Burial of the Dead, and Cemeteries

    THE earliest settlers on our territory naturally buried most of their dead in the oldest burying-ground,
    at Mendon town-seat. A few may have been carried to their native places in other towns,
    more or less distant. A still smaller number perhaps were consigned to resting-places on their own
    farms or in family enclosures. For the most part, burial in Mendon continued to be the general
    practice until the Second or Easterly Precinct was incorporated, Dec. 23, 1741. The number of
    sculptured stones in the old Mendon graveyard, that tell the names and ages of our forefathers
    buried there, is small indeed. In those days, only here and there a noted personage, in our rural
    towns, attained to the honor of such sculptured memorials. Some little time after the Precinct was
    set off, burials commenced in our oldest cemetery, — to use the modern term for a burying-ground.
    The spot seems to have been selected in the south-easterly part of what now constitutes this
    ancient enclosure, and covered in Precinct days about three-fourths of an acre. The land belonged,
    in early Precinct times, to Amos Binney, or to him and Thomas Bailey jointly; being then a part of
    what became the Twitchell farm. There was some sort of tacit understanding between the Precinct
    and the then owner or owners of this estate, that the dead might be buried there; but the Precinct
    was, for some reason, unable to obtain a deed of the ground. In 1748 Rev. Amariah Frost, who had
    received a legal power-of-attorney- from Binney and Bailey to sell their farm, sold the same to
    Ephraim Twitchell, jun., “excepting out of said lands three-quarters of an acre for a Burying-place,
    as shall be agreed upon most commodious therefor upon Nathaniel Morse line." This is all the title
    that has been found on record which the Precinct ever had to this spot of ground; but their
    possession and use of it seems never to have been disputed. In 1780 it passed under the control
    of the Town. If the reader will turn back to Chap. V., he will find a full history of this old cemetery,
    from its inception till its control descended from the Precinct to the Town: I therefore now take up its
    thread under town administration.

    If I have followed the municipal records as accurately as I aimed to do, the Town took no public
    action concerning the burial of the dead till 1792. They then ordered a "grave-cloth" to be bought,
    and chose Ezekiel Jones sexton. Who officiated in this capacity before, or how burials were
    managed, is not told; doubtless according to custom and the common consent. It was several
    years before sextons came to be annually chosen, or otherwise regularly appointed
    by the selectmen.

    April 2, 1798, the Town "Voted to buy the land of Mr. Ephraim Twitchell at the upper end of the Grave
    yard, and also a piece on the North side of the Grave Yard, as was Agreed on by the Committee for
    that purpose ; which was to give Mr. Twitchell Twenty-five shillings" (Records, vol. ii., p. 8.) I
    suppose this agreement went into effect for the enlargement of the graveyard, but I have found no
    deed from Twitchell to the Town conveying the land indicated. Nov. 18, 1799, the Town "Voted to
    accept of the graveyard, laid out in the 3d District by the school house, as a Town's grave yard, to
    take care and fence the same, when there shall be a deed given to the town of the same."
    (Records, vol. ii., p. 37.) This original portion of the South Milford Cemetery was estimated to
    contain sixty-six rods of ground. It appears to have been a donation from Elijah Albee to the Town,
    the nominal consideration being only two dollars. The conveyance was made to Ichabod Thayer,
    Nathl. Parkhurst, James Perry, George Kelley, and Jno. Corbett, the then selectmen, and their
    successors in office, "for the use and benefit of said Town for a Grave yard, or Burying-ground,
    forever." It bears date Jan. 20, 1801, and was acknowledged before Saml. Jones, Esq., April 19,
    1813. It has never yet been recorded in Worcester. I found it in the town-clerk's office, among certain
    old files of papers, long stowed away. As it is not on record, I am the more particular to designate it,
    and will copy its description of the premises.

