MERIDEN — Contractors interested in redeveloping the Hub site were warned that not everything buried below the 14-acre parcel was known. Because the site has seen many different uses through the years, there would likely be brick, stone and concrete to uncover, in addition to old piping from streets abandoned long ago.
Although he knew some element of surprise was possible, LaRosa Construction co-owner Joseph LaRosa was stunned to see a gravestone when he visited the site last week.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said, noting that most of what has been uncovered so far is rock, concrete and brick. “We’re pretty sure no one was ever buried there, but it’s a mystery.”
Not much taller than a foot, the marble gravestone bears the name of Josie Viola Hubbard who was born Feb. 12, 1883 and died just three years and two months later on April 11, 1886, according to the stone. Along with Josie’s name are the initials of her parents: F.E. and D.L. Hubbard.
LaRosa Construction employee Keith O’Brien found the gravestone digging with an excavator on the site last week.
The digging is part of the Hub redevelopment project designed to alleviate flooding, in addition to turning the site into a park.
“I was digging and it rolled off to the side,” said O’Brien, a city resident and 19-year LaRosa employee. “I noticed it because of its size and shape, so I put it off to the side. When I went over at the end of the day, it was face up and I realized what it was.”
The gravestone’s original location isn’t exactly clear since it was moved during the construction, but O’Brien said it was likely buried in the southwestern section of the site.
O’Brien had been in the process of digging to create a new channel for Harbor Brook. Because such a large quantity of soil was moved around, he was unsure where and how deep the stone was buried. Other than a scrape across its face from the tooth of the excavator, the gravestone appeared in good shape Wednesday.
LaRosa said he notified city officials and halted work in the area right away. He contacted Dan DeLuca, a local historian, the next day to begin researching and to figure out the best way to proceed.
“The first question I asked was ‘Were there any bones?” DeLuca said. “They said they didn’t find any bones at all. But if they did, they would have to call (state archaeologist) Nick Bellantoni and they would have to shut down work in that particular location. Then they would continue to dig to see what else was uncovered. Since they found no bones, they were OK.”
Bellantoni agreed, stating that if any type of human remains were found, work would be shut down.
“With tombstones, we just want them to preserve them,” Bellantoni said. “Sometimes these stones, and we call them orphans, show up in peculiar places. You’d be surprised where they’re found sometimes.”
DeLuca and Janis Franco have begun the research process, finding the names of Josie’s parents and some more detail. Franco is a local history librarian and employee of the Meriden Public Library.
According to records, Josie was born in Bloomfield and died in Northampton, Mass. Her parents, Frank E. Hubbard and Delia L. Allen Hubbard both resided in Northampton, Mass. Frank Hubbard was born in Bloomfield in 1861, while Delia Hubbard was born in Hadley, Mass in 1865.
With no remains found at the Hub, DeLuca said Josie is likely buried in Northampton, Mass., adding that he plans to take a trip there in the coming days to do further research. The other mystery that remains is how the gravestone of a girl living in Northampton, Mass. found its way to the Hub site in downtown Meriden.
“Joe (Larosa) was concerned that there was a graveyard in the area at one time,” DeLuca said. “I’ve done a lot of research about Meriden and have found no graveyard in that area whatsoever.”
The history of the Hub is also well-documented since the mid-1800s when the railroad was constructed. Prior to the railroad, the area had been a swampland. Once the railroad was operating, factories and businesses began sprouting throughout downtown, including on the Hub site.
Through their research, DeLuca and Franco learned that Frank Hubbard worked for N. Steam Laundry, according to the U.S. City Directory of 1887. The laundry company, according to DeLuca, had a location on what is now considered the Hub during the time frame of the death. Although it remains unclear why the gravestone would be in Meriden, DeLuca said he is confident about finding answers.
“I think it’s very solvable,” he said. “If we don’t solve it in the next couple weeks, it may take a little longer, but it’s an interesting case.”
Another interesting feature is the namesake. Hubbard is a well-known name in the area thanks largely to Hubbard Park, named after Walter Hubbard, the former president of the Bradley & Hubbard Manufacturing Co. Though Josie was not his child, they are likely related although it could be a distant relationship, DeLuca said.
“All of the Hubbards are related in one way or another,” he said. “So there could be one common ancestor.”
Until the research is complete, O’Brien plans to hang onto the headstone, he said. It’s not the first time he has uncovered a gravestone, he said, having found one while working in East Haddam, although he is unsure of what happened to that one. O’Brien hopes the mystery is solved and the gravestone can be returned.
“Hopefully they’re able to find out where it came from so we can bring it back,” O’Brien said. “Even if we make a day out of it, we want to see it gets back to where it belongs.”
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