Willowbrook Cemetery is a historic burial ground noted for, among features, the springtime “Daffodil Mile.” Cemetery officials recently won the town’s approval to remove a road designation on the property that will allow more burial spots to become available.
Photo at left: The Christ and Holy Trinity Church Cemetery on King’s Highway North. At right: Deer on the grounds of Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road. / Photos by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — While one local cemetery recently received town officials’ blessing to facilitate much-needed expansion, and burials stopped long ago at several centuries-old graveyards, there remains a range of local burial options.

Officials of Willowbrook Cemetery, a landmark in the middle of town, recently initiated steps to accommodate additional burial plots, but needed the Board of Selectwomen to sign off on a detail of the plans.

A representative of Willowbrook, at 395 Main St., appeared before the selectwomen last month asking the town to “discontinue” portions of two private roads within the cemetery grounds so the property can be used for future burials. The private roads, although designated on maps, have never been constructed and lie in an undeveloped southern section of the Willowbrook property.

Final resting spots in Westport include, from left, Willowbrook Cemetery, King’s Highway Cemetery and Assumption Cemetery.

Discontinuing portions of the two roads was a legal technicality needed to allow the land to be developed into grave sites. The selectwomen voted unanimously to approve the request by Danny Amoruccio, executive director of Willowbrook and a licensed funeral director.

“We are in need of graves,” he said. “It’s a very busy cemetery.”

Willowbrook Cemetery was opened in 1847, he said, and encompasses “35 acres and thousands of graves.” The cemetery is nonprofit and non-sectarian, although it does allot a special section for Jewish burials.

“Families who raised their children in Westport want to be buried in Westport,” Amoruccio said. “We’re seeing record sales — they’re buying for generations.”

Willowbrook has also recorded what Amoruccio called “an influx of grave sales” to residents of Weston in the past few years.

Cemeteries are most often owned or maintained by churches or religious organizations, which he said is the case for the other local cemeteries accepting burials.

Amoruccio suggested a valuable source of information about the status of other local cemeteries is the Harding Funeral Home, where the Harding family has been caring for Westport families and their end-of-life needs since 1977. 

“They’ve been burying people in all the cemeteries in town for years,” he said of the Hardings, who own the only funeral home in Westport.

The business is now run by John Harding, supported by his father, Neil Harding, 81, and his mother, Patricia. In addition to the funeral home business, Neil Harding for many years was an emergency medical technician for the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service and a special police officer.

The Assumption Greens Farms Cemetery, at 73 Greens Farms Road, is open for the purchase of graves for standard burials or cremated remains, according to Neil Harding. It is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport.

Also owned by the diocese is another Assumption Cemetery, at 80 King’s Highway North. That cemetery is a collaboration between the Roman Catholic Diocese and Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, which each own and maintain half of the burial grounds. Their cemetery was opened in 1852, according to the Trinity Church website. Burials in Trinity’s portion of the cemetery are allotted only to parishioners because of space restraints. The other half owned by the Catholic Diocese is closed for additional burial plots. A burial may be accommodated only if a plot had previously been purchased, according to a diocesan official.

Harding made the distinction between Green’s Farms Church’s two cemeteries, referring to the cemetery across from the church on Hillandale Road and Church Street South as the Upper Cemetery and a second cemetery known as the Lower, or Colonial, Cemetery on Greens Farms Road near the Sherwood Island Connector.

The Lower Cemetery has limited burial space available, but only for church members and their families and for cremation only, according to John Coyne, operations director for Green’s Farms Church. “The Upper Cemetery is closed, and we are only honoring previous family commitments,” he said.

Saugatuck Congregational Church’s Evergreen Cemetery is the final resting spot for Civil War veterans and notable Westport families.

At Evergreen Cemetery on Evergreen Avenue, maintained by Saugatuck Congregational Church, there are several burial options available to church members and their families, according to the cemetery’s website. Evergreen Cemetery was the site of a Juneteenth commemoration this year, recognizing Union Lt. Louis McDonough, who led the 29th Regiment of Black soldiers in the Civil War.

There are also three historic graveyards in Westport closed for additional burials, which are maintained by the town’s Parks and Recreation Department. 

“We have three separate cemeteries that the town is responsible for,” said Michael West, the department’s superintendent.

They are: King’s Highway Cemetery, 121 King’s Highway North, about 1.4 acres; Platt Burial Ground, 399 Post Road West, about 0.44 acre, and Poplar Plains Cemetery, 283 Wilton Road, about 1 acre.

A plaque commemorating Union Brigadier General Henry Moses Judah was placed at his tomb in the King’s Highway Cemetery in April.

Although Westport cemeteries can still accommodate burials, some Westport residents secure space for their loved ones in cemeteries out of town, including in Fairfield and Norwalk, where there are several Jewish cemeteries affiliated with local Jewish congregations.

Harding praised Westport’s nonsectarian Willowbrook Cemetery for “dedicating a portion of the cemetery to people of the Jewish faith. I thought that was pretty nice that they did that.” 

Harding counsels residents who belong to a specific church with a cemetery to buy plots there sooner rather than later. “If they want to be buried in their cemetery, they should buy a plot in that cemetery now,” he said. “Down the road the cemetery could fill up.”

Many people prefer cremation these days, Harding added, noting that some Westport churches and Jewish congregations also have memorial gardens where cremated remains can be placed. 

However, he said, there is no need to worry about finding space in a local cemetery when the need arises.

“As far as I’m concerned there is plenty of room for cemeteries in every town, and people will continue to be buried,” Harding said.

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.

Green’s Farms Church owns two cemeteries — the Upper cemetery and the Lower, or Colonial, Cemetery. The first opened in 1736.