    "Beginning at a Stake and stones at the Southwest Corner, thence Running eastwardly seven
    Rods, bounding Southerly on Daniel Wedge's land, thence Running Northerly Ten Rods to a Stake
    and stones, thence Running westerly eight Rods to the Road, the Two last lines bounding on the
    grantor's land, thence Running Eight Rods and a half on the Road to the first-mentioned bounds;
    Containing by estimation sixty six Rods, be the same more or less : Reserving four Rods where the
    school house now stands for the use of the District, which was heretofore deeded away, reference
    being had thereto."

    Thus the T . Dea. Gideon Albee had previously erected a tomb thereon in company with one of his
    neighbors, and a few burials had been made.

    Sept. 2, 1805, the Town " Chose Col. Ichabod Thayer, Lt. Ephraim Chapin, and Lt. David Stearns, a
    Committee to purchase a Carriage for Carrying the Corps of the dead to the grave yard, and to build
    a house suitable to secure the same; said Carriage to be a 4 Wheeled one ; raised 150 dollars for
    the above said purpose; the building to cover the Carriage to be set in the northeast corner of the
    Grave yard." This was the town's first hearse and hearse-house. Our older citizens remember the
    establishment well. (Records, vol. ii., p. 146.) March 6, 1809, "Voted to accept the report of the
    Committee chosen to purchase burying ground ; which Report is to give Elijah Thayer after the rate
    of 100 dollars per acre for about half an acre of Land." (lb., vol. ii., p. 185.)

    Thayer had come into possession of the land formerly owned by Nathl. Morse, and later by Eleazer
    Wight ; and of this he conveyed a narrow strip running the whole length of the old
    graveyard on its southerly side, containing eighty-one rods. His deed bears date April 7, 1809, and
    is on record, B. 183, p. 485 ; consideration, $50,621. April 3, 1809, " Voted that Col. Ichabod Thayer,
    Col. Saml. Jones, Col. Benjamin Godfrey, Majr. Pearley Hunt, Capt. Nathaniel Parkhurst, Lt. David
    Stearns, Dean Seth Nelson, and Capt. Levi Chapin, should have the Privilege to Build Tombs at the
    East End of the Grave Yard." The same privilege granted, the May ensuing, to Oliver Daniell and
    Nathan Parkhurst. (Records, vol. ii., pp. 187, 188.) This sombre array of nearly a dozen tombs,
    latterly demolished, at the south end of what is now School Street, presented a front not easily
    forgotten by our adult inhabitants. I find nothing more on this general subject except the annual
    choice of two sextons, which commenced in 1806, till May meeting, 1820. Then a committee of
    three was chosen "to repair the Grave yards." In 183.3 the hearse-house was removed to another
    position. The same year the selectmen were ordered to see the graveyards cleaned up, the
    gravestones righted, and necessary repairs made. In 1837 the proposition of Jared Rawson to set
    out seventy-five shade-trees around the old graveyard, at forty cents apiece, was accepted by the
    town. Meantime the South Milford cemetery had been enlarged by the addition of half an acre at the
    north end, purchased of Joseph Albee for $10. Deed dated Sept. 10, 1836, and recorded with
    Worcester Deeds, B. 319, p. 256.

