Famed Westport Family Graves Vandalized

The Coley family has been in Westport a long time. Anyone who has heard of “Coleytown” knows the name.

Bill Coley has not lived in Westport since 1968. But — like other “06880” readers — he took time on Mother’s Day to visit his family plot. Here’s what he found:

My wife and I were in town on Sunday. We decided to visit Coley Cemetery on Weston Road, just over the Westport border. (It was known as Norfield Cemetery before being transferred to the town of Weston by Norfield Congregational Church, about 20 years ago.)

This is where my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great- grandmother are all buried, along with several older generations whose tombstones are now so weathered as to be unreadable.

When we arrived, we discovered that 6 to 8 gravestones in our plot and an adjoining one had been knocked over. Several were broken, including my great- grandmother, Abbie A. (Gray) Coley.

A few of the vandalized graves in Coley Cemetery.

Although Abbie died 70 years before I was born, I have always felt a special affinity toward her and her husband, my great-grandfather Horace Coley. He was a farmer and teacher in Westport in the mid- to late 1800s.

Seeing her stone knocked over and broken in half hit me in a way I never would have imagined. Even as I write this 4 days later, I am still very emotionally affected by it.

Our plot is at the back of the cemetery, so the vandals would have been virtually invisible to anyone driving by on Weston Road. We reported the damage to the Weston Police, who are investigating.

I remember this happening once before when I was growing up, but I was still shocked by what I saw. It is obviously the work of teenagers with too much time on their hands.

I know it’s unlikely, but if anyone has heard anything about this incident, please contact the Weston Police. The case number is 17-4298.

Abbie (Gray) Coley’s tombstone, before the vandalism.

22 responses to “Famed Westport Family Graves Vandalized

  1. Kristan Hamlin

    I am sorry to hear this happened.
    While reading this, I wondered whether there was a family connection. Mr. Coley said his maternal great-grandmother’s line was from an early “Gray” family, of Westport. I am related to an early line of Grays who are buried near Gray’s Creek at Longshore Park, through my direct ancestor, Daniel Frost (one of the original 5 Bankside Farmer families) and his sister, Lydia Frost Gray (she and her husband were also one of the original 5 Bankside Farmer families).
    I am just wondering whether Mr. Coley is related to those Grays buried at Longshore? Those Gray and Frost family members arrived in Westport in the mid-1600s.
    ~~Kristan Hamlin

    • Yes, Kristin, Abbie Gray was the five times great granddaughter of the Henry Gray who you mentioned and I am also related to the Daniel Frost family through Daniel Sr.’s great granddaughter Abigail.

      • Kristan Hamlin

        Bill Coley– You would also be related directly to the Frost family more recently: both your direct ancestor Lydia (married to Henry Gray) and my direct ancestor Daniel Frost, shared the same father, William Frost. William came as an old man from Nottingham and settled in Southport, whereas his kids, Lydia Frost Gray and Daniel Frost settled on Beachside Ave in what is now Westport. Are you aware that Lydia’s children were the first deed-holders of the land now known as Longshore Park?

        I am sorry what happened to the graves of your ancestors. Here’s hoping it was the cemetery’s lawn-mower guy instead of an intentional act.

        • I wasn’t aware of that Longshore connection but I am very interested. Once I retire, I hope to spend a lot of time with land records both in Westport and in Fairfield where the older records are located. My primary focus is the Coleytown area, but I’m also very interested in where the original Westporters (then known as Fairfielders) settled.

  2. Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

    The Coley family its history and particularly its long record of contribution need no introduction to “old Westporters” like me. I hope the police are successful and that the prosecutor consider treating this as a “hate crime” targeting spoiled children by their parents. No one familiar with the Coleys or supportive of citizenship would have allowed this to happen. Maybe that will focus some attention on what seems to be a recurring problem based on incidents Dan has reported recently.

  3. Deborah Oestreicher

    I am so terribly sorry for this experience.

  4. Susan Hopkins

    I’m sorry this happened, Bill. My great-grandparents’ headstones suffered the same fate in a gated, locked, historically-registered Roman Catholic Cemetery in another state. Those of us who are connected to our descendants are affected by acts of this nature. I share your heartache and outrage.

