by Tina West
Here’s the story of the magnificent stone wall around the graveyard behind the church. Betty Plimpton, Lyme’s first archivist, transcribed it a few decages ago.
But who wrote it? Some old-timer about a hundred years ago determined to make sure the younger generation had the facts to appreciate their elders properly, I guess.
He throws in a lot of facts – some we get, some we don’t. The total length of wall is 1/8 mile or one furlong. Who knows, though, what a boy would charge for cutting whipstick? Or what else late nineteenth century Lyme boys did to make a bit of money?
He knew the wall-builder as an older man – he gives us not just the man and his reputation but the scene night after night in the little general store. You can see photos at Jane’s, the little general store across from the church, of men gathered around the woodstove there.
I like these looping continuities. The wall is here and Ira Chapel, who did a good job building it, is here – his grave and his depiction. Betty Plimpton made sure to rescue the unknown writer’s work. The church is here and its work. The Lyme community is very much here – and if you heard our First Selectman laying out the facts in no uncertain terms you’d hear the ring of the writer’s voice resurrected.
Here is the full text of the depiction:
Found in the Back of the Secretary’s Book
North Lyme Cemetery, Lyme, CT
Sometime when you are passing the Cemetery in Hamburg – stop for a moment and examine its wall a little more closely than you ever have before. Did it ever occur to you that the man who built that wall was building a monument for himself and many a man might take pride in such a lasting achievement and say the wall should remain as a memorial to the builder for the money he received for the work he performed was scarcely enough to pay his board while he worked. Let us cast these matters up and the totals.
Down to the year 1854 there was not a cemetery in this part of the town where a man might purchase a burial plot and have it exclusively for his own. Burials were made in various places but no special attention was paid to ownership. The idea of a cemetery under corporate control was the idea of but one man. The pan was so interesting that it required but little argument to cultivate its growth. The 3rd Ecceastical Society owned a small tract of land on the East side of its church: other lands adjoining was owned by their proprietors. This land seems to be the most feasible. An organization under the name of the North Lyme Cemetery Association was formed consisting of 100 shares of $5 each. The shares were quickly subscribed then on December 27, 1854 Allen Griffin deeded nine and a half rods to the association for the sum of $297. The Ecclescastical Society on April 18, 1854 deed to the Association thirty and a half rods for the sum of one penny. January 19, 1855 H.A. Brockway ninety two and a half rods for the sum of $33.75 making a total of two hundred eight and a half rods for $65.63 a few rods over one and a quarter acres. That was the cemetery and it exists today exactly the same (two later additions were purchased of Hayden Reynolds). On April 10, 1854 it was voted “that the Directors be instructed to contract for the building of a stone fence on the north, east and south sides of the cemetery “If anyone at this day have any question regarding the success of that contract they should study the wall that was built. It stands after 60 years almost as perfect as the day it was completed. The wall is probably four feet high, four feet wide at the bottom tapering to say three feet with a capping stone covering the entire top. Both sides are composed of stones with a smooth face and the detail of the wall does not vary a particle from one end of it to the other. A Memorandum made in the treasurers book reads as follows: “March, 10 1862 S.L. Lord E. _ Brockway and C.L. Ely measured this day the cemetery wall and found it to be fourty four and one half rods and this wall was built wholly by one man more than an eigth of a mile nearly every stone of which was broken either with a maul or drill and carted some distance all for the sum of $7.50 per rod. Think of it. The blacksmith’s charges today would exceed this amount per rod and itwould be but little in excess of a boy’s charges today for cutting whipstick and backing them from the forest which to drive the oxen. On January 4. 1855 the first payment of $60 was made on this wall and the last $10 on January 15, 1866. No man living here today knows whether the wall was eleven years in building. The records show it was eleven years in being paid for. If there be those who think this task was petty let them set two stakes with a furlong between them and they contemplate the building of a structure after the above dimensions unaided a liftime might be little enough but for $333.95 would scarcely be a compensation. No man ever heard the one who built this wall boast of it. He was a shy and reserved man talking but little, but a keen observer. The writer, once a clerk in Sissons Store, has seen this man enter the store night after night taking his seat with the others assembled about the stove and possibly a quiet chuckle over some story or a movement of his gait as he molded his tobacco quid into a different shape was all the evidence of animation that he might show save two eyes that twinkled like stars. He was an ardent fox hunter and once spent a whole day patiently in an “stand” and when he went fishing as he often did and the fish were not hungry he would wait for them to ______ an appetite. He was scrupleously honest in every act of his life. Should a visitor to the North Lyme Cemetery incline towards a merited respect for the one man who enclosed the grounds so perfectly let them go down to plot 112 on the south side and on a modest and suitable tablet he may read the name Ira Chapel.
From the secretary’s book, North Lyme Cemetery Records
Tina West lives on Sterling City not to far from the stone wall, is a courageous knitter, and is an active member of the church.