Branchville Cemetery: To own, or just to mow?

Wildflowers and tall grass were growing in Branchville Cemetery in early June. — Macklin Reid photo
Wildflowers and tall grass were growing in Branchville Cemetery in early June. — Macklin Reid photo

A few acres, maybe 150 graves, Branchville Cemetery is something of a legal orphan that the selectmen are inclined to adopt — it if doesn’t get too expensive.
By consensus the board gave First Selectmen Rudy Marconi the go-ahead to have the town’s lawyers pursue title to the cemetery for a cost “not to exceed $10,000” in legal fees.
“Our goal is preserve the cemetery, the dignity of the cemetery,” said Selectman Steve Zemo.
The cemetery is off Florida Road, across from Branchville Elementary School.
Any formal plan the lawyers devise to gain title of the property will likely have to come back before at least the Board of Selectmen, if not a town meeting, for a vote.
The ownership of the cemetery is unclear, and no one seems interested in claiming the property, according to Marconi. In the past, the late Floyd Bouton of the Bouton Funeral Home sold plots there.
“How did Bouton sell plots?” asked Selectwoman Barbara Manners.
“He took care of the cemetery,” Marconi replied.
But Bouton’s descendents haven’t shown any interest in the property.
“Who wants it? It’s a cemetery. You have to take care of it,” Marconi said.
The town has done some maintenance in the cemetery, after getting complaints about its condition. It could simply continue that informal caretaker arrangement.
State law outlines circumstances in which towns can gain legal control of “abandoned cemeteries” — such as no burials for 40 years, and no maintenance for 10 years — Marconi told the selectmen.
But they won’t work in the case of Branchville Cemetery.
“We don’t have any records, so we can’t prove anything,” Marconi said.
A more complex legal path to gaining control involves a probate action.
“The question is, do we want to pursue the process through probate?” Marconi asked.
The town attorneys estimated that the probate process would cost about $10,000 to complete.
“But,” said Zemo, “it would resolve it forever.”