    About this time a project for a new cemetery began to be agitated. It was repeatedly brought before
    the Town for consideration, and committees appointed to investigate the subject. At length, Nov. 13,
    1837, " Voted, that the Town purchase the whole of the land belonging to Samuel Oliver, as stated
    in a report of a committee chosen on the sixth day of March last, “to procure a suitable piece of
    ground for a graveyard, “Provided he will convey to said Town all the privileges thereto belonging
    that were conveyed to him." It seems that Samuel Oliver, for three hundred and fifty dollars,
    conveyed the land desired to the Town, Nov. 13, 1837, and the same is on record with Worcester
    Deeds, B. 329, p. 507. The amount of land in this purchase appears from the deed to have been
    twelve acres and thirty-eight rods. April 2, 1838, "Voted, to choose a committee to consist of five, to
    prepare the piece of land recently purchased by the Town for a graveyard, for that purpose." "Chose
    Clark Ellis, Rufus Thayer, Arial Bragg, Samuel L. Scammell, and Isaac Brigham"(vol. iii., p. 240).
    The report of committee just named was accepted Nov. 19, 1838, and another committee of five
    chosen, consisting of the Selectmen, to dispose of the burial-lots, etc. April 1, 1839,"Voted, that the
    Selectmen act as a committee in selling all or any part of the land belonging to the Town, adjoining
    the new burying-ground, not included within said burying-ground." Perhaps I ought to have stated
    that the tract of land bought of Sam'l. Oliver lay southerly of Central St., and easterly of Bow St.,
    including what is now owned by the Milford and Woonsocket Railroad Co.; also what is occupied by
    the Cochran & Thayer boot manufactory. Numerous burial-lots were soon sold in this new burying-
    ground, and the dead multiplied there. Proper access to it was opened by the laying-out of
    necessary ways, and other conveniences. In 1846 the Town ordered a receiving-tomb to be built
    thereon, adjacent to Bow St. ; and various measures were consummated regulating the avenues
    and arrangement of lots. But there was so much dissatisfaction in relation to this cemetery, that, in
    the autumn of 1847, a scheme was started to change the location, procure a new tract for burial
    purposes, and remove the remains already deposited to some other resting-place.

    A long series of inquiries, discussions, and transitional steps, mostly in the form of town action,
    finally resulted in purchasing about twenty-one acres of Abel Albee, and establishing "Vernon-grove
    Cemetery." But, before this was accomplished, a cemetery was provided for and opened in the
    North Purchase. This appears from the following vote, passed April 30, 1849: "Voted, that the
    Selectmen be authorized to draw sufficient money from the Town's Treasury to pay for a piece of
    land from Ellis Sumner, for a burying-ground, as recommended by a committee of said Town, on
    the twenty-ninth day of January last, and for fencing and making a road to the same. " Voted, that the
    Treasurer be authorized to take a deed of the land for the North Purchase burying-ground, so
    called." (vol. iv., p. 183). This cemetery is situated in what may be called the south central part of
    North Purchase, a short distance east of Purchase St., and contains about two acres. It was bought
    of Ellis Sumner for two hundred dollars, and conveyed to the Town by a deed known to have been
    executed, but never recorded, and now lost.

    The tract of land constituting Vernon-grove Cemetery, bought of Abel Albee, is situated about a mile
    south-eastwardly from the Town Common, a short distance east of Depot St., from which it has an
    ample right of way included in Albee's conveyance. That conveyance covers twenty-one acres and
    twenty-three square rods. It bears date May 2, 1859, and is recorded in B. 624, p. 355. The
    consideration was 81,080.23. It was not without considerable difficulty that the Town authorities got
    this cemetery laid out in proper condition for the burial of the dead, and that they made satisfactory
    arrangements for the removal of those who had been buried in the previously selected locality, so
    as to clear the ground there for other uses. But, in one way or another, the object was
    accomplished, and the receiving-tomb removed to the new cemetery. In due time, by-laws, rules,
    and regulations were adopted for its orderly management, under the general direction of trustees
    annually chosen for that purpose. Trustee reports began to be annually made to the Town in 1863,
    and printed along with its other official reports. It is hardly necessary for me to go into the details of
    these reports, or to tabulate their statistics. They give, from year to year, the number of burial-lots
    sold, the names of purchasers, and the account current of receipts and disbursements, so as to
    show its financial standing. The cemetery is handsomely laid out. Numerous lots have been taken
    up, ornamented, and occupied. Many removals of the olden dead have been made from the ancient
    burying-ground to this new abode, and fresh burials are continually occurring. Its headstones and
    more stately monuments, including that of our fallen soldiers, exhibit to the beholder a very
    respectable array of mortuary taste and elegance, in accordance with the modern popular style. In
    1877-78 an unhappy controversy arose among our citizens respecting the appropriation of funds to
    this cemetery, — one party claiming, under the by-laws enacted by the Town for its management,
    several thousand dollars as pledged to its improvement, against which the other party protested.
    The case went before the judiciary, and was finally decided in favor of the protesting party. This
    case appears among the judicial reports in Chap. XIV.

