‘Hidden’ cemetery near EPCAL is abundant with history

Wells Family Cemetery

Driving along River Road in Calverton, it’s difficult to distinguish what lies behind the woods lining Grumman Memorial Park. But if motorists were to slow down and look more closely, they’d notice a handful of white marble headstones.

The markers, of which there are 16, are situated in three uneven rows and set dozens of feet back from the road. Many years ago, they were enclosed by a fence built by local Boy Scouts.

Aside from being difficult to locate, the cemetery doesn’t garner much foot traffic. That’s because its last burial took place in January 1930.

In fact, the site — known as the Wells Family Cemetery — was overgrown until someone stumbled across it a decade ago.

“I’m in the Peconic River Sportsman’s Club and one of our members shot a deer that ran into the woods over there,” cemetery caretaker John Hall said. “So I went in looking for it and I found the deer and the cemetery. It was in terrible shape.”

Mr. Hall has since maintained the site by mowing grass, blowing away fallen leaves and repairing gravestones. He also ensures the American flags, which were placed anonymously at each marker last Memorial Day, don’t become damaged.

Town historian Georgette Case said the site is one of just a handful of cemeteries like it in Riverhead.

“It’s a history of our people who created the town, created the different hamlets and raised their children and grandchildren,” she said.

Something noteworthy about the site is that despite the multitude of last names that appear on its gravestones — Wells, Edwards, Raynor and Robinson — the people who are buried there were all related.

Documents at the town historian’s office explain these connections. For example, Julia L. Edwards was born Julia Wells and buried with her husband, Benjamin Edwards, and their 5-month-old daughter, Charlotte Belinda Edwards.

The first person to be buried at the site was Prudence Raynor, formerly Prudence Wells, who passed away in 1839. According to Mr. Hall, Ms. Raynor was pregnant when she died at age 18.

A group of five people who died in 1893 and 1894 from typhoid fever, a bacterial disease spread by contaminated food and water, are also interred at the cemetery. A 1-year-old, John Robinson, died from burns he sustained from a kerosene lamp, Mr. Hall said.

Toward the left side of the cemetery, which lies on property that was owned by the Wells family until it was seized by the government, there is a large hole where a barn used to be. It’s there that John H. Wells fell to his death.

At the time, barns were built two stories underground, with an additional two to three stories constructed above ground — meaning people entered the structure on the second floor rather than the first. It is believed that Mr. Wells fell from the third floor, according to documents from the town historian.

“On the gravestone it says, ‘Surely but one step between me and death,’” Mr. Hall said of John H. Wells’ burial site. “That was very interesting.”

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Photo: A small family cemetery lies in the woods off River Road in Calverton. The site contains 16 gravestones, with the oldest dating back to 1839. (Credit: Nicole Smith)