As the great oak lives in our memories, the removal uncovers another historic treasure of our church, the graveyard. As old as the church itself, with the first legible stone monument to Henry Haines in 1736, with folklore references to a marker dated 1719, the graveyard is the final resting place of members of this congregation. In colonial America it was customary for graveyards to accompany a house of worship. In those times, the church was responsible for the burial and this most often occurred next to the church. The term “churchyard” refers to all the land owned by the church. A great portion of this, known as the “graveyard” or “God’s acre,” is the property used for burials. Graveyards are found around churches in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Basking Ridge and other places. Cemeteries differ from graveyards by being distance from any church and are designed burial sites and today the terms are used interchangeably. Surrounding the Church are examples of both.
The burial grounds of the church can be visited anytime and are composed of three areas. The graveyard is the area surrounding the church containing the oldest stones. Presbyterian vitality is evident here, as graves were moved in order to accommodate growth in the congregation and the attendant building expansion. To the north, behind the church, there remain a few large pine trees that formed an east west boundary of the graveyard. Beyond this point is the “new cemetery.” William Childs donated this property in 1911, believed to be the site of horse stables, and it was landscaped and designed with squares of eight burial sites. Hence, it is properly known as a cemetery. On the eastern most part of the graveyard along North Maple Avenue is the Memorial Garden. Developed in 1975, responding to congregational requests for a cremains resting place, the Memorial Garden was established incorporating a space for contemplation and comfort.
The Graveyard, New Cemetery and Memorial Garden are under the perpetual care of the church. With markers dating to 1736, it is understandable that continuous maintenance and an occasional renewal are required. In 2002 the Trustees and pastor, Dr. Alfred Tisdale, created the Cemetery Heritage Committee (CHC) to continue mapping gravesites and restore the condition of gravestones that, in the fullness of time, became topsy-turvy and unreadable. Under the leadership of George Fricke the CHC straightened and repaired stones, cleaned headstones, mapped all markers, created a kiosk with names mapped to burial locations for visitors and developed on-line references to each burial for genealogy researchers. While this important work goes on (new volunteers welcome) the Historic Churchyard, now restored, was rededicated in 2006 to recognize all that was accomplished.
As generations pass, graveyards become more than the earthly resting place of loved ones. They illuminate the history of famous and interesting people who inspire us. The kiosk has pamphlets available telling many interesting stories from our graveyard. From time to time the stories come to life on a cemetery tour. The art on gravestones reflects changing attitudes toward death. The cutting of a winged death head possibly representing the inevitability of death and its transformative nature, or the carving of a willow tree signifying grief. Examples of each are found in the graveyard.