    Besides our four town cemeteries hereinbefore described, we have several of a more private
    nature. Pre-eminent among these, and over all others, is the "Pine-grove Cemetery." This is owned
    and sustained by a strong corporation of influential citizens belonging to this and some of the
    neighboring towns. The proprietors were incorporated in 1841, and hold their annual meeting in
    May, when they choose a board of directors, treasurer, secretary, etc. Their cemetery is located on
    the west side of Cedar St., about two miles north-east of the Town Common, and covers a romantic
    tract of some twenty-eight acres, obtained in two separate purchases. The first purchase of
    seventeen acres was soon enclosed, beautifully laid out, and artistically fitted for use. It abounds
    with admirable monuments, and exhibits a rich profusion of the various ornamentations wherewith
    the present generation delight to honor their dead. It has a house and garden-grounds for its
    superintendent, and is constantly cared for with tasteful assiduity. William P. Miller has long been
    its superintendent, and is deservedly esteemed for the acceptable manner in which he has
    discharged his official duties. The second purchase of eleven acres, lying west of the first, remains
    outside of the enclosure, in an unimproved state.

    The Catholics of St. Mary's Church have a large and numerously peopled cemetery, located also on
    Cedar St., on the easterly side, a short distance southerly of Pine Grove. It now contains about eight
    acres. Its first four acres were purchased by Rev. Geo. A. Hamilton, the first regular pastor, and
    opened for burials, probably, in 1850. Rev. Father Cuddihy has enlarged it under his pastorate to
    double its original size. It is respectably laid out and ornamented. Its headstones and obelisks
    display the usual Catholic emblems, and proclaim to the passing observer what a host of these
    comparatively new-comers have already gone to their long home. Conspicuous therein is a
    monument erected by Father Cuddihy to the memory of his immediate pastoral predecessor, Rev.
    Edward Farrelly, who died here of consumption, Aug. 13, 1857.

    Hopedale, too, has its own humble cemetery, a little west of the village, just over the river, where the
    remains of a considerable number of its loved ones rest in peace. It was laid out in 1847, covers
    over two acres of ground, has a decent receiving-tomb, is in charge of the parish trustees, has a
    superintendent of burials, and presents a few unpretentious monuments, but can boast of little
    sepulchral display. All the cemeteries in town, public and proprietary, have good receiving-tombs
    and other desirable conveniences; and the most ordinary of them are more or less advanced in the
    line of modern improvement. Town hearses and their accompaniments have been latterly
    superseded by those of professional undertakers, who perform burial operations in a more
    aesthetic style. Indeed, funeral expenses have grown to dimensions which many sensible people
    seriously deprecate, though our vicinage has not yet reached the extravagance of metropolitan
    populations.

    Our oldest burying-place has of late years received rather rough usage, especially its easterly
    portion. First, the whole front range of tombs were abandoned by their proprietors, their materials
    carried off by purchasers, and an unsightly opening made into the yard. Then, large numbers of
    remains were removed by family relatives and others to Vernon-grove Cemetery or elsewhere, and
    the ground left in a broken condition. Afterwards, with or without town permission, large quantities
    of earth were carted away for various purposes, in some cases paying too little respect to the
    bones and ashes of the dead. Afterwards a question was raised whether a part of the ground, at
    least, did not belong to the Congregational parish, by right of inheritance from the ancient precinct.
    The Town, however, claimed the whole, and strenuously contested all parish pretensions. The
    court finally decided the case in favor of the Town.  Should all the remains of the dead be removed,
    and the land become salable real estate, a valuable property will fall to the Town. Adin Ballou,
    History of Milford, pp. 305 – 311.

                                         
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