to raise the money to do that. If we raise enough money, we move the barn. If we don't, then it gets demolished. We can all put our money where our mouths are. Question is how fast could that happen and how much would it cost? Does anyone have any idea? Creative idea, Michele.
Marc O'Brien October 28, 2011 at 12:37 AM
Michele why relocate the barn? According to the article the barn has been comprised in the 70's. Doesn't seem to have any historical value now. Has anyone actually seen the barn and the poured concrete, it's a complete eye sour. The only critics on the project are Plunkett (losing bidder-sour grapes) and the Historical Society who as a relationship with Mr. Plunkett. Let's cut the non-sense, and create some jobs. Besides the proposed plan looks a lot better than the what’s there now and the side walks will be nice.
Michele Cahill October 28, 2011 at 02:18 AM
Marc, many of Madison's important historical properties were compromised at one time or another but have been saved because of their documented significance. It's extremely unfortunate that we've lost so many of them; most recently the Wilcox house on the Boston Post Road. I don't believe that Mr. Plunkett is the only critic of the project. Granted, it's not a scientific poll, however, in a previous patch poll of 125 voters, 64% voted that they feel tearing down the building will have a negative impact on a historic property. I'm curious Marc, how many of Madison's historical properties have you actually been in? Perhaps you'd enjoy reading the book Madison's Heritage. I'm sure the SCRANTON Memorial Library has a copy you can borrow.
Pete Morris October 28, 2011 at 03:08 AM
I haven't been in many, but I'm very familiar with this property. I put in a bid for a client. I can honesty say the barn is not worth saving. My client was not a federal agency and could have demolished both the barn and house without a review. Its in the best interest of our town to let the current plan move forward. I would hate to lose both buildings or worse yet have a chain drugstore on the corner if the property was again sold. As for the unscientific poll, Plunkett probably voted 100 times
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 28, 2011 at 03:29 AM
Hi H, Just for the record, this is from Tim Geelan at the bank: "We have no knowledge regarding disposition of the fragment that was once present at the base of the tree. The tombstone that was in the basement was secured by the archeologist, as part of his due diligence. As you know, we have had extensive archeological and historical studies completed on the site (at considerable expense I might add). By all indications, this site never served as a graveyard. Further, it is extremely unlikely that anyone was ever buried here (markings and time frames do not match any of the known occupants). The far more plausible explanation, as offered up by the archeologist (who also referenced conversations with representatives of the Madison Historical Society) is that they were relocated from one or more offsite cemeteries (not an uncommon practice, I’m told). Given the studies (and the associated and overwhelming probability that the tombstone and fragment have no ties to the property), coupled with the fact that our plans already incorporated saving the Copper Beech Tree, it seems that nothing meaningful will be gained by debating this matter further. We are proud of our plans and, as I indicated to you, we are very willing to educate/ inform anyone that is interested in learning more."
Gregory F Walwer October 29, 2011 at 04:23 AM
Typographical error - sorry folks, the style of the house should read "Greek Revival" and not "Green Revival". The typo error is the fault of ACS, which notes that the author of the article did a great job correctly quoting us in this article - Greg Walwer
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 29, 2011 at 09:43 AM
Thanks Greg. I can change that ... and thanks for your detailed response to my questions.

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