Golden Spur, also sometimes called “Head of the River,” is a small community located at the source of the Niantic River, straddling the border between Waterford and East Lyme. In the eighteenth century, the Beckwith Shipyard was located there on the river banks. A number of Beckwith Family members are buried in the nearby Riverhead Cemetery.¹ Years later, at the turn of the twentieth century, it was the site of a popular amusement park.
Today four small and mostly forgotten burial grounds are located in this area.² Three of the four, Fosdick, Riverhead, and Taber, are on the East Line side of the town line.³ Cavarly is nearby in Waterford on Oil Mill Road just off Route 1.
This collection of Waterford cemeteries includes these few East Lyme burial grounds because this area had been part of Waterford/New London until 1839. Many of those buried here had been New London/Waterford residents for a good part of their lives and should be considered together with their neighbors.
The area of Golden Spur was one of the first areas populated by colonists because the Niantic River provided easy transportation from New London to these inland areas. A small bridge on the Boston Post Road crosses over the strait. According to Robert Bucher, the neck of land west of the bridge was at one time called Nodd’s Neck for John Nodd who bought the land in 1681.⁴
Around the turn of the twentieth century the area where Route 1 bridge over the estuary’s northern tip, was located the Golden Spur Amusement Park from 1905 to 1924. That park featured the very popular J.W. Gorman’s diving horses from Boston.
The owners claimed these two pure white Arabian horses had never been trained to dive; they do so on their own volition. When ready to perform the two horses are brought to the foot of a long wooden incline leading to a platform in mid- air. Upon reaching the platform the mare places her forefeet on a little shelf below the platform and lowering her head springs outward and downward diving 40 ft through the air into a shallow lake. Her partner then repeats the act.
The huge crowds every summer weekend were due to the area’s easy access for New London residents. A new trolley line had recently been installed. Named the “New London and East Lyme Street Railway,” it ran along the Boston Post Road from New London to Golden Spur and Niantic.
Cavarly Family Burial Site
During the early nineteenth century the William Cavarly family lived on a farm on Oil Mill Road across from the cove at the head of the Niantic River. Finding this burial ground took a while. Although the Hale records list four burials on the Cavarly property between 1818 and 1838, the actual burial site could not be found. What made it difficult was that no farmhouse or other landmark was found from the era of the graves. Sometime in the past two hundred years, after the whole Cavarly family had passed away and buried in the family plot, the entire hillside where the Cavarly farm was located was excavated by the town of Waterford, and the valuable gravel on the property was trucked away to use on highway projects. Only a steep embankment was left of the farm. Now unless one is an accomplished climber, the only access to the burial site is from the adjoining property to the east on Scenic View Drive.
The gravesite could not be found until recently when town historian Bob Nye and Commission member Patrick Crotty searched the area again and finally found the remnants of the old graveyard perched on the top of the steep embankment at the rear of the plot. In the 1930, the property had been mined for gravel. When excavators were finished much of the hillside in the rear of the property was gone. Only a steep embankment was left except for a small strip of land, abutting the rear neighbor’s yard where the graves were located. The site is accessed only by Scenic View Drive, and by crossing over a private yard to the far rear of the property.
Bob and Pat found the site buried under piles of debris — grass clippings and old tree branches. When they cleaned off the debris and overgrowth, they found the gravesites of the four Cavarly’s. The gravestones were all missing. They had been broken off at the bases and the stones themselves carried away. Records indicate that the site was visited in 1947 by an historian who noted that two stones remained at that time. By 2019 all four stones were gone, broken off at the base. The Historical Commission purchased a granite post to mark the site and Bob and Pat installed it.
What sorrow parents William and Mary Cavarly must have endured when they buried two of their offspring at a relatively young age: their son, William D. Cavarly, died at the age 27 in 1818 and their daughter, Mary, at age 36 in 1823. The parents, William and Mary died a few years later in 1836 and 1838. They were all buried together in the small plot at the very rear of their farm. It is reported that one of the missing stones had the following verse inscribed on it:
Like a Shock of corn fully ripe
She was gathered to the garner of her Lord.
The small Fosdick family graveyard is located in dense woods on the north side of I-95, on the opposite side of the highway from Riverheard cemetery. Its precise location (including GPS coordinates) had been unknown to this writer until a recent Google search, which also uncovered some newly taken photos.
