December 21st, 2011 | City

Construction workers dig up forgotten cemetery

Today, Christ Church is known as St. Mary's, above. It once housed a long-lost cemetery on Davenport Avenue.
Today, Christ Church is known as St. Mary's, above. It once housed a long-lost cemetery on Davenport Avenue. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Workers at a Yale-New Haven Hospital construction site stumbled upon a forgotten cemetery last summer, the New Haven Register reported this weekend.

Construction stopped at the site when workers found a “long bone” during excavation. State archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni came in with a team of students and, after more searching, the team found the skeletal remains of four individuals — two females and two males — as well as screws and nails arranged in a coffin-like pattern. In an interview with the Register, retired police sergeant Anthony Griego and retired state trooper Howard Eckels said the construction site once housed a Catholic cemetery and church. The New Haven Historical Society has a list of the 608 people buried in the cemetery.

Eckels said the church, founded in 1833 as “Christ Church,” was the first Catholic church in New Haven and second in Connecticut. The church was located at the intersection of Davenport Avenue and South Street, which no longer exists.

After about a decade, priests sought to change the church’s appearance, fighting to remove headstones from the church’s property to keep the land from looking “unkempt.” While the first two priests were unsuccessful, the third managed to move the gravestones to the edge of land. Eventually, the tombstones disappeared. Eckels said he has only recovered three of those headstones — the rest are still missing.

So far, experts believe that one of the women found buried in the cemetery suffered from spinal compressions, while the other, who was in her 70s, had a hip problem. One of the men had strong teeth and muscles and was in his 30s when he died; the other man was in his 70s, with an unusual fracture in his first vertebrae.

The church survives, but under a new name and at a new location — it is now known as St. Mary’s Church, and is located at 5 Hillhouse Ave.

  • smartypants79

    and way to gloss over hte fact that a whole big cemetery is being dug up and the bones are being put who knows where, all so yale can build more stuff. tell me this–if these were indigenous peoples or something, would this not be considered “hallowed ground”? Instead, it’s a bunch of poor catholics. So, ehn. Screw it. move them out of the way.

    Good job, yale!

  • Candymaker1

    I find it somewhat strange that PRIESTS would seek to destroy a cemetery and act like it never existed, just to “keep up appearances”! I guess there is a special place in “heaven” for them! DISGUSTING!!!!

  • CemOps

    A state archeologist in our opinion is not necessarily to correct group to call in for a cemetery find. It takes a professional cemeterian to know what to look for, to protect against certain causes of death from historic burials, and to preserve the integrity of the burials in question. No disrespect to their field, but there are hazards in historic cemeteries I have never seen archeologists protect themselves from. And they may not be equipped to go beyond the find, and insure reinterment of those remains in a safe and efficient manner.

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