An outstanding job of brush clearing along Rt. 202 between Litchfield and Torrington has recovered the Van Winkle Gate of the East Cemetery.
East Cemetery, Litchfield’s largest, is, according to Alain White’s history of the town, the third oldest cemetery in town. White identifies West Cemetery, established in 1723 as the oldest but does not state what is second. In 1754 a committee consisting of Samuel Culver, Joshua Garritt, and Edward Phelps was formed to lay out a new cemetery closer to town. Their work was finished in January 1755. As is evident from the plaque above (which adorns the right side of the gateway), Edgar Van Winkle, Sr. served as president for the Litchfield Cemetery Association for 27 years. Van Winkle was a Union College educated civil engineer and Union Army veteran who rose to be chief engineer of New York’s Department of Public Works. He also worked for the Shepaug Railroad.
On the left side of the gate are biblical quotations. The first is: “Then shall the Dust return to the Earth as it was and the Spirit to God who gave it” from Ecclesiastes. The second is: “Blessed are the Dead which die in the LORD that they may rest from their labors & their works do follow them” from Revelation.
Originally the area of the cemetery behind the gate was designated for use as a highway, but when the cemetery expanded in 1837, the town voted to give the highway land to the Litchfield Cemetery Association that still maintains the grounds. The stonewalls alongside the Route 118 frontage of the cemetery were built by public subscription in 1850. The southeast corner of the cemetery – along this road – contains unmarked graves of Revolutionary War soldiers.
The entrance to the cemetery on Route 118 is dedicated to the memory of Edgar Van Winkle, Jr., who also served as president of the Litchfield Cemetery Association.