New Hearse House Museum opens in Chester

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing  LLC

A ‘before’ view of the hearse house at Brookside Cemetery in Chester. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

More than three years ago, the Chester Beautification Committee asked the town’s Select Board for the town to apply for a $15,000 grant from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to restore the 1830s Hearse House, which stands at the entrance to the Brookside Cemetery.

The wood structure was rotting away — racking backward toward the graveyard — and there were those who thought it should be razed. That grant required a $15,000 match and board members were uncertain whether the committee could raise the funds.

Lillian Willis, center, thanks all those who contributed to and worked on the Hearse House project.

But on Saturday, that committee — since renamed Chester Townscape — opened the Chester Hearse House Museum in the building that now is home to the town’s 19th century Cunningham Hearse and an interpretive exhibit.

The hearse had been on display in a small building adjacent to the funeral home on Depot Street. In September 2016, the town road crew moved the hearse by hand to the restored building.

The Chester road crew carefully walks the antique hearse to its old and now new home in September 2016.

And on Saturday, Townscape members Lynn Russell and Lillian Willis told the crowd of about 40 the story of the work and thanked those who helped with the project.

In addition to raising private funds, Townscape members convinced the Select Board to approve the Community Development grant application and to put $5,000 for the work in a Town Meeting day article, which passed on a floor vote in 2015. They were also successful in asking for $5,000 from the Trustees of Public Funds, who care for designated monies and invest them for a return.

Members of Chester Townscape who raised funds and moved the Hearse House project forward. From left, Barb Westine, Nancy Chute, Lynn Russell, Roseanne Sexton, Tory Spater Somerville, Suzy Forlie and Lillian Willis

With the monies raised, Chester Townscape was also able to have the stone walls of Public Tomb repointed, the roof repaired and the iron fence between the buildings removed, fixed and powder-coated.

Select Board chair Arne Jonynas, the only member of the 2014 board still serving, broke the surveyor’s tape “ribbon” to formally open the building to the public.

The star of the new mini-museum is the town’s hearse but there are also other artifacts, photos and interpretive text about the building, the hearse, 19th century funeral customs and the restoration of the structure.

The Hearse House Museum will be open from 1 to 3 p.m. for the next two weekends, Nov. 4, 5, 11 and 12.

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  1. Taffy Brown Kilroe says:

    Wonderful to learn of all the efforts that went into preservation, and to see it come to fruition! Many thanks to one and all – and a big “Hi” to Barb Westine!!!