Welcome to our news and history blog!

Welcome to our news and history blog!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gravestone Motifs: Weeping Willows and Urns

In the 1980s I wrote a local history column that appeared in the Greenwich Time newspaper. I was a member of its Board of Contributors in those fun-filled days when I also served on the board of the Greenwich Historical Society.

Last night I was inspecting my files of old published articles from my column when I found one that focused on the motifs and iconography carved on gravestones. “The motifs found on a number of gravestones throughout the burying grounds of Greenwich have withstood most of the effects of the elements, leaving meanings and significance for us to ponder,” I quote from ‘Unlocking the Secrets of the Past.’

Perhaps the best-known proponent of analysis and study of New England’s ancient burying grounds was the late Harriette Merrifield Forbes. “To interpret them properly it is necessary to close our 20th century eyes and look at them with the eyes of the past. Thus we can appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of those designs and perhaps find a lesson for ourselves in a few of them at least.”

I think anyone walking through the cemeteries and burying grounds today would notice the carved weeping willow trees that appear on 19th century marble stones. This motif started to appear on gravestone markers in the early 1800s. Often the weeping willow tree stood alone or with an urn to its side. The Greeks and Romans to store cremated ashes utilized urns. Their appearance also reflected a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman architectural styles that also found their ways on to home and government buildings built in the early 19th century.

The most significant feature of live weeping willows we see on today’s landscapes and the carved examples on marble gravestones are the drooping branches. The image conveyed a sense of mourning and sadness felt by the living as a special loved one was laid to eternal rest.

Featured here are some examples of the weeping willow tree and urn motifs found on the gravestones of a few of our ancestors in Greenwich, Connecticut cemeteries.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bob Keeler, Mead descendant, Maintaining Cemeteries

We are very pleased to announce that Bob Keeler, a Mead descendant, as stepped to the Association's cause and is now maintaining the family cemeteries under our care. We are very grateful for such Bob's involvement in our continuous efforts to preserve these hallowed places. Thank you, Bob!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mead Burying Ground at Lot & Drake's Corner

The family burying ground featured today is the smallest of the three the Association preserves. It is located near the intersection of North Street and Taconic Road within sight of one of the family homesteads. In 1971 Edgar T. Mead, Jr., a direct descendant of those interred here, published a book entitled The House on Lot and Drake's Corner, that we highly recommend.

The three final pictures featured at the link below were taken during the last week of June, 2010 by my cousin Robert Keeler, who is maintaining the cemetery off Relay Place at Cos Cob's historic Mill Pond and the cemetery off Cliffdale Road in North Greenwich.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Silleck House, a Mead House, Built Circa 1827

As I sit writing from my home in Honolulu I have read that temperatures at Yankee Stadium in New York City stand at 110F. It seems that the horrid winter experienced by some many in the Northeast is to be followed by one equally hot. You have my sympathies! If we in Hawaii were experiencing some trade winds I'd gladly send them your way.

This news reminded me of how in any historical age people will do what they can to seek comfort. The above picture was taken by me on a ride to and from Island Beach off the Greenwich coast in Long Island Sound in 2008. The building is located adjacent to the Indian Harbor Yacht Club off Greenwich Harbor. For many years it was known as the Silleck House, one of the earliest shore hotels in the region. I've long wondered if any of our family ancestors built the place.

I contacted Anne Young, archivist of the Greenwich Historical Society with a request for some information. After inspection of the materials I received my curiosity appears justified.

From the Greenwich News & Graphic story dated March 14, 1919 entitled 'Silleck House To Be Sold' is the following excerpt (original spellings and typographic errors retained):

The Silleck house is the oldest hotel on either shore of Long Island Sound between Sands Point, which is located opposite City Island, New York, and Stonington, Conn. It was build by the late Jared Mead in 1827, the frame construction being erected on dirt cellars which had been on the property a number of years prior to that date. Mr. Mead was a great-grandfather of W.P. White of Field Point Road. During the first few years it was run by Mr. Mead as a boarding hotel under the name of 'The White House,' the project did not prove successful and in the spring of 1849 Mr. Mead sold the building and grounds to Mrs. Fannie Runyon and Mrs. Mary Dennis, who in turn resold it to Thomas Funston on February 9, 1850. Thaddeus Silleck, grandfather of Elbert A. Silleck, became the owner on May 25, 1855, and later it fell into the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Elbert A. Silleck and Edward T. Foote. Mr. Silleck for many years conducted a most successful fashionable summer hotel there.

Why was Jared Mead unsuccessful? Businesses thrive or fail for any number of reasons. I wondered about this. I found out why in one of my favorite Greenwich history books, 'Other Days in Greenwich,' by the late Judge Frederick Hubbard. On Page 262 Hubbard wrote:

"Situated near the shore with a dense forest on three sides, it was an ideal spot for a quiet summer retreat. The trouble with the "White House," as Mr. Mead called it, was due to the fact that table supplies were difficult to obtain. At that time there was no market in Greenwich. To supply the table with meat it was Jared Mead's custom to purchase lambs and calves of the farmers and butcher them on the premises. Vegetables were secured at market sloops. Butter was difficult to buy as the farmers preferred to send it to New York. The cows were pastured on Field Point, assuring a good supply of milk and cream. The water was brought from one of the Field Point springs, there being no well near the hotel. Apples were free to anyone who would gather them.

"Mr. Mead had a good class of boarders at what then thought to be remunerative prices, but he found it quite a struggle to maintain a satisfactory table. His fried fish, broiled lobsters, succulent oysters and scallops were considered most palatable, but there always came a time when the appetite demanded fresh meat."

The above-mentioned Greenwich News & Graphic story lists the names of some of the luminaries who stayed at the Silleck House. The include William B. Taylor, former postmaster of New York City; Horace Greeley, John Hoey, Robert M. Bruce, Charles A. Whitney, the New York banker; and a "Professor King" of Columbia University. Yet perhaps the most famous -or infamous- was none other than William M. Tweed, better known as "Boss Tweed" of New York.

"From a small building it was enlarged from time to time until it becamse one of the finest and most up-to-date hotels outside of New York and hundreds of prominent people from all parts of the country used to spend their summers at this popular hostelry, " continued the Greenwich News & Graphic. "In the early days boarding rates were $2.50 a week while of more recent date enormous prices have been charged not only at this but other similar hotels in Greenwich. Summer sojourners will now pay most any prices to get a breath of real country air and enjoy the many privileges afforded at these resorts."