Ye Old Buryal Ground
In last month’s column dealing with the history of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, reference was made to deceased that have been buried twice. Twice refers to those who have a death date prior to 1853 when Mt. Pleasant Cemetery officially opened. The original site was where the Caledonia Court House stands today. It was deeded by Jonathan Arnold, June 28, 1790, being part of the original Right No. 10 in the township. This “part” was described as “a point projecting eastward from the Plain.” The last part of the deed reads-
For sixty years this served as the original cemetery for the burial of the dead in the south part of town. The old church yard at the Center Village was initially designated in 1800. The larger cemetery to the north was opened in 1850.
No record of a post and stocks (punishment) exists nor was there ever a school or other public building erected in the sixty years. The first burial was Alice Crawford, wife of Jonathan Arnold. She had been laid to rest in the homestead yard for two months prior to being placed in the original site so she changed “residence” three times! A good fence was to be placed at this site and Edward Fairbanks records in his history of the town that the first trees to have been transplanted in the village were maples in front of the old burial ground, planted by William A. Palmer. William went on to be Governor of the state and is resting in the cemetery on Brainerd Street in Danville.
Sixty years later there arose a great need for a public building, a Court House, as St. Johnsbury had become the shire town of Caledonia County. Danville had originally held the honor. Meantime the cemetery was rather unsightly having not been kept up and this seemed to be the perfect site for the Court House. Some had already removed their loved ones to Mt. Pleasant and in 1856 arrangements were put in place to remove all bodies. A quit-claim deed of the land was made by William C. Arnold, representing the heirs of Jonathan Arnold, in January of 1856. Description of the land was in the text as follows,
“The piece of ground in said village heretofore used for a burying ground, and from which the bodies interred there have been recently removed for the purpose of having erected thereon a Court House and the proper public offices therein for the County of Caledonia; and also for a suitable Town Hall thereon for the use of the town of St. Johnsbury; and the residue of said land to be used as ornamental public grounds; and said land Is not conveyed for any other purpose or use whatever, except those above specified.”
End of story, right? No, because since the 1850’s human remains have shown up at various times when upgrades and repairs have been made to the Court House area. The Caledonian reported some of these instances, such as a time when a granite post was being set in place and in the process remains were discovered. No one that I have known, past or present, has ever seen a map of the cemetery or any records suggesting exactly where the deceased had been interred. These were the reasons for the confusion and the incomplete removal of all burials. This became problematic when the Court House needed expansion. The University of Vermont (UVM) Consulting Archaeology Program conducted a series of archaeological investigations for the State of Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services between 1994 – 2000. Over this time fieldwork revealed 29 bodies had been left undisturbed; 65 graves had been fully exhumed and 50 graves had partial remains. The site work at the old burial ground was performed by UVM with the highest level of respect, responsibility, and professionalism possible. After work was completed, all remains were removed to Mt. Pleasant to be united with “Friends and Family.” A new gravestone tells the story of this happening.