Cemetery cleanup honors Meriden’s history, Masonic lodge founders

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MERIDEN — It was a day to honor Meriden history for Meridian Lodge No. 77.

The city’s Masonic Lodge held a ceremony Saturday at East Cemetery, where 11 of the lodge's 13 founders are buried. Meriden’s third oldest burial ground had become overgrown and uncared for over the years. But Lodge No. 77 cleaned up the cemetery last week.

Nick Valinsky, worshipful master of Meridian Lodge No.77, spearheaded the event.

“These mountains of men founded a city, founded a Masonic lodge and were buried with honor,” Valinsky said. “Over the years, that history has seemed to escape us. That is why after finding we had 11 of our 13 founders buried here, we took it upon ourselves as a lodge to clean the area of their final resting places.”

Fourteen lodge members volunteered, using chainsaws and weed whackers to cut down, trim and remove fallen trees, also removing poison oak and other weeds.

“The brothers of the Meridian Lodge volunteered their time and sweat to make this place a bit more fitting for its revered residents,” Valinsky said.

A brief ceremony was held at the cemetery at 9 a.m. alongside the grave of Meriden’s first mayor Charles Parker and his brother the Rev. John Parker, the first worshipful master for Meridian Lodge No.77 in 1851.

Also speaking at the event was Brian Cofranceso, a member of the Board of Directors for the Meriden Historical Society. Cofranceso was part of a group that volunteered to clean up East Cemetery in 2008. He and the group put in more than 200 hours into the cemetery that year.

Most Worshipful Grand Master Stephen W. Petri also said a few words at the event.

The city-owned cemetery hasn’t had a caretaker since the 1960s.

The Meriden City Council for several years has grappled with East Cemetery issues, including damage to headstones, vandalism and an infestation of groundhogs. It is located off East Main Street on Miles Place.

The cemetery is home to some of the city's most famous historical figures, including former mayors, along with about 60 veterans dating back to the French and Indian War.

The city did not realize it owned the cemetery property until 2009, when the Law Department completed a search for a land title and realized two cemetery landowners deeded their land to the city in 1845.

“It’s a very special place because of who is buried here, including a lot of people who helped build the city,” Cofranceso said. 

"It’s a very special place because who is buried here including a lot of people who helped build the city."

-Brian Cofrancesco
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