The Yale Boulder is a prominent marker that rests at the northwest corner of the Cypress Cemetery property along College Street. The plaque on the boulder states that the parcel of land is the former location of Yale College, which existed in Old Saybrook from 1701 through 1716. Actually, prior to moving to New Haven in 1717, the college was known as the Saybrook Collegiate School and its purpose was for the education of much needed new clergy in the Connecticut colony.
Today, the boulder plot is surrounded by a manicured hedge. As can be seen in the photo above, the plot was at one time surrounded by trees of significant size. In 1967, the newly appointed Municipal Cemetery Commission chairman Mrs. Ferdinand Ross caused the removal of the 68 surrounding trees and replaced them with 68 English Hawthorne at a cost of $12.95 each, plus $1 each for planting. Apparently, the tree removal occurred so quickly and unexpectedly that there was a public backlash with plenty of upset and criticism, “harrassment in the newspapers ” and some threatened law suits. Being a strong-willed woman, Mrs. Ross proclaimed that she would not “quit under fire”.
Mrs. Ross ended up in charge of all of the municipal cemeteries along with Mrs. Eva Root and Robert Staplins when the Cypress Cemetery Association disbanded in 1967. The non-collection of yearly dues for ten years and a lack of a perpetual care arrangement led to the necessity of the takeover, which was supported by the Board of Selectmen. With funds turned over from the Association, the ladies were charged with restoration of Cypress including the removal and replacement of the trees, the clearing of overgrown undergrowth and the restoration of graves, gates and signs. She also participated in the reworking of the Cypress Association by-laws and regulations.
As for Yale, it is widely thought that the collegiate school building itself did not actually exist at the location marked by the boulder, but was located several hundred feet west of that location at the corner of College Street and Willard Avenue. The site is presently occupied by a beautiful brick dwelling – the Samuel Willard House that was said to have been constructed on top of an old foundation in the mid-1800’s. That old foundation is thought to be that of the house originally belonging to George and Lady Fenwick and which was sold and eventually owned by Nathaniel and Susanna Lynde. It was Nathaniel who deeded that original house for use by the collegiate school as long as it remained on Saybrook Point. He was also the collegiate school’s first treasurer, as noted on his burial tablet. In summary, the Yale Boulder plot was part of the 13 acre lot owned by Nathaniel Lynde and, prior to him, Colonel George Fenwick, but the “Great Hall” in which the Saybrook Collegiate School existed was thought to be located just down that street at the corner of Willard Avenue and College Street. The boulder is located on what was thought to originally be the upper half of the Fenwick and Lynde orchards.
In that the plot is owned by Yale University, the upkeep of the hedge around the plot and the plot itself is carried out by Yale. In honor of its beginnings on Saybrook Point, one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges is known as the Saybrook College, which was founded in 1933 and named for the location of Yale’s origin. The banner identifying the college is the same banner that is used by the Town of Old Saybrook as its municipal flag.