Known as one of New Haven’s best kept secrets, the crypt at Center Church-on-the-Green is a cemetery with gravestones from 1687 to 1812.
The 137 gravestones beneath of this fine New England structure hold the area’s founders and earliest citizens, including Benedict Arnold’s first wife; President Rutherford Hayes’ family; and the Reverend James Pierpont, one of the founders of Yale College. In addition to the gravestones, many suspect that up to 1,000 unidentified and unmarked remains could be buried in the same area.
In 1813, the year after the last marked gravestone, Center Church was built over a portion of the town’s burial ground, but all of the remains and gravestones were left in their original positions, with the church’s crypt built to hold and protect them. It’s now one of the rare colonial burial grounds preserved intact.
In 1985, it was found that water trapped under the concrete floor was destroying some of the stones. Five years later, the floor was removed, the dirt full of bodies exposed, and an uncemented brick floor laid in place. This new floor allows moisture to escape between the bricks.
Know Before You Go
There are free tours of the church and the crypt. The tour guides are members of the church, and extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Check the church's website as they only offer tours on certain days and at certain times (i.e. when church members are available). You can see other interesting things in the church above the crypt such as a marked Eli Whitney's family pew, a Tiffany stained glass window, and a working pipe organ and harpsichord that they will play for you if the organist happens to be there that day.