New sign marks town's oldest burial ground


A new sign hand-crafted and installed by a member of the Wilton Congregational Church last month now marks Sharp Hill Cemetery, the historic burial plot established beside the sanctuary in 1738, at the intersection of Route 7 and Sharp Hill Road.
Ian Tesar, who has lived in Wilton for 43 years and has attended services at the church for 25, had already donated two signs when he was asked to design a third in the same style. The first marked the church building and the second marked the non-sectarian Hillside Cemetery, owned and operated by Wilton Congregational.
The painted-white wooden sign, with black vinyl lettering and suspended by a welded steel bracket, may be seen from northbound Route 7 perched atop the high rock wall that borders the property. It reads Sharp Hill Cemetery, 1738, Wilton Congregational Church, and is identical in size, shape, and style to Tesar’s previous donations.

According to Tesar, the signs were designed to appear compositionally organic so not to conflict with the natural beauty of the historic locations they identify.
Also among Tesar’s work is an eight-foot-tall wooden cross built at the request of the pastor with support beams taken from his own 145-year-old barn. The cross has been used for two Easter sunrise services, a Good Friday service, and in the church’s outdoor chapel behind the Wilton Playshop. It is kept at the top of Hillside Cemetery.
“I thought the historic materials would convey a historic character,” Tesar said when asked about his choice of material.
Tesar worked as an industrial designer before he retired. Today, he continues to practice machining and woodworking.
“My father was my main influence; I learned by watching him. He was a professional artist,” Tesar said at his home workshop on Millstone Road.

Church’s beginnings


The Wilton Congregational Church was founded in 1726, six years prior to the birth of George Washington, on Wolfpit Road west of the Norwalk River. It was Wilton’s first meeting house.
Due to growth in the community, the congregation built a second building on land at the intersection of Danbury and Sharp Hill roads, acquired from John Marvin Sr. of Norwalk in 1738. Sharp Hill Cemetery was opened the same year.
An additional half-acre was purchased from Richard Dunning in 1755 and added to Sharp Hill Cemetery. From that year until 1805, it was the only cemetery in town.
In addition to members of Wilton founding families such as Belden, Dudley, Grumman, Hurlbutt, Olmstead and Sturges, the remains of 18 Revolutionary as well as six French and Indian War veterans are buried at Sharp Hill. Also residing there is the body of Deacon Benjamin Hickox, one of the town’s leading citizens and its first miller. Some of the earlier graves were marked by simple fieldstones that are still in existence.
The earliest legible inscribed headstone marks the grave of a Mable Elmer, who died Jan. 25, 1744. In 1745, Deacon Hickox’s headstone was replaced with a more elegant carving.
The cemetery was used regularly through the first half of the 19th Century. Burials continued until 1934, making Sharp Hill Cemetery an active burial place for 196 years. It has existed for a total of 277 years. The first Wilton Congregational Church was founded 289 years ago.
The last two burials were Katherine Spencer, a summer resident, in 1916, and her husband Nelson in 1934. They left an endowment to the Congregational church for maintenance of the cemetery grounds.
In 1917, a women’s civic improvement group called the Civic League rebuilt the wall, added a wooden lychgate —a covered gateway — and fixed a bronze commemorative plaque to the cornerstone that is now directly below Tesar’s sign. This contribution is the Civic League’s only surviving legacy.
Today, Wilton Congregational Church, now on Ridgefield Road, continues to care for Sharp Hill Cemetery. The current sanctuary was built in 1790.
According to wiltoncongregational.org, it is the oldest meeting house still in operation in Fairfield County, and one of the 12 oldest in Connecticut. It is 225 years old.