Our Town Article - July 2017
Probably not a day goes by when one doesn’t drive or walk by the Center Cemetery with its intricate iron fence and classic stone monuments. Surprisingly, this was not the first cemetery and final resting place for Bridgewater residents.
The first cemetery was the South Cemetery located on Christian Street near the intersection of Stuart Road. In the early 1800’s, residents felt the south location was too far and wanted a cemetery closer to what would become the center of town. Another reason was that South Cemetery was town property offering free burials to all and the cemetery could not allow plots to be reserved. This separated families and made it difficult to have them buried together. Many residents preferred individual ownership and control of their plots. David Jacus was approached to sell land for the establishment of a new cemetery. At times he was in favor of the establishment of a new cemetery, and at other times against it. Coincidentally, a local man James Phipppeny died on April 17, 1834. While this wouldn’t have been an extraordinary event, the family wanted him buried at the soon-to-be established cemetery since it was near where they lived. Well, this galvanized residents into action, both for and against, and after several contentious meetings, David Jacus conceded to sell a ½ acre parcel for $100.00 for the new cemetery. The money to further the project was raised by subscription. The half-acre lot was divided into plots and the plots sold for $5.00 each. At first sales were brisk, but then waned with some plots selling for as little as 45 cents.
Finally, on Good Friday 1835 many of the townspeople gathered for the first burial at the cemetery of James Phippeny. He was originally interred in a field on Hut Hill Road amidst the controversy and finally moved to the new cemetery to rest in peace. Once the cemetery opened, it became popular and subscriptions continued with enough to create a permanent fund ($1800.00) used to finance the cemetery’s care. The antique iron fence we see today was erected in 1888 at a cost of $1556.23 and paid for by subscriptions. The original bank wall fence in front was removed and the new iron fence set upon granite coping was installed and the remaining three sides were constructed as a wood picket fence with iron posts. Betsey Weeks, daughter of Lyman Smith an early supporter of the cemetery, became the first to leave a legacy to the cemetery for care and maintenance. In 1891 a permanent organization was established and elected officers to oversee the future care and maintenance of the cemetery. It has continued to grow and offer a final resting place for many Bridgewater residents.