Caretakers Craig Fleming and Evan Cowles sat before the Town Council Tuesday evening to give them some disturbing news – Riverside Cemetery, the only active cemetery in Farmington, is almost out of room.
“We’re here to open a dialogue and get the town to set aside some land for cemetery use in the future,” Cowles explained. “The cemetery was created in 1830 and it has about 5 years of room left.”
The cemetery, which spans about 12 acres along Garden Street in Farmington center, is bordered by a neighborhood, Miss Porter’s School property and the Farmington River. Cowles said the cemetery’s board of directors had already approached property owners in the area about donating land.
Indeed, they have given up looking for land nearby the cemetery and are now hoping to find space anywhere in Farmington. Cowles said they approached a family in the West District area that was trying to develop land and were turned down.
Still, Fleming, who also manages two other cemeteries said the board believes it’s important for the cemetery and for the town to find more space.
“Whatever town it is that people are born, brought up and live in they usually want to be buried in that town. And unfortunately, when you run out of land there is no alternative. You can go to the next town or be cremated and buried in a smaller plot,” Fleming said. “It is imperative that somehow we obtain some property within town confines to continue what we’ve been doing for the past 200 years.”
Riverside Cemetery is a nondenominational lot open to Farmington residents who have lived in town for more than five years. It’s quasi-municipal, Cowles said, in the sense that, if the cemetery’s endowment ran out and could no longer care for the cemetery, responsibility would pass to the town.
While the endowment is substantial now, the pair explained, it will not remain that way for long once Riverside runs out of land to sell. The endowment has investments, some in bonds, that have been able to pay the $80,000 in annual maintenance fees, Fleming said, but since the recession, they’ve had to dip into capital to pay for expenses. Cowles called it a wake-up call.
And the endowment is set aside for perpetual care of the existing cemetery, not buying land. Hence, the board of directors is looking for someone to donate the land.
Assistant Town Planner Liz Dolphin has been helping them look for a location. Cowles and Fleming approached the council for permission to have her continue putting time into the issue. The council granted permission.
Any land use changes would have to gain approval from both the Town Council and the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.