Restoration of the Trumbull Monument Is Underway

A piece of North Haven history — the monument marking the grave of Benjamin Trumbull (1735-1820) in the Old Center Cemetery — is undergoing restoration, having sustained damage last month not once but twice.

Trumbull was author of the 2-vol. Complete History of Connecticut from 1630 till 1713, which remains in the Yale University Library, and his grandson became a senator from Illinois.

The statue sustained damage when a black oak tree crashed in the cemetery in early June. The damage was exacerbated when four pieces of the marble monument — corner pieces above flat, horizontal panels — disappeared later in the month.

And although a police report has been filed regarding the corner pieces, there have been no arrests.

The restoration is “rather complicated. It takes time to do it,” said Martin Johnson Thursday morning, just before leaving the Norfolk, Conn.-based Monument Conservation Collaborative (MCC) where he serves as partner and vice-president.

Johnson, who has worked on monument sites on the mainland and also American Somoa, was at work in North Haven in June when he realized that the oak tree had crashed, according to Cemetery Commission Chairman Lynn Fredericksen. She said the colloborative is restoring the monument on an emergency basis.

Fredericksen said the monument seemed to sustain the brunt of the impact from the fallen tree. “It was a jungle,” said Fredericksen of the site before the tree was carefully removed. “We couldn’t even assess the damage.”

“This is an anomaly,” said Johnson yesterday of the damage caused by the oak as he and Irving Slavid, president, partner and senior conservator of the collaborative, worked at the site.

He said there was some damage to cemeteries in Massachusetts last year as tornadoes passed through the area in June, and that damage had also taken place in cemeteries in Connecticut near the Massachusetts border.

Yet, he remarked as he looked at a tree near the one that fell that the tree that remained was, to all appearances, a “beautiful, healthy tree.”

“We’re rebuilding the whole monument,” he said of the project that is underway now.

He said the monument has already received structural adhesion and that it will also receive some reconstructive mortar work.

Before sustaining damage, Johnson said the Trumbull monument was held together by gravity, aided by clever elements in its design. As a result, he said, the monument came apart rather easily when the tree fell.

And as for the corner pieces that are now missing, those, he said, will be reconstructed from new marble sourced possibly in Vermont.

Said Johnson of the repair overall: “The minute I get those pieces it’ll go rather quickly.”

Johnson said the marble in the original monument is weathered and also quite typical of the marble in local New England quarries.

At present, the foliated finial that crowns the monument, which Fredericksen said weighs roughly 100 pounds, has been removed from the cemetery grounds for safekeeping.

“We do have a lot more problems with Mother Nature than with vandalism,” said Fredericksen of the one-two punch that the monument sustained.