Monday, November 18, 2013

The Simmons Preserve: ”A Little Jewel”

From the memories of Rob Simmons.
Travel down North Main Street, south from Route 1 and you catch tempting glimpses of water through the trees and beyond the houses. Just about the time you are wishing you could get a little closer and see a bit more of the lovely cove, you might notice a strongly made stone wall with some lovely white farm gates. Pull over before you reach Palmer Street; the roadside is grassy and wide enough to park.
Quandauck Cove.
Peek over the wall, check the latch on the gate, and go on in. It’s OK. It is the Simmons Preserve belonging to Avalonia Land Conservancy. This little half-acre has more than its fair share of history and was once described as “a small but absolute jewel bit of ground which helps preserve the beauty of the area”.
The entrance gate to the Simmons Preserve.
Early land records show that in 1844, the small plot of land was conveyed by Samuel S. Denison to Benjamin S. States for the price of $150. This was apparently the first record of a plot of land that would become “The Mechanics Burial Ground”, the final resting place for numerous railroad workers who labored on the first interstate rail road from Providence to Stonington.
Old maple trees stand tall on this protected land.
The property changed hands over the decades, and in early 1900’s it was purchased by Elizabeth Eagle Simmons. She, however, was not happy to own and reside near a cemetery so she “prevailed upon her husband, Charles Herbert Simmons to purchase the deeds to all the cemetery plots from the families of the deceased”, and in 1906, he purchased land from Stonington Cemetery Association to relocate all the remains with permissions from the families. By 1922 the process was completed.
The land became a much enjoyed recreation area for the Simmons Family and was called “Bud’s Point”, after Charles Herbert Simmons, Jr. who later became the owner of the land.
Native shrubs grow along the shore.
Over the following decades the family enjoyed the lovely grounds. The area contained ornamental plantings from its years as a cemetery, as well as native shrubs and trees. The walls have withstood years of storms, and the original gates were designed by Charles Simmons Jr. himself, an architect who practiced in New York City, Connecticut and Vermont.
The main farm gate.
On Jan 29, 1986 The New London Day reported that the very same piece of land, bordering on Quanaduck Cove had been donated to the Mashantucket Land Trust, which later became Avalonia Land Conservancy. Over more than 100 years, that little piece of land accumulated history and lore and a great deal of affection. The Rob Simmons Family still lives just up the street and can view Bud’s Point out their south windows.
It is managed now as a nature preserve. Avalonia volunteers work to maintain the park-like setting, ornamental plantings and fend off invasives. The area is a meadow now, not a cemetery lawn, and in the early spring it is carpeted with lily of the valley that has spread wildly. You can walk right down to the water and find herons and egrets wading along the shoreline. Ducks love the sheltered cove and there has been a family of foxes seen over the years, enjoying the preserve as well.
Red Fox.
The antique gates have withstood storms and salt spray all these decades. This year, Rob Simmons, Avalonia member, donor and a steward of this property, arranged to have the gates replaced with exact replicas of the originals his father first installed. As a gift from the Simmons family, and built and installed by Dan Banning and Steve Burdick, these gates will stand as a welcome and a memory for all who chose to enter and visit the “little jewel” .
Dan Banning and Steve Burdick stand beside their handiwork.

My thanks to Rob Simmons. Most of the information in this piece was based on or quoted from his personal memoir of “The Simmons’ Preserve, Bud’s Point, The Mechanics’ Burial Ground”, based on historical documents and family lore.
Assembled by Beth Sullivan.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, Rick Newton, and Rob Simmons.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating history. It is surprising to me that the Simmons Preserve was once a cemetery as I don't see it mentioned in the Stonington Historical Society's 1980 guide to Stonington Graveyards - which does include cemeteries that have had their graves removed.