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Repairs at Historic Cemetery in Killingworth to Begin Soon

Tropical Storm Irene and October's nor'easter left many gravestones at Killingworth's historic Union District Cemetery buried under storm debris.

 

Crews will soon begin repairs at a historic Killingworth cemetery damaged during last year's hurricane-spawned tropical storm and snowstorm that respectively ruined Labor Day and Halloween.

The project has been deferred until after the end of the school year, according to Killingworth First Selectman Cathy Iino, because it requires a short closing of Roast Meat Hill Road, north of Route 80, where the Union District Cemetery was laid out in 1738. The approximately 600 graves at the cemetery include those of Native Americans from the colonial period and veterans of the French & Indian War.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing 75 percent of the money to remove the two massive trees that fell on the site, as well as for the restoration of gravestones by a conservator approved by the agency. FEMA estimates the maximum cost of the project to be $74,950. The agency estimates its maximum reimbursement, funneled to the town through the State Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, at $56,213.

FEMA dispatched specialists from its Region 1 Environmental & Historic Preservaton Office, based in Boston, to assess damage to the cemetery and mitigate the impact of repairs on historic headstones. The damage was the result of an extraordinary one-two metorological punch. The first blow, delivered by , brought down the trunk of a twin Norwegian spruce, with a diameter of almost five feet, that came to rest on its branches and the ground, including headstones. The snow brought down a similarly huge old oak . The number of headstones damaged cannot be determined until the trees are removed, but may be as many as 60.

Iselin Tree Experts, which provided a low bid of $7,240, will remove the trees. Smedley Company will operate the crane at $1,980 for one day, with the possible addition of $1,280 for a telehandler, a peice of equipment used for loading. The fee for the outdoor sculpture conservator — approved individuals are used by the State Historic Preservation Office — is $150 an hour.

In one sense, Killingworth caught a break when it obtained federal aid for the repairs. Cemeteries in most states, historic or not, are privately owned and ineligible for the funding assistance, says Jack Sullivan, FEMA's regional environmental officer. Many historic cemeteries in Connecticut and elsewhere in New England are municipally owned, as is Union District, the oldest cemetery in the town. Thus, it is elegible for aid from FEMA.

FEMA's Environmental & Historic Preservation Office's mission is to ensure that work done by the agency adheres to federal laws protecting historic places and endangered species. "We inspect and approve the work," says Jean McDonough, FEMA official in charge of the project.

If bones are disturbed during the operation, the State Archaeologist must be notified. And speaking of bones, those of a notorious Killingworth murderess are said to lie in the cemetery: Mrs. Higgins who cut the throats of her three children in 1779. Best let her lie.

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