News Feature - "Caring for Cemeteries is Caring for History"

Caring for cemeteries is caring for history

June 4, 2015 at 7:47am
by Alysa Southall

AUBURN – Longmeadow Cemetery and the Auburn Village Cemetery have an extensive history that dates back prior to the incorporation of the town of Auburn.

“We encourage people to walk the cemeteries and learn the history of the town and those people that came before us, also appreciating at this time of the year all of our veterans,” said David Jenkins, chairman of the cemetery trustees.

The book “Auburn, New Hampshire” written in 1970 by Carl Cheswell Forsaith, has a lot of historical information on both the town and the cemeteries, according to Jenkins.

Longmeadow Cemetery, on Route 121, is Auburn’s oldest historical site, dating back to 1793. At that time, Auburn as we know it today was West Chester. (Auburn was incorporated as a town in 1845.)

Records show that, on May 5, 1793, the town voted that the “old meeting house was to be taken down and set on the ground near John Calef’s lot” and, on July 14, the Longmeadow Meeting House was moved to what is now known as the Longmeadow Cemetery. The house was located near the center of the present cemetery with the “burying ground” located in the back of the building.

The first burial in Longmeadow Cemetery was that of Mrs. David Carr in 1796, and, according to Jenkins, soldiers from the Revolutionary War are buried there.

The Longmeadow Cemetery Association formed May 1, 1908. At its first meeting, the association voted to purchase the cemetery from the Congregational Church for $1.

The Auburn Historical Association maintained the cemetery until October 1979 when it was turned over to the town of Auburn.

The Auburn Village Cemetery does not have such a clear history, but the Auburn Historical Association knows it had been donated to the town of Chester as a public cemetery before Auburn was incorporated.

Although there is uncertainty about the first burial, it is believed to be that of Mary Hook, daughter of Samuel Hook and Judith Williams, in 1822.

The two cemeteries had separate groups of trustees and were considered separate entities until about five years ago when they were put under a single board of trustees. In addition to Jenkins, Don Dollard and Scott Norris serve as cemetery trustees.

Prior to the merger, David Griffin had served as trustee of the Auburn Village Cemetery for about 45 years, maintaining it until he was close to 90 years old. Likewise, Donald Stritch maintained the Longmeadow Cemetery for decades.

Griffin kept the records for the Auburn Village Cemetery at his home until his death, at which time they were placed into the care of the town. Records for the Longmeadow Cemetery already were maintained at the town hall.

“Since the appointment of the new trustees, extensive work has been undertaken to create a database of burials for the Auburn Village Cemetery, because many of the records were missing from Griffin’s estate,” said Jenkins. “The initial project was undertaken by Bette Dollard, wife of Mike Dollard, now deceased, who was one of the three original trustees. The couple walked through the Village Cemetery and noted the names and dates on each headstone, and Bette created an invaluable database for the cemetery.”

Although the Auburn Village Cemetery is larger than Longmeadow, the Longmeadow Cemetery is older.

Jenkins credits Don Dollard with many of the improvements to the cemeteries.

“Don Dollard has worked countless hours remapping both the Longmeadow and the Village cemeteries, a project which has taken the better part of two years,” said Jenkins.

Other recent improvements include the repair of more than 200 headstones, a project that is ongoing, and containing the overgrowth at both cemeteries.

This year’s budget includes funds for re-roofing and painting the vault at Longmeadow and the removal of 11 trees along the property line, as well as placing a chain as a gate at each cemetery at the end of the season to help protect the roads during the winter months. People still will be able to enter the cemetery on foot during that time.

“It is amazing the number of people that visit these cemeteries on a daily basis, whether it’s for a stroll through a peaceful place or to visit the deceased loved ones,” said David Jenkins’ wife, Susan. “The long-needed improvements are much-appreciated by the many visitors to the cemeteries.”

David Jenkins said he and the other trustees appreciate the help from Boy Scout Troop 127 which goes to the veterans’ graves on both Memorial Day and Veterans Day, replacing the old, worn flags with new ones.

“The Boy Scouts were a great help,” said Jenkins. “It was a great way to serve our community and veterans. We are very happy to have that done by the Boy Scouts.”

The cemetery trustees periodically do walkthroughs to evaluate the trees and other conditions at the cemeteries.

“A walkthrough of a cemetery is like a walk through history,” said Jenkins. “So many of the stones have been straightened and the broken ones have been replaced. Don Dollard is doing a really great job with that kind of care. It is really appreciated.”

The annual budget for maintenance, upkeep and improvements to the cemeteries is $25,000, and Jenkins said the trustees plan to add signs at Longmeadow, stating, “No Dogs Allowed.”

“It is not honoring the people there when dogs are allowed in the space like that,” said Jenkins, adding, “The signs should be put up in the next month or so.”

(Reposted from June 4, 2015 edition of Candia-Auburn Post)