WESTBROOK – A private cemetery containing the gravesites of notable figures in Westbrook’s history may be turned over to the city’s care.

Pending approval by the City Council’s Facilities and Streets Committee, the Conant burial ground, off Conant Street, would be provided regular maintenance and protected from any future sale of the property.

Ellie Conant Saunders, who resides in the adjacent home on 89 Conant St., is a direct descendant of some of the first permanent settlers in Westbrook, such as brothers Joseph and Samuel Conant, who are buried in the cemetery.

Saunders, 94, said this week that it has been a long process, but one that she feels is necessary in order to preserve the burial ground.

“I think it’s time,” she said, stating that most of her family lives out of state, making the upkeep on the cemetery more difficult.

“I think it would be easier for the city, and for the family, as well,” she said.

According to information compiled by the Westbrook Historical Society, there are 28 plots at the site, including veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The oldest grave in the cemetery belongs to Joseph Conant, who died in 1765.

Saunders’ late husband, and one-time mayor of Westbrook, Donald Saunders, is also buried there.

According to Saunders, if the grounds were given over to the city, gates would be removed in order to comply with the rest of the city’s public cemeteries, which are open until sunset.

Mike Sanphy, president of the Westbrook Historical Society, said this week that he is strongly in favor of the city taking on the land, based on his interest in preserving local history, but also on a legal basis.

Sanphy said because the cemetery contains remains of U.S. veterans, Maine law requires municipalities to maintain veterans’ graves. Regular maintenance of the other graves fall on the landowner.

Saunders said, however, that it would be disrespectful to ignore the other graves in the cemetery.

“There are many buried there, where their stones are either broken or gone,” she said. “Before it gets any worse, it might be good for the city to take care of it.”

“I feel that it’s very important to maintain that cemetery, as some of our first permanent settlers are buried there,” Sanphy said Tuesday. “It’s one of, if not the oldest, cemetery in Westbrook. Three Revolutionary War soldiers are buried there, and it’s a significant piece of our heritage.”

Westbrook’s cemeteries are maintained by Westbrook Public Services, with mowing services outsourced to a private company.

According to information compiled by Saunders in 2005, the Conant burial ground was once larger than seen today. In the 1940s, she said, a filling station was built over part of the cemetery after the land was purchased “without city or Conant knowledge.”

Ernie’s Cycle Shop now occupies the former filling station land, and Saunders believes there are unknown remains buried there, the oldest in the cemetery.

She also said that at one time, the land was on loan to the city, but has never been officially turned over to city control.

Arty Ledoux, Westbrook’s deputy director of public services, said Tuesday that attorneys representing both the city and Saunders have met to discuss stipulations that must be met prior to the land gift taking place, but did not say what these stipulations were.

Ledoux said after an agreement is reached, a deed on the land will be turned over to the city, taking legal ownership.

“Normal procedure would be that we would take charge of that cemetery under the same rules and guidelines that we currently have for all other city cemeteries,” he said.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said last week that he expects the council to take up the issue during its September meeting.

Westbrook resident Ellie Conant Saunders, whose ancestors were among the first permanent Westbrook settlers, is hoping to gift her family’s Conant burial ground to the city. The cemetery contains some of the oldest graves in Westbrook, including veterans of the Revolutionary War.  

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: