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Wednesday, May 23 News

Abandoned Norwalk cemetery restored by Darien Scouts

NORWALK — Until recently, the small cemetery on Brookside Road was long forgotten and people weren’t sure if it was in Darien or Norwalk.

Initially thought to be in Darien, the cemetery was found to actually belong to Norwalk, on a parcel stradling the town lines of Norwalk, Darien and New Canaan.

The cemetery has only 31 grave sites with tombstones displaying seven different surnames, the oldest dating back to 1812, according to records gathered in the 1930s from the Connecticut State Library.

Those records call it Reed Cemetery.

“It’s really not prominent, like you could drive by without noticing it,” said Jacob Won, a junior at Darien High School, who learned about the cemetery through an article in The Norwalk Hour in February 2017. “I doubt people realized that they could help out and fix up the cemetery.”

Won did exactly that, gathering some of his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 35 in Darien, and their parents, to restore the abandoned cemetery for his Eagle Scout project.

During several days in April, they cleaned up trash, gathered three carloads of branches and raked up more than 50 bags of leaves. They also helped excavate broken headstones that had been half-buried and beautified the cemetery by planting a small tree they found near the split rail fence they installed, as well as adding flowers along the fence as suggested by one of the neighbors.

Although the project is now complete, Won and his father still stop by the cemetery a couple times a week to water the flowers and to make sure everything is in good condition.

“I’d say the biggest takeaway is that people in the community can do a lot more than they think they could,” Won said. “I was expecting this project to take way longer, and we needed a lot of resources which people happily provided. I think if no one really put in as much effort, it wouldn’t have gone nowhere near as close as this.”

Won emphasized the support he received from neighbors and help from the community. Throughout the project, local businesses — including Ring’s End, Home Depot and Nielsen's Florist — provided supplies and the Norwalk Historical Commission offered guidance.

Won personally contacted Norwalk Historical Commission Chairman David Westmoreland, who sponsored his project.

Westmoreland said the cemetery wasn’t on his radar until a Norwalk resident, with ancestors buried at Reed Cemetery, contacted him last year and expressed interest in helping restore the cemetery. Since then, no one has come forward to claim ownership of the cemetery, he said.

“So, under state law, the city is allowed to go in and do maintenance work like we’ve done to our abandoned cemeteries for the public good,” Westmoreland said.

In addition to sponsoring the project, the Norwalk Historical Commission donated a historical society plaque marking the cemetery and will be undertaking a new project to restore about 11 headstones that require professional conservation work.

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Westmoreland is looking to raise $10,000 for this project — which wouldn’t have become a priority for the historical commission if it wasn’t for Won’s restoration project, Westmoreland said.

“It was a lot of work and he did a tremendous job,” Westmoreland said. “I love doing Eagle Scout projects because you can see the difference in their management and leadership ability by the end of the day. You literally watch them transform into leaders before your eyes and it happens with every project, and it’s something I’m proud to be associated with.”

Juliana Post also watched Won and his crew transform the cemetery from her house across the street, delighted by the drastic change in the cemetery’s condition.

She said the cemetery had been neglected for years and even vandalized, having lived at her home since 1987. Sometimes the Town of New Canaan would come and mow the cemetery. But besides that, she said nobody ever took an interest in it.

“My husband would sometimes go in an mow it to make it look nice,” Post said, laughing. “But when these guys said they were doing this for the Scout project, amazing. And it really, really looks fantastic. I’d say it ups the value of the neighborhood.”

This article includes previous reporting by Kaitlyn Krasselt.

skim@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2568; @stephaniehnkim

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