Dorchester South Burying Ground


No. 15023 Dorchester Soth Buryiing Ground Tombs.

The burying ground is located on the west side of Dorchester Avenue a little south of Gallivan Boulevard, nearly across from Carney Hospital.

National Register  Statement of Significance Summary Paragraph

Dorchester South Burying Ground, located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, qualifies for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C, with significance at the local level. The site possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The burial ground was established in 1814, with only a few lots laid out to meet immediate need. In 1835 Edmund James Baker, a local surveyor, laid out the rest of it. Around the same time, Samuel Downer and other members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society added ornamental plantings to embellish the cemetery. Dorchester South is the burial place of many generations of Boston residents, including two owners of the Baker Chocolate Company, one of Dorchester’s most illustrious businesses. The collection of tombs, monuments, headstones, and footstones exhibits a wide range of funerary styles and motifs.

Narrative Description


Dorchester, one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods, is in the southeastern part of the city. Dorchester

South Burying Ground is located on Dorchester Avenue in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester, a modest working-class area that was the center of early industrial activity along the Neponset River and has traditionally included many immigrants. Dorchester Avenue, a major north/south route through the neighborhood, runs along the eastern edge of the burial ground (map 1). It is a busy two-lane road with a mix of residential, commercial, and institutional uses. Across Dorchester Avenue from the burying ground is the Caritas Carney Hospital. There has been a medical facility on this site since the 19th century, but the present hospital dates to 1953. Dorchester Park (NR), a 28.45-acre park built as part of Boston’s late 19th-century, Olmsted-designed park system, is located to the east and south of the hospital.

Housing in the vicinity includes a variety of late 19th- and early 20th -century residences, primarily one and two-family frame dwellings and triple-deckers.

General Description

The two-acre burying ground is a trapezoidal parcel with the long sides on the north and south, and the short sides on the east and west. It is bounded by Dorchester A venue on the east and by parking lots and rear yards of late 19th century two and three story houses on the south. 0′ Connell Road, a narrow residential street with small-scale houses, runs along the western edge of the burying ground. At the northwest comer is a right-of-way that extends west to Washington Avenue. This right-of-way was once the main entrance to the burying ground, but it is no longer used and is not included in the nomination.

Along the northern edge of the burying ground are deep rear yards of properties fronting on Gallivan Boulevard, many with extensive tree cover. At the northeast comer is a mid 20th -century brick apartment building that fronts on Dorchester Avenue.

Unlike Boston’s earlier burying grounds, which were arranged in a haphazard manner, Dorchester South shows clear evidence of design in its spatial organization, circulation system, and plantings. It is also larger than many of the earlier Boston burying grounds.

The 1944 map of the cemetery (map 2) delineates the spatial organization of the burying ground, with a single loop road and a pattern of individual graves and family lots neatly arranged in double rows that run north-south, with a slightly different pattern around the perimeter. 1 Many of the family lots were fenced in the 19th century, but only one burial lot still has fence posts, and there is no lot fencing remaining.

Low, granite comer posts delineating the boundaries of the lots can be found throughout the cemetery. The older graves, which are mostly located in the middle of the burying ground, are typically in individual plots, of which there are roughly 300. Most of these have one headstone per plot, sometimes representing multiple burials. The 1944 map also shows 191 family lots, which are laid out in a regular pattern but vary in size. Many along the western and northern edge of the burial ground are slightly larger and are irregular in shape. Some of the original lots appear to have been subdivided.

The main circulation system is the cemetery loop road (photo 1) that begins at the main entrance and runs around the inside of the cemetery a short distance from the outer edge.2 It is generally about eight feet wide with bituminous pavement. A paved gutter runs adjacent to the road for most of its length. In the 19th century, when the burial ground was more actively used, there were also gravel pedestrian paths running north-south, but these have now disappeared.

Topography is another important characteristic of the site, which has a substantial cross slope with the northern edge about ten feet higher than the southern edge. This is most evident along the Dorchester A venue frontage, where there is a stepped wall and fence. There is also evidence of grading throughout the cemetery, typically placing the roadway at a lower elevation than the adjacent burial areas. In some cases, terracing around individual lots may originally have been reinforced by granite curbing, which is found in many 19 th-century cemeteries. There is no extant curbing today, but remnants of the terracing remain. There are a few granite steps leading up to lots, particularly those on the northern edge of the burial ground.

Vegetation is also an important feature of the burying ground, with a mix of mature deciduous and evergreen trees that contribute to its character as a designed landscape. The vegetation that exists today all dates to the 20th century, but ~reserves the general character of a heavily planted rural cemetery.


1 The content of the 1944 map is very similar to the 1900 map. The later map is used here because it is graphically clearer.

2 Features shown in bold type are listed on the data sheet. ·


There is little documentation of the 19t -century plantings, and it is likely that none of them survive. The 1900 map shows far fewer trees than exist today.

The central part of the burying ground is fairly open, with most of the trees around the perimeter. Tree species include: apple, arborvitae, ash, cherry, dogwood, linden, maple, and oak. There are also several varieties of ornamental shrubs, including a large hydrangea and viburnums, as well as vines along the southern edge. There is turf throughout the burying ground, with small areas of invasive vegetation around the perimeter.


The burying ground is enclosed on all four sides by the perimeter wall and fence (photos 2, 3), which vary in response to the adjacent topography. On the east, facing Dorchester Avenue, is a 20th-century, mortared fieldstone retaining wall with a concrete cap that rises from south to north, stepping up at each pier to follow the slope of the ground. The wall varies in height from non-existent at the southern end to ten feet at the northern end. It is surmounted by a mid to late 20th-century, six-foot steel picket fence with brick piers.

