Updated: Dec 1, 2022
When people ask what the oldest gravestone in the Longmeadow Cemetery is, the answer is the stone for Mary Drake Colton. She died in 1682 and was buried first in in Springfield, though her stone was moved to Longmeadow in the late 1840s or early 1850s (See History Note 3/2/2020). However, when people ask which stone marks the first burial in Longmeadow's burying ground, we direct them to the stone for Experience Hale (d. 1719), carved by William Holland, Longmeadow's first known stone carver. He is also credited with carving her husband, Thomas', gravestone after his death in 1750.
Gravestone for Experience Hale carved by William Holland
So who was William Holland? We have found his work as a stone carver from New Haven to north of Springfield. He was a prolific gravestone carver, who was also known to work stone for buildings. Since the 1950s researchers interested in gravestone carvers have tried to put together the story of William Holland. So far a definite date and place of birth for Mr. Holland have not been established. Prior to the 1750s he was working as a stone carver in Connecticut and in the early 1750s may have been married and had two children in Durham, Connecticut. By the 1750s he was in Longmeadow and owned land in what is now East Longmeadow in the midst of the quarry areas.
Mr. Holland appears to have been a very busy stone carver in Longmeadow. Based on carving design and distinctive lettering form, we attribute 35 Longmeadow gravestones to William Holland. It is believed that he also carved an 18th century mile marker on Longmeadow Street. Being the first resident gravestone carver, Holland found business carving stones for persons who had died prior to his arrival in town as well as for those who passed during his time in town. He is almost certainly responsible for training several young men in Longmeadow in the art of gravestone carving - William Stebbins, Ezra Stebbins, Jonathan Burt and Elijah Burt.
The important stone marking Experience Hale's grave is missing its top and has an imperfect repair. It marks the final resting spot of a 42 year old woman who died eight days after delivering her seventth child. Her son, Hezekiah, died four months later and is interred in the same grave. Experience's death left her husband Thomas with five sons and two daughters --the oldest aged 13. Thomas remarried, and upon his death in 1750 in his 78th year, he was laid to rest next to his first wife.
The plan for the burying ground was laid out in 1702/3 but as of 1718 the Town was still planning to fence and clear the land. Thus the first burials in Longmeadow would have occurred after 1718. Many of Longmeadow's deceased citizens buried in the first decades of the 18th century in Longmeadow were buried without a permanent marker or buried in unmarked graves. It wasn't until decades after her death that Experience Hale received her permanent marker, a memorial erected by several of those young children she left behind. They had grown into men who wanted to honor their parents.
We are fortunate that documentation survives in the form of a receipt at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum archives in Springfield concerning the payment for the gravestones of Experience and Thomas Hale, paid for by their children.
“Agreed With Mr Jonathan Hale and his Brother John for twenty Eight Pounds Old Tenor for two pair of Grave Stone for their Parents to be Compleatly finished and I acknowledge Received in Cash-of Mr Thos Hale one Dollar of Mr Jonathan Hale forty seven & Six pence of Mr. John Hale one Dollar of Mr Noah Hale half a Dollar and the rest I will take in any Specie at the Market price Received of Mr John Hale by bil one & Sixpence Lawful Money"_________ Received pr Wm Holland Attast Aaron Colton Feb: 21st
This documentation tells us several things. The gravestones for both Experience and Thomas were carved at the same time in 1757 by the gravestone carver William Holland more than 37 years after Experience died and more than 6 years after Thomas died. It also spells out which sons will be paying what amounts towards these monuments.
Thomas Hale's gravestone, carved by William Holland
Another example of William Holland's work
Jonathan Hale's ledger
Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum, Springfield
detailing many references to "fetching a load of stone
from the Quarrey" for William Holland
One of the last gravestone's that William Holland carved
in Longmeadow includes a message to future visitors:
"Here, Reader, mark/ (Perhaps now in the Prime)
The Stealing Steps/ of never-Standing Time"
After 1760, Mr. Holland apparently left Longmeadow. By that time the gravestone carvers that he had trained were busy and fairly accomplished. We do not know what becomes of William Holland, but we do know that he was paid for a grand gravestone in Durham, Connecticut in 1761.
William Holland attributed stone in Durham, CT
Submitted by Dr. Al McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society, President/ Longmeadow Cemetery Association Vice-President
(with contributions by Betsy McKee)
Originally published October 7, 2021