Little League ball field should be ready by spring

Gate eliminated to protect cemetery, kids

The New Florida Cemetery is a small graveyard off Route 7 beside land that is being cleared for a new Little League baseball field.

They’re a quiet group, the folks whose home is closest to the new baseball field off Route 7 likely to be completed by spring. And local authorities have been working to assure their peace remains undisturbed.
Among them are:
William Henry, son of John and Rebecca Hawley, born April 18, 1835, died April 18, 1880;  John Hawley, born Oct. 11, 1792, died March 14, 1868, at 75 years, five months, three days; Civil War Sgt. Charles E. Jennings, Co. C 17th CVI (Connecticut Volunteers Infantry), died March 27 1865, age 17.
Another is George Washington Gilbert, who lived off Florida Hill Road in a house that collapsed around him over the years, and was known as “the hermit of Ridgefield.” He died in 1924.
They are residents of the New Florida Cemetery, which dates back to 1835 and lies immediately south of the site designated for construction of a baseball field under a $1-year, 25-year agreement that gives Ridgefield Little League use of the state-owned land through the town, which has a lease from the state.
The field site at the intersection of Route 7 and Simpaug Turnpike was acquired by the state decades ago from the former Walpole Woodworkers, when there were plans to build the Super 7 expressway through the area.
Little League has high hopes and ambitious plans for a field there.
“Ridgefield Little League has embarked on a capital campaign to raise funds for the construction and maintenance of a new baseball facility in South Ridgefield conveniently situated off of Route 7,” Little League’s website says.
“Equipped with LED lights, announcers’ booth, and plenty of parking, this much needed state-of-the-art facility will be the pride of the Ridgefield Little League program, allowing baseball to remain competitive with other sports in town and comparable with baseball facilities in neighboring communities.”
A lot of clearing has already been done, and Little League expects the field to be ready for the upcoming season.
“It’s exciting to see the progress, even in the middle of winter,” said Mike Bucciero, fund-raising director for RIdgefield Little League. “We’re confident that we can be playing night baseball later this spring.”
Fund-raising for the project has gone well, and continues.
“It’s gratifying to receive such tremendous support from the community,” Bucciero said. “We’re in the final innings of reaching our fund-raising goal, and with spring baseball season registration underway, we are confident that even more families will want to be a part of this exciting project.”
More information on the project, and ways to get involved, can be found on the organization’s website: ridgefieldlittleleague.org.
Committee’s concern
The Ridgefield Graveyard Restoration Committee helps maintain some 15 cemeteries around town — some in the triangle between North Salem Road, Mapleshade Road, and North Street, but also others, including several small, semi-abandoned graveyards like the New Florida Cemetery off Route 7.
When they saw the ball field site plans, they had concerns. Home plate and dugouts will be in the property’s southwest corner, with the first base line roughly parallel to the property line between the field and cemetery. That’s not a problem.
The plans showed a fence to be built, separating the two, but with a gate to allow access from field to cemetery — and the committee wondered about that.
“We went over and got a copy of the plans,” said Graveyard Committee Vice Chairwoman Nancy Seelander. “What we did notice is there was a gate right behind where the batter’s box is.”
The concern wasn’t so much team members, but little brothers and sisters who might be there for the game as spectators. The gate would give them easy access to the cemetery.
“We were concerned that the little kids would be running around,” Seelander said.
“Little kids go, they get bored with the games, they don’t want to watch.”
Worse, once in the cemetery, kids could easily go through another gate and get onto nearby Route 7 with its speeding traffic.
“The gate would let them in, but there’s another right out to Route 7,” Seelander said.
In writing about New Florida Cemetery, local historian Jack Sanders says on his RidgefieldHistory.com that its creation is something of a mystery, and notes that cars from Route 7 have been a problem.
“The grounds were laid out in 1835, and contain the remains of many individuals who had been buried previously in the ‘Old Florida Cemetery’ along the north side of Old Redding Road, off Route 7. They were moved to New Florida in 1837 for some reason not explained in the histories of the town, although a few stones were still left at Old Florida,” Sanders writes.
Because it is on a curve close to heavily traveled Route 7, it has suffered from the advent of the automobile. Cars have smashed into the stone wall surrounding the yard, hurling rocks into and shattering a half-dozen gravestones.”
Graveyard Committee Chairwoman Susan Law approached people in the Little League organization about eliminating the gate.
The league was completely cooperative.
“There was not a problem with it, they just took the gate out,” Seelander said.
“Everybody was very helpful, there was no problem with changing that little gate. That was the biggest concern to everybody — really, it was for the safety of little kids.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi — who works at various times with both the Graveyard Committee and the Little League — heard about the change to the plans.
Marconi said damage to the headstones — several have fallen over through the years — was also a concern.
“I’d be more concerned about the kids 8, 9, 10 running around there and banging into a monument,” he said.
“Although we want people to be able to have access, opening it up and allowing it to become a potential play area is not in the best interest of the headstones.”
The New Florida Cemetery’s 50 or so residents won’t have their resting place becoming a playground.
But there will be the sounds of baseball — batted balls, cheering crowds — if they could hear it.
 

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