History of the Old North Cemetery, beginning in 1636

 

 

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Quincy Granite

Eskers

 

The Civil War Memorial was  dedicated in 1868. Four Navy cannons that surround the  monument were donated  in 1898.

The monument is on a triangle of town owned land.  Originally, two of the four cannons were on a lower level of momument, on cemetery land. They were later moved up to be on the same level as the  cannon seen in the photo above. The granite base for one cannon still rests in it's original spot at the bottom of the terrace.

According to the late Tom Sheehan, the momument was hit by lightning and the middle section of granite had to be replaced and re-inscribed. Today if you look at the monument, you will see a slight difference in the color of the middle piece as it does not exactly match the original stone.

 

 

While it is probable that burials occurred in the cemetery from the time the first settlers built the original meeting house on the cemetery grounds, the  recorded history of the North Weymouth Cemetery begins in 1636, with the burial of Zacharia Bicknell.  The information for his burial comes from his family headstone, a large, square, marble  column that was erected by his descendants. On this column is a brief history of Zacharia's journey to America with his wife and servants. 

Zacharia's grave is located in what we refer to as "Old North".  This oldest side of the cemetery contains the remains of the very oldest graves, but also has newer graves and continues to be used for interments to this day. 

While there seems to be no firm documentation, the site of the original meeting house in Weymouth, or as it was then known, Wessagusset,  is said to have been on Watch House Hill, which would be where the current Civil War Memorial  spire and cannons are located.  According to the Town of Weymouth's web site, a second meeting house was erected on the west side of the cemetery directly across North Street and visible from Watch  House Hill. This area is now grave lots and no sign of either  of the meeting houses remain.

Geologically speaking, the North Weymouth Cemetery is part of an esker that formed during the last ice age. Little remains of the original esker that runs from Hingham into Weymouth via Great Esker Park. Much of the pure sand and gravel that made up the esker has been removed and used as fill, some taken as far away as Logan Airport. The east side of the  cemetery is bordered by what was Colasanti's Sand Pit. When the sand and gravel ran out, homes were built on the site.

Until 1865 the cemetery was in the care of the Old North Parish. In that year the North Weymouth Cemetery Association was formed to manage and maintain the cemetery.

Over the years, some changes have been made to the size of the cemetery but over all, there are about 15 acres of land.  Each section tends to have been developed during a certain time, and one can usually expect to find graves of a similar age range in one area. Oldest are the graves on the East side, by the Civil War Monument, dating from around the 1660's to the early 1700's. These are the old slate stones, and many are surely missing from what was originally there. While a few are in good condition, quite a few are deteriorated and broken. The next oldest section is across North St. on the West side. This hill contains remains that date from the early 1700's with an interspersing of newer graves. There are two main hills, one with a circle of stones, and another with rows of stones. These stones are often grouped in families, with husband, wife, and children on consecutive gravestones.

As one moves into the 1800's, one sees a change from the use of slate stones to the use of marble headstones. This also marks the change from the monolith stones, or flat stones set into the earth or a hollowed out base, to the thicker, more modern grave stones set on raised bases. Unfortunately, these stones have not stood the test of time. Where the slate stones hold their images over time but tend to split apart, the marble stones are eaten away by water and pollution, making many of them un-readable. They also suffer from splits where ever pins were used to secure them to their bases or where decorations were attached at the tops.

Graves from the 1800's can be located throughout the older parts of the cemetery, but are concentrated in the 'canyon' area and 'up top', the hill that overlooks the Fore River Shipyard.

The area 'up top' was used well into the 1900's, and reflects the change  from marble to granite stones. Most of the early granite stones are Quincy granite, which was famous for its strength and durability. Many of the stones still bear the marks of the memorial companies that made them.

The next major expansion of the cemetery was back to the east side. From the beginning of the 1900's to about the 1940's there were a large number of interments in 'single graves'  sold in ones or twos, marking a change from the previous custom of large family lots. 

In the 1940's, the cemetery opened a large section on Norton St. which we refer to as the Abigail Adams section. It was around this time the original part of the birthplace of Abigail Adams was moved from Bicknell Square in North Weymouth near Rt. 3A, back to the intersection of North and Norton St, close to it's original site.  Burials in this area generally from the 1950's through the 1970's, and through to present.

The next site to be developed was the 'chapel section'. In the late 1960's, money that had been left by Laban Pratt and Clara Rogers was finally put to use to build a chapel building on Norton St. This stone and brick building was designed to be a chapel for funerals, with space underneath for tools and equipment. However, by the time the building had been built, funerals had become largely the domain of professional funeral homes, and the need for a chapel had gone by. One thing that the chapel building does provide is a bathroom, which donor Clara Rogers was unable to find when she came here for a funeral in the early 1900's, and which was one of the reasons she left money for it's construction.

Around the time the chapel was constructed, the Town of Weymouth exchanged a small piece of land on Norton St beside where the chapel is now situated, in exchange for the gravel that was to be dug out of the hill.  When this was completed, the hill was planted with fast growing pines to hold the soil and the flattened area became the next section developed for graves.

Over the hill from the chapel was a large, low area that many kids in the area enjoyed skating on in the winter. This was to become the New Cemetery and takes us into the 1980's. It should be noted how quickly the cemetery went from the Abigail Section to the New Cemetery.  The growth of population in Weymouth has also meant a greater need for burial plots. 

By the end of the '80's, this section too needed to be added to, and a small area off of Beal St and Bleakney Drive was developed.  Shortly thereafter, another new section was opened, this one back on North St.  This was to be the last large section opened.