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Previous to the year 1840 individual enterprise had planted ornamental trees on these two sides of the cemetery, outside of the enclosure. In all other respects these grounds were sadly neglected. The cemetery was given in charge to an unlearned, unskilful undertaker, who located the graves without order or taste—wherever he could excavate with the greatest ease—and suffered the whole enclosure to be over-run with wild grass and wilder brush-wood. As has been intimated, the walls tumbled from their places and were suffered to lie in their delapsion; the monuments which the hand of affection had reared over the dust of relatives and friends were removed from their upright positions, bending backwards and forwards, inclined hither and thither, and some of them lying prostrate, covered with moss and other accretions of time,-presenting in every feature a most forbidding aspect, and staying the steps of those who seek the place of the dead as one of holy meditation and devout resolve.
As above stated, in 1840 a change came over the scenery of the sacred locality. The selectmen were directed by the town, "to make some improvements in the external appearance of the Burying Yard.” The result of their efforts was very creditable to their judgment and taste. The delapsed walls were at first repaired, and subsequently removed to give place to the iron and granite fence before mentioned; the leaning and prostrate headstones were readjusted; as well as could be done, the grounds were laid out by intersecting walks or alleys, and ornamented with trees and shrubbery. Individual families enclosed lots by fences of ornamented iron and other devices, planted them with flowers, and, in some cases, furnished them with costly monuments. Hence, notwithstanding the uninviting appearance of the "old cemetery” until this change was effected, it assumed an order and beauty beyond what the most sanguine could have deemed possible. It was, however, soon found too small for the population. The grounds that had been set apart for family enclosures were all taken and appropriated, and
room was with difficulty obtained for single graves. It was therefore deemed essential to have a new cemetery, or to have the old one enlarged. This necessity brought the, matter before the town at a meeting holden April 4, 1859, when it was voted "to choose a committee of three persons to select a lot for a burying-ground, and report at the next town meeting. Nathaniel Holden, Jonas Holden, and Israel Longley, were appointed.” This committee made a verbal report and were dismissed from further service.
One year later, April 2, 1860, the subject was renewed; and the selectmen, in connection with Jeremiah C. Hartwell and Thomas Whitney, were appointed a committee to see "if the burial ground in the centre of the town could be enlarged.” This committee subsequently reported that a piece of land from the estate of Jonas Longley, situated on the south side of the present buryingground, could be obtained. Whereupon it was voted "that said committee be instructed to make the purchase at the price that had been stipulated (two hundred and fifty dollars), and that the treasurer be authorized to take a deed of the same.” This action was taken Nok. 6, 1860; but owing to the trials connected with the war of the rebellion, which commenced soon after, the matter was laid aside for more than three years; when, at the meeting in March, 1864, it was again brought forward, and the committee of so long standing was reinforced by the addition of two recruits, viz: Zenas Brown and George Page. This committee reported that they had "purchased of Charles Gerrish of Groton a lot of land ( lately owned by Jonas Longley), situated south and east of the burial ground in Shirley Centre,-one and one-quarter acres—for five hundred and twenty-five dollars; and that the town treasurer has taken a deed of the same.” The committee was then discharged, and the town adopted the following judicious arrangement in relation to the future care of the cemetery : "Voted, that Dr. James O. Parker, George Page and Thomas E. Whitney, be a committee to have charge of the burying-ground in the centre of the town,
with power to enclose by fencing the ground added to the same; to superintend the division and laying out of lots and the manner of disposing of them; to have charge of the burying-ground fund, to receive and appropriate any and all donations that may be made to the burying-ground, or to the town for its improvement, and to have the general care and direction of it."
At the town-meeting holden March 6, 1865, the following communication was presented for the consideration of the town.
" DR. JAMES 0. PARKER, Chairman of the Committee hav
ing in charge the Burial Ground, &c.
