Kathe Walton, left, and Patty Pinkham are members of the Southwest Harbor Historic Cemetery Committee, which is tasked by the town to foster "the protection, preservation and appreciation of our 11 historic community burying grounds." ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Cemeteries to get spruced up

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Sometimes it is best to leave stones unturned, particularly those well over 100 years old.

A goat named “Suzie Ann,” who belongs to Charlotte Gill of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound on Seawall Road in Manset, regularly helps trim the grass at Moore Cemetery. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

This is the advice of Patty Pinkham, one of the members of the Southwest Harbor Historic Cemetery Committee. Founded in 2016, the committee has been tasked by the town’s Board of Selectmen to foster “the protection, preservation and appreciation of our 11 historic community burying grounds.”

“We heard a lot of people [were] saddened by the state of the cemeteries now,” said Pinkham, noting that some of the sites have been severely neglected. “When I was young, I always would tend to the graves. You always did for Memorial weekend.”

Each of the 11 sites tells its own chapter in the history of Mount Desert Island. For some of them, just getting to the cemetery is an adventure of its own. Several can be found along Rte 102A, also known as “Seawall Road.” Others are hidden in plain view on roads throughout town.

“Most of the cemeteries in town need a lot of work,” said Pinkham, citing trees, their roots and overgrowth of vegetation as some of the major culprits. “It’s important not to move any stones in a cemetery before you get a layout.”

This isn’t as easy as it sounds if the stones can’t be seen. That was the case with the Moore Cemetery, located behind Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound on Seawall Road.

When Charlotte Gill established her business there seven years ago, the Moore site was nowhere near presentable. The stones were covered with vegetation and surrounded by gravel. There are three rows of Moore family gravestones, and most of the graves also have footstones.

“I had it cleared out of the brambles and the beer cans,” Gill said. “It was rough.”

After some thoughtful work that included clearing the site, reseeding it with grass, creating a stone boundary around the perimeter and cleaning the stones with a toothbrush, the Moore site nearly sparkles. It has become part of the charm of Gill’s business for visitors, along with her pet goat, Suzie Ann.

“I am the keeper of the graveyard, and Suzie Ann is my head landscaper,” she said.

Pinkham warns that taking action can sometimes do more damage, especially with cleaning or attempting to stabilize stones.

Within the last 50 years, some family members have attempted to reinforce gravestones with concrete at their bases. Often main stones were affixed to their base with steel pins, which erode with time and the stone topples over.

Multiple gravestones dating back to the 1800s have had concrete applied.

“People have done things thinking they were helping,” said Pinkham, pointing to a few stones within the island’s first burial ground on High Road. “If you put cement, it gives the cold more opportunity to heave it around.”

While standing among tree roots and toppled stones in the High Road burial ground, Pinkham and fellow committee member Kathe Walton explained how photography and note-taking are the first steps.

Much like recording a crime scene, they’ve taken multiple photographs to begin the process of deciphering the story of that particular burial site.

“We haven’t done a lot of hands-on work,” said Pinkham, adding that getting the grounds in order will take priority over cleaning stones.

“That one tree says it all,” Pinkham said, pointing to a collection of roots protruding from a large poplar tree with a gravestone resting on them. “None of the other cemeteries have this many trees.”

Deciding how to remove the trees without further disturbance of the gravestones and burial sites is the biggest challenge faced by the committee, with its limited resources, according to Pinkham.

The committee was formed in part because there is no entity in Southwest Harbor with responsibility for the graveyards. Many are on private property, and those on public land are meant to be the responsibility of the inhabitants’ descendants.

One of the burying grounds, listed as “Union,” is located behind a church on Seawall Road that is currently for sale. It is unclear what permissions a new owner will allow the public.

“There is no prescribed access there because it is part of the church,” said Pinkham, who has done deed research on many of the sites. “We were given money by the taxpayers, and we don’t want it wasted on legal battles.”

Mostly, the committee wants to create awareness of the sites and support in maintaining them. Once some basic recordings and upkeep have taken place, the committee plans to give tours of the burying grounds. Many stories have already come forth during the committee formation, including one of a gentleman who died at sea and was brought to the island’s first burial ground.

“There’s lots of stories with these stones,” Pinkham said.

She and Walton referred to a book written by Nellie Thornton called “Traditions and Records of Southwest Harbor and Somesville Mount Desert Island, Maine.”

“I like cemeteries,” Pinkham said. She has fond memories of time spent in cemeteries as a child. Gesturing around at the High Road burial ground, she said, “It would be nice if this was a peaceful place to visit.”

Visit www.southwestharbormaine.org and search for the Historic Cemetery Committee page under the Boards and Committees tab.


Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.