On the south side, the elevation of the burying ground is a few feet above the adjacent residential properties. There is a low, fieldstone retaining wall with concrete cap surmounted by a steel picket fence with brick piers, similar to the Dorchester A venue fence. The south wall is level, rather than stepping like the Dorchester Avenue wall.

On the west side, the grade of the burying ground is roughly the same as the adjacent properties. The steel picket fence with brick piers on a low, stone retaining wall continues around the western edge of the cemetery. On the north side, the grade of the adjacent properties is four to six feet higher than the grade of the burial ground. There is a dry-laid fieldstone retaining wall built into the hillside, which is surmounted by four-foot chain-link fencing. This northern section of stone retaining wall probably dates to the 19th century, and may be part of the original ca. 1839 wall. The chain-link fencing dates to the late 20th century.

The main entrance was originally in the northwest comer of the cemetery, and extended west to Washington Street via a narrow right-of-way north of O’Connell Road (map 3), as Dorchester Avenue did not exist until the 1850s. The location of the cemetery gates in the southeast comer of the cemetery probably dates to the mid 19th century (Dorchester Avenue was laid out in 1854). The present gates (photo 3), which date to the late 20th century, include a double-leaf vehicular gate and an adjacent pedestrian gate. There is also a similar gate at the northwest comer of the burying ground that is seldom used. Like many of Boston’s historic burying grounds, Dorchester South is kept locked for security but is opened upon request.

There are no buildings in the cemetery, but there is a concrete tool shed foundation (roughly twelve by twenty feet) in the southwest comer of the burying ground that probably dates to the late 19th century. The building appears on both the 1900 map and the 1944 map.



Tombs are another distinctive feature of Dorchester South. The north tombs (photo 4), which date to the early 19th century, are located along the northern edge of the burying ground. The 1944 map shows eight tombs along the northern edge, but only four are visible today. They are built into the side of the hill and have earthen tops and sides with varied fronts. The two at the western edge of the row are similar in construction, with brick structures rising above the ground. The entrances to both of these tombs have been sealed with concrete.

The other two tombs along the northern edge of the burying ground appear to date to slightly later in the 19th century. They are of similar construction, with granite-block faces, and heavy metal doors surmounted by pedimented, granite lintels. One of these is inscribed with the name “Cox.” Adjacent to the Cox tomb is what appears to be an upended marble headstone with granite base. This may at one time have stood above a tomb, a distinctive custom at Dorchester South that is also found in the tombs in the southern part of the cemetery. There is some settling around most of the tombs.

The south tombs (photo 5) consist of a row of twelve tombs in the southern part of the cemetery. These are later than the tombs in the northern part of the cemetery (several have dates of 1837 to 1852 inscribed in them) and appear as a connected wall of tombs rather than as separate structures. Most have vertical granite faces, ranging from three feet to four feet tall, and heavy metal doors. Some have rectilinear granite lintels, while others have pedimented lintels and other subtle variations that have personalized the tombs over the years.

An unusual feature of the south tombs is the presence of marble headstones on top of three ofthem. Most distinctive is the Bennette tomb (photo 6) at the western edge of the group, which has a granite face and metal door similar to the other tombs but has marble-block side panels, which are inscribed with the names of family members buried there. It is surmounted by a marble slab with inset panel inscribed with the names of Sarah (d. 1876) and Edwin Bennette (d. 1885). There are also additional marble panels identifying other family members buried in the tomb. Several other south tombs, including that of D.

Brewer (d. 1843), also have marble headstones on top of the tomb faces, which appear to be earlier headstones that were relocated to the tops of the tombs.


Like most burial grounds established in the 19th century, Dorchester South has a number of family monuments. Some of these honor a particular family member, while others represent the family as a whole. Monuments comprise roughly five percent of the burial markers at Dorchester South. Most are marble obelisks and pillars that range in height from four feet tall to roughly twelve feet tall. There are also granite monuments and a few brownstone monuments, primarily in the southwest comer of the cemetery. Three of the most prominent monuments are discussed here.

One of the most distinctive monuments at Dorchester South is the Rev. William A. Peabody (d. 1850) monument (photo 7), an eight-foot-tall fluted brownstone column on pedestal and base surmounted by a brownstone urn. It honors a professor of Latin at Amherst College who died at the age of 34. The inscription reads in part, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Adjacent to the William Peabody monument are small brownstone headstones that honor Margaret Russell Peabody (d. 1893) and Mary Cadman Peabody (d. 1918).

The tallest monument at Dorchester South is the Thomas Riverside (d. 1876, photo 5) monument, a roughly twelve-foot-tall marble obelisk and pedestal on granite base that is prominently sited behind the south tombs. The Baker monument, located in the southwest comer of the burial ground, honors Edmund Baker (d. 1846), proprietor of the Baker chocolate factory, as well as subsequent family members. It is a horizontal, polished, grey granite slab on granite base, a style that became popular in the late 19th century.

Two of the earliest death dates at Dorchester South were Sarah Baker (d. 1802) and Elizabeth Baker (d. 1805), both of whom were initially buried elsewhere and later reinterred in the family lot at Dorchester South.


The headstones at Dorchester South represent a wide range of styles and materials, and date from 1802 to 1989. The burial ground was established in 1814, but there are at least six reinterments that are earlier, including members of the Baker, Haynes, and Bussey families. These were most likely relocated here so family members could be buried together in perpetuity. The two most