Buried there are Clement Fosdick, his wife Eunice, and their daughter, Fanny. There is a stone each for wife, Eunice (1785) and child, Fanny (1785) and only a foot stone with the marking C. F. for Clement. It is sad to speculate that perhaps grief hastened the death of Eunice, who died only a few months after her daughter.
Eunice Fosdick died Dec 21, 1785, age 26
wife of Clement and daughter of Lieut Thomas Way
— — —
died May 1, 1785
daughter of Clement and Eunice
— — —
Footstone marked C.F.
[marking grave of Clement Fosdick]
Land belonging to Clement Fosdick once abutted land owned by and his neighbor, Constant Crocker who lived on Butlertown Road. The two had a regular feud of lawsuits with each other. It is sad but true that as a result of one huge lawsuit that Constant brought against his neighbor, the Fosdicks lost their home and all their land. It included about 100 acres at the Head of the River, part of Fosdick’s Sawmill and all the lumber stored there. The Fosdicks were forced to move out of their home and into a small house where the Thrift Motel was once located nearby on the corner of the Boston Post Road and I-95.
Constant moved in and lived on the Fosdick property until he died, December 15, 1822. Constant, his wife, and child are buried at this site in what is today known as the Riverhead (“Head of the River” or Center) Cemetery, to be discussed in a later article.
History of the Fosdicks in East Lyme: Captain Samuel Fosdick
The first member of the Fosdick family to appear in New London was Captain Samuel who arrived in 1680 after moving from Charlestown, Massachusetts. He married Mercy, daughter of John Picket of New London, and settled into a home in the area that came to be called Fosdick’s Neck, now called Shaw’s Cove.
Exceptionally wealthy for the times, Fosdick was a part owner of Plum Island and owned numerous land holding and house lots in New London. One property he owned was a house lot on the bank between Golden and Tilley Streets, which lay vacant at his death. It became the valuable homestead of his youngest son, Thomas, and his descendants.⁵ Later Nathaniel Shaw purchased the property in 1756 and built his mansion. Although Fosdick lived in New London, he cultivated a large and productive farm on Plum Island.
Civic minded, in 1698 Samuel was appointed with two others, Thomas Bolles and Richard Christophers, to a committee charged with looking after the Robert Bartlett estate left to the town. It had been proposed to use income from the estate to build and maintain a school to teach children to read and write, since the assembly had recently enacted a law that each town do so.⁶ Finally, a few years later, in 1708 the first regular grammar and Latin school was established in town.
In addition to his prominence as a landholder, Samuel achieved some distinction in military matters. In 1690 he was appointed a Lieutenant in a foot company sent to help prevent the French from attacking Albany. He was appointed and commissioned as Captain in 1697 to assist in the defense of Connecticut.⁷
Samuel also built an expensive home at the Head of the River (in present-day East Lyme). Finally years later, Fosdick’s Head of the River house was taken apart and brought into town and put back together in New London by a grandson.
When he died August 27, 1702, Samuel Fosdick left behind what was considered a huge estate for those days. Frances Caulkins observed that the inventory of property Captain Fosdick left behind showed what ample and comfortable style of housekeeping a wealthy family could hope to attain in 1700 New London:
Five feather beds, twenty pairs of sheets, sixteen blankets, three silk blankets, three looking glasses, three large brass kettles, two silver cups, and other articles passed on to the Fosdick family.
The two oldest sons moved to Long Island and Guilford, while the four Fosdick daughters were scattered by marriage to New York and Massachusetts. One son, Deacon Thomas Fosdick, remained in New London.
(Golden Spur Postcards from Connecticut History Illustrated)
- Riverheard cemetery to be covered in Part 2.
2. One exception is Riverhead Burial Ground that is currently cared for.
3. Taber is a short distance away, just outside the area.
4. Bucher, Robert. Colonial Lands of New London. “Places and Names,” p. 63. This work, along with a trove of maps, notes, etc. from Bucher’s extensive historical research is available on a CD at the Waterford Public Library.
5. Fosdick, Lewis L. Fosdick family, the Oyster Bay branch, 1583–1891. https://archive.org/details/fosdickfamilyoy00fosdgoog
6. Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. History of New London, Connecticut: From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612 to 1852. p. 397