April 12, 2016
ANDOVER — Out for a drive on an unseasonably warm October day, John Handfield came across a dilapidated stone wall at the corner of Hebron Road, or Route 316, and Cider Mill Road, around the Olde Andover Burying Ground.
The idea came to the 29-year Andover resident at once — “I looked at the wall and thought, I could fix that,” he said.
Handfield received approval from First Selectman Robert Burbank, and Andover Landscaping and Ron’s Landscaping offered Handfield free rocks and small equipment to move material.
Handfield, 65, has worked on rebuilding the four walls twice a day since stumbling on the deteriorated stone in the historic cemetery. He often works a few hours in the morning, before returning home for a break, and returns in the afternoon to finish the day’s work.
Handfield’s wife, Lois, has assisted him throughout the last six months, raking leaves away from the wall to improve access and improve the area’s aesthetics.
Locals regularly stop and help Handfield move rocks for 15 or 30 minutes. The task has turned into a fun hobby as community members have done so much to encourage the project through advocacy and grassroots labor, he said.
Handfield insists the project is a credit to the community, as people like Jay Linddy, Dianne Greiner, Scott Pison, Jeff Murray, Mike Palazzi, Scott Warren, and many others have helped more than they realize.
“People have been very kind,” he said. “This is a good part of America coming out of the woodwork.”
The project stalled when Handfield ran out of rocks while rebuilding the top surface, the most disordered section of the wall.
This wouldn’t last long before the president of the historical society, Scott Yeomans, brought over buckets of rocks to keep Handfield’s momentum alive.
A committee was formed in October to conserve and uncover the history of those buried in the plot, established in 1748.
The weathered gravestones carry the names of Andover’s founding families with plots spanning from 1750 to 1931.
According to Hale Collection’s website, the cemetery is home to soldiers who fought in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.
After a 24-year career at Pratt & Whitney, Handfield delivered heating oil, which has kept him in great shape into his retirement so he’s able to complete this work, he said.
With roughly a 275-foot stone wall at his home, Handfield said working with stone is a hobby he thoroughly enjoys.
“It’s a nice feeling to have so many people stop and say, ‘hey you’re doing a nice job,’” he said. “When people stop to help me the work goes faster.”
Originally from Franklin, Handfield loves the pace of life and natural beauty of eastern Connecticut. The couple often take pleasure in their scenic backyard highlighted by a small bridge and blue birds flocking to their feeders, he said.
With hopes of finishing the work on the burial ground wall in three months, Handfield said there’s a lot of work to be done on the final wall at the bottom of the cemetery’s plot.
The rocks in this section are rounded, heavier, and fit more stubbornly. He said building up 4 feet of wall is a successful day.
While the expected nine-month project is nearing completion, Handfield is plotting his next assignment, already contacting First Congregational Church on Route 6 to rebuild their cemetery’s stone wall.