"DEAR SIR :—The purchase of one acre and thirtynine rods of land, which the town has recently made as an addition to the Burial Ground in the centre of the town, I consider to be insufficient to meet the wants of the public for any length of time, as a place of burial for the dead; neither is it large enough to admit much space for embellishment; nor can it be laid out to meet the demands of the improved taste of the present day in the usual arrangement and adornment of cemeteries.
"To obviate these difficulties,—and to manifest the deep interest which I feel in this ancient burial place, consecrated as it is with the dust of the first inhabitants of this town, as well as that of our own kindred and friends,–I have purchased the adjoining estate ; and I now propose to offer to the town as a gift, a portion of this estate, indicated as near as may be upon a plan referred to below, provided, the same shall be accepted by the town with the conditions hereunto annexed.
"First. That this land shall ever be considered as a part of the burial ground.
"Second. That this land, together with the land recently purchased by the town, shall be laid out and improved as soon as practicable by the committee appointed at the annual town meeting in March, 1864, (and now
having charge of the burial ground,) substantially in accordance with the plan prepared by Mr. George F. Meacham, architect, of Boston, herewith presented; and that this committee shall have the sole care, superintendence and management of this cemetery, with power to fill all vacancies in the committee, to make all rules and regulations deemed necessary for the full execution of their trust. "Very respectfully,
"THOMAS E. WHITNEY. "Shirley, March 4, 1865."
The town voted to "accept the proposed gift of Mr. Thomas E. Whitney, with the conditions stipulated in his letter offering the same.”
The whole of the grounds have been enclosed by a durable fence, and an outline of the work proposed by the architect has been made, and many family lots have been appropriated, furnished with durable enclosures, provided with graceful monuments, and elegantly ornamented with shrubbery and flowers. It is now an inviting retreat for bodily exercise, and for those mental and moral communings which appropriately belong to seasons of relaxation from the cares and business of life.
Here the weary, toil-worn pilgrim of physical employment may contemplate the feeble tenure that holds him from the grave, the certainty of death, and the short time that must elapse before he will lie as low as those whose ashes swell the turf beneath his feet, and with them silently await "the voice of the archangel and the trump of God.”
In this cemetery sleep the remains of the early settlers of the town, and their children of the next generation, none of whom are now among the living ; here, too, rests the dust of the first minister of the town, (who, for more than half a century, led the devotions at the altar of the public sanctuary,) with the dust of his fellow-worshippers all around, as though he would remain with his people even in the place of the dead; and here, too, moulder the remains of the two physicians who passed their life-season of usefulness within the town. They sleep with those to whom they had administered the healing prescription, but whom their skill could not ultimately save from the
"Requiescat in pace.”
As early as 1849 it was found necessary to enclose a new cemetery, somewhere in the neighborhood of the South Village, to accommodate the growing population of that section of the town. A committee, composed of the following-named persons, was appointed to carry the measure into effect: Hon. L. M. Parker, Darius Emery and William H. Crossman.
This committee purchased a locality for this purpose, bordering on the Catacunemaug, rising somewhat abruptly from the banks of that river, gently undulated, and partially covered with clusters of young trees. It presents a naturally wild beauty, but under the plastic hand of art it may be made to combine the handy-work of nature with the smoothing process of human invention, in such manner as to give it an admirable fitness for the sacred object for which it is designed.
According to the report made by the committee above named, the land is "in the form of an ellipse, which they divided into rings by circular walks; the rings they again divided transversely into compartments, making ninety-eight lots, to be appropriated to individual families.” It lies retired from the bustle and noise of business, as though it would abjure the cares and strifes of living men, and at the same time furnish them with a retreat for meditation and devotion, which may be regarded a chief characteristic of the modern ornamented cities of the dead. It was originally inclosed by wooden palings, and furnished with a cheap and unsubstantial gate. These have given place to more durable fixtures, as will soon appear.
On the 20th of May, 1865, some fifteen years from the laying out of the new cemetery, it was placed, by vote