The Reynolds Family: Keepers of the Ridgebury Cemetery for 274 years

Many Ridgefielders do not realize that in the early days, Ridgebury was a self-sufficient town and a vibrant community with several inns/taverns, shoemakers, tanners, blacksmiths, hatting shops, a grist mill, a small sewing factory, five little schools, a stagecoach stop, and stores. The town also had a church/meeting house and a separate pre-Revolutionary War cemetery on 1.3 acres, a gift from Ralph Keeler Reynolds and Nellie Keeler Reynolds. The area applied to be a separate town on three occasions but was never successful.

Today 64 veterans of eight wars rest in this historical cemetery, including the families of two African Americans who fought for the union in the Civil War. The numbers who are buried here from various wars are as follows: King George’s War, 1744-48 (one), Revolutionary War (17), War of 1812 (three), Civil War (six), World War I (five), World War II (28), Korean War (three), and Vietnam War (1). And how do we know all about who is buried in the cemetery, their relationship to the town, their rank in the wars, and other pertinent information? It is all thanks to the six generations of Reynoldses who have kept the cemetery economically active, well maintained, and historically updated.

In 1960, Frances Reynolds brought a group of lot owners together and had the cemetery incorporated and declared a non-profit, non-sectarian cemetery. Robert Reynolds, now 93, was elected president and still serves in this position. “Pride in my family, pride in the community, and pride in the history of this cemetery has kept me actively involved and constantly adding new historical information to the legacy of this unique burial ground,” Reynolds said.

Also helping Reynolds collect historical documentation from church records, genealogical records, legal records, and numerous other sources is Josette Williams, Ridgefield historian and writer. Through the efforts of these two people who have kept meticulous and detailed records of the area, we have an amazing amount of information from a time when there were so few records. Not only has Williams put together volumes of information on the area, she has constructed a detailed diorama of the area during the Rochambeau period.

In 2002, when Reynolds and his group were offered a very substantial amount of money by an upscale New Jersey cemetery company for the now 3.0 acres, Reynolds immediately refused, saying, “No matter how much money was offered to establish a city of above-ground mausoleums in Ridgebury, our group would never be swayed. Ridgebury Cemetery’s prestige comes not from money but from the patina of history and from the good lives of the people who rest here, who we honor today.”

Pride is such a part of Reynolds’s life. Not only he is proud of his Ridgebury ancestry, he is proud of the fact that he was a part of the Danbury hatting industry, working not only at the family’s own hat factory but also for the well-known Mallory Hatting Co.

“When I came back from the war in the 40s, I started my serious work in the hatting industry and with maintaining and collecting information on every gravesite in the Ridgebury cemetery. These memories have lasted me a lifetime and helped me to understand my place in the world.”

One of Reynolds’s favorite Revolutionary War stories is of his great-great-great-grandfather Jonathan Reynolds getting wounded while fighting in Canada and not getting his pension for three generations. After the injury, Jonathan turned his house on George Washington Highway into a weapon factory to aid the colonists. He also applied for his war pension but was denied based on the argument that if he was well enough to get married he was well enough to continue in battle. It was not until a legislative ruling in 1832 that he got his pension. This meant Jonathan Reynolds never saw the money, but it was eventually split among his seven grandchildren.

As part of the recent Battle of Ridgefield events, Josette Williams gave a lecture on Ridgebury. The lecture was followed by a docent-led tour of the cemetery, in which participants went from tombstone to tombstone hearing stories about the lives of each of the 17 war heroes buried there. Some of the people who took the tour remembered the row of three Keeler homes near the cemetery, the last one being the pink Keeler house, which was taken down in 2007 for a newly built home. Some were surprised to learn that many members of the family of Mayor Mark Boughton of Danbury are buried in this cemetery, superseded in number only by the Benedicts with 64 and the Keelers with 47.

If you have an interest in the Ridgebury area, all the materials that were distributed recently may be found at the Ridgefield Historical Society. There are also still 100 burial plots available in the cemetery until a total of 800 is reached. Maybe someone in your family would like to rest among the Boughtons, Benedicts, Keelers, Reynoldses, and Coleys.