Ancient cemetery dubbed ‘Vergennes Burial Ground’

VERGENNES — After receiving a thorough history lesson from a resident, Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday officially agreed on Tuesday to name a city-owned cemetery on Mountain View Lane the “Vergennes Burying Ground.”
Resident Susan Ferland, whose research has also been instrumental in having Vergennes re-assume maintenance of what is the city’s oldest cemetery, told aldermen at their Oct. 9 meeting that what is the final resting place of most Vergennes founders has undergone several name changes since it was created in 1790.
Ferland and other interested parties had recommended to aldermen the name “Old Vergennes Burying Ground” on a new sign, and the council invited her to their meeting to explain why.
Ferland said the first reference she uncovered, in 1798 council minutes, called the cemetery a “burying ground.”
“There’s … a reason to go back to that,” she said.
Over the years, Ferland said, references to the cemetery in minutes and other documents evolved — especially after the Prospect and St. Peter’s cemeteries were established in Vergennes — to “burial ground,” “old cemetery,” “old burial ground,” and finally to “first cemetery.”
Ferland told aldermen using the historically accurate name would also help highlight how cemetery styles evolved over the years. The first burying ground was a simple pasture with paths, she said, while the Prospect Cemetery reflected the Victorian Era, which assumed more visitors and added landscaping, roads and views to make visiting a more pleasant experience.
“When you get to the Victorian age, you get a whole different perspective,” Ferland said, adding that “sticking with your founding fathers” would create “teachable moments” for cemetery visitors.
Aldermen said they appreciated Fenland’s research and presentation.
“I’m fascinated,” said Alderman Bill Benton. “It’s a great little lesson.”
Alderman Peter Garon moved that the new sign should read “Vergennes Burying Ground” with the dates of its founding and last burial underneath — 1190-1979. That motion passed unanimously.
Mayor Michael Daniels said a new sign would probably be up by the spring, and aldermen would continue to work on getting a volunteer to lock and unlock the cemetery for visitors, as well as working to have fencing repaired.
Officials from the Vergennes Opera House and the Vergennes Partnership also offered aldermen status updates on their organizations, with both offering generally upbeat reports for the third quarter.
Opera house executive director Eileen Corcoran told aldermen that events there had drawn about 2,000 visitors in July, August and September.
“We’ve had a lot going on,” she said.
Corcoran also said the long-awaited work to install sprinklers in the theater and City Hall has begun; the theater is running close to on-budget, although City Manager Mel Hawley noted that status is thanks to a one-time contribution from the city; and that theater officials are working on developing better fund-raising, including increasing business support, so that “we can have the budget we need.”
Corcoran noted that the theater is also working on a program to make a number of free tickets available to local residents in exchange for towns’ increased support of the opera house, a plan that drew praise from aldermen.
Partnership executive director Tara Brooks said a critical accomplishment in the past few months was the renewal of the city’s Designated Downtown status on Sept. 24. That designation allows Vergennes and downtown property owners to apply for grants to fund infrastructure improvements, and has helped fund many projects in the city in the past decade.
Brooks said the partnership has also taken over partial sponsorship and operation of the city’s annual “Pumpkins in the Park” Halloween celebration from the Addison County Chamber of Commerce.
That event, mostly on Oct. 27 this year, will include morning one-mile and 5-kilometer “costume runs” (that will still be officially timed for serious runners), “spooky stories” at the Bixby Library, a cooking competition on the city green for recipes using pumpkins, trick-or-treating downtown and a parade around the green, a safe trick-or-treating presentation offered by city police, and cider, doughnuts and awards offered on the green in the evening to cap the day.
Brooks said she is also working on creating a late-winter Vergennes event that will be “something to help get people into Vergennes” and its businesses, and talking to the city’s recreation committee about a survey of what people want to see added (including items such as walking paths, a dog park and a boathouse).
Survey results, if they indicate support for such additions, could be used to obtain grant funding, she said.

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