A Broad Street couple uncovered more than they expected when they hired a contractor to shore up a sagging old outbuilding on their property several weeks ago: Seven gravestones, and as many questions.
Partners Nick Heywood and Steve Thompson bought the home they share at 51 Broad St. about two years ago. Both history lovers, the two fell in love with the place not just because of its location, but also because it has a curious two-story outbuilding, about 12 feet square, in the northwest corner of the lot. Nick has an online interior decorations business and envisioned fixing up the old outbuilding and using it as an office.
“When we saw it I just loved it,” he said.
After they moved in, the two researched the property and discovered that it may date back as early as 1783, though much of it is younger. Like many older homes the property has its share of quirks, including odd stonework in the stairs leading to the basement, and shortly after moving in they found a small gravestone marked “H.H.” that had been incorporated into a stone patio out back. There were other odd funerary items as well, including what turned out to be headstone bases in the side garden.
As they continued their research, it didn’t surprise them to learn that Henry Cole, who was the caretaker of Warren’s North Burial Ground in the 1840s and 1850s, owned the house during his years at the cemetery, and that the place stayed in the family for many years after.
“So we were thinking that there might be more” stones, Mr. Heywood said Monday.
Still, they were surprised what turned up when they decided to shore up the old outbuilding. The old structure was sagging, especially at the rear, and needed a proper, solid foundation. The two decided to raise the building by about six inches and have new foundation piers poured to support it. They hired James P. Tavares Construction in Bristol to do the job.
Two weeks ago, after the first day of work by the Tavares crew, Nick came home and saw a long line of stones laid out along the building’s edge. Most were marked simply with initials: “H.M.,” “M.M.” “W.A.C., “C.C.” and others. They were all clearly gravestones, and workers had pulled all of them out from the rubble under the building.
“Oh, I flipped out!” Nick said. “It was amazing, very exciting. We thought there might be things under there but I didn’t expect this.”
Also found under the shed were scores of large field stones and a large, ornate granite hitching post with an iron ring still attached. They aren’t sure, but he and Mr. Thompson believe the post came from what was once an opulent home across the street that was razed in the early 20th century.
The prize find came soon after. Months before the contractors arrived Nick had uncovered the edge of a piece of marble at the outbuilding’s rear, but due to its size and orientation he was never able to tell what it was. But the workers exposed it enough that Nick and Steve were able to flip it over a day later. When they did, they discovered a complete gravestone for a toddler.
The stone was carved for Charles Henry Cornell, the son of Alfred and Mary Cornell. He died on Oct. 1, 1843, at 14 months and 13 days old. The Cornell name rang a bell, as Mary Cornell was the sister or sister-in-law of Mr. Cole, the cemetery caretaker and home’s owner. Census records indicated that Mary lived in the house for a time during the 1850s, so “it’s very possible that Charles Henry died in the home,” Nick said.
Still, the stone raises many questions. Why did the child’s stone end up behind the home? Is he buried at the North Burial Ground? And if not, where?
Steve is working with Doug Hinman at the Warren Preservation Society, attempting to track down the toddler’s whereabouts.
“Right now, we still don’t know,” he said.
Still, research has paid off in other ways. It appears that Mrs. Cole had another son soon after the death of Charles Henry, and she also named him Charles. Apparently, he moved to Bristol and lived a long life, dying some time in the first quarter of the 20th century.
As for the stones, Nick and Steve said they are honored to have found them, as they are an integral part of the property that tells more than records ever could about the life of one family in 19th century Warren.
“It makes me think we were made to have” the house, Nick said. The stones “will be here long after we are, hopefully.”
For more on the discovery, see Nick Heywood’s blog here.