By Gwen Stanley
HARTLAND – Hartland landowner and chief executive of VTel Michel Guite saw a victory this week when the Vermont Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling, determining that Jerome King of Hanover and his family do not hold the right to have King’s parents’ cremated remains buried in the cemetery which now resides on Guite’s land.
Guite has indicated that he intends to move the cemetery closer to a town road — but still on his property — to a space that people could access for visits. The cemetery now sits in a spot on which Guite would like to build a house and barn.
The graves in question are those of Noah Aldrich, who died in 1848, and two of his grandchildren, and the cemetery itself was sold by the Aldrich family in 1853 with a deed that specified, “excepting out of the above described premises 41 feet of ground by 27 feet which is the burying ground on said premises.”
At issue was whether this original deed created what’s called a “fee simple,” provision – which gives total ownership to the Aldrich descendants – or if it was an easement, which would carry the right of ownership to whoever was in legal possession of the land.
The ruling reversed the previous decision handed down by Windsor Superior Court Judge Harold Eaton Jr.
The opinion handed down by Supreme Court Justice J. Dooley places emphasis on the line “excepting out of the above described premises,” and, Jerome King said Monday, much of the decision may have hung on the crux of those semantics.
“They started out by saying for many instances it looks as though ‘exception’ and ‘reservation’ were interchangeable…there was no sense of the reality of the people involved…the legal question was ‘what was the intent of the people who wrote the deed?’ and they boiled that down to exception or reservation,” said King.
King had the support – moral, if not legal – of the Vermont Old Cemetery Association. Tom Giffin, president of the association, said Monday that it’s unfortunate that the court ruled as it did and that the association had been following what he called a “long drawn-out affair.”
“Genealogy is so important in Vermont,” Giffin said. “If you move or remove one cemetery in the state, you’re losing a part of Vermont history. If you do that, you’re losing a part of the nation’s history.”
As for Guite, he said that he was happy to have the issue over with.
“It’s very pleasant to have it resolved but it’s frustrating to have spent two years on it when it should have been a very simple decision,” Guite said.
“Woodstock has a way of politicizing litigation that’s really frustrating. The precedent (for this case) has been known for centuries, it just had to be dragged out.”
By Gwen Stanley