  5. Laura Lawhon-Butler (nee Horelick)

    This is very sad to hear. When I saw the headline I held my breath since my father and his side of our family are all buried in Westport. So from my seconds-long dismay I can only imagine the sadness of the Coley family..

  6. Susan von Schenk

    This is appalling. I am so sorry that this happened to your family. I hope that the vandals someday realize that their actions were so hurtful.

  7. Bonnie Bradley

    This is so sad and I hope it all can be made right again. So many of us now “away” have generations of family buried in Westport ground and can feel your pain as if it was our own.

  8. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    I share your sorrow and am outraged that such a thing would happen. I would be wonderful if an organization took over the care of the cemetery.
    My family, although not well known like the Coley family, dates way back in Fairfield County. I have a Great, great, great grandmother who recent research shows that while she was called Abbie informally in some of the family accounts her given first name was Abiah. (Her last name was Weeks) That bit of personal information makes this tragedy a bit more personal than it might be otherwise. You have my sympathy. It is so sad that such a senseless act of destruction would take place.

    • The town of Weston owns and maintains that cemetery ever since Norfield Church turned it over to them a number of years ago (c. the 1990’s?). At that time, the Weston Historical Society did a huge amount of work to clear away years of brush, weeds, etc. and it is in much better shape today than it was when I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

      • Robert F. Corroon Jr

        Bill- I am schocked and saddened by this desecration. I used to live at the corner of Broad Street and Weston Rd, so remember your families Cemetary well. I am still in Westport and would be honored to work with you and the Town of Westport, Weston Norfield Church to restore the damage.
        Bob Corroon
        4 Spriteview Ave

        • Robert F. Corroon Jr

          I should have done a spell check on the words shocked and cemetery before posting!

        • Bill Coley

          Thanks, Bob! I haven’t heard anything from the town of Weston (they maintain the cemetery) or the Weston Historical Society, so I don’t know what the next step is yet. I’ll probably call them next week if I don’t hear anything.

  9. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    So sad to read this..(you were a long-ago Weston classmate of my brother,Jeff
    Pomerantz; I still remember your house on North Ave. back then.)

    • Bill Coley

      Thanks, Linda! Yes, I remember you, Jeff and your sister! Say hi to them for me.

  10. Jacques Voris

    I haven’t been able to check myself, but does anyone know if the grave of Seth Mills and his wife Abigail Duncan were attacked or not?
    Also, Bill and Kristen, I am a descendant of Daniel Frost and Lydia Frost Gray too. Yay cousins!

    • Hi Jacques,
      I don’t recognize those names and I’m familiar with all the names in the area around the damage I saw, located along the back / eastern border of the cemetery. However, I didn’t check any other areas. Next time I’m there I’ll check in other areas for any additional damage.

  11. Kathie Bennewitz

    Simply awful. There are experts in gravestone restoration. The Fairfield Museum has undertaken some. Perhaps the repair to this site and markers is a joint project–and fundraising –for Weston and Westport, the residents and the historical societies. I understand that the Staples HS social studies honor society is truing to raise funds to restore Horace Staples tombstone. Perhaps their efforts can be model for community support and action.

  12. Although grave stone markers to the uninformed and unenlightened may be just a collection of stones they are actually several other things:
    1. They are markers that help memorialize beloved family members for generations to come
    2. They are Sacred markers
    3. They deserve respect and awe by all
    4. They tell a story of the persons life that comes alive in this time when their story is read
    5. Children need to be taught how to respect memorials taught to understand why showing respect to the past is important
    6. They are historic and as such deserved to be revered
    Hopefully Mr. Coley they can be restored soon. Moreover what might be even more useful would be for the Historical Society to team up with area schools to give local history tours and projects like art stone rubbings to middle school students so they can develop an understanding of the rich history available right here in the town they live in! Founding fathers and mothers of our great country who started new lives in this new country right here in their own backyards!!

  13. Excellent idea Kathleen! Hopefully someone in a position to arrange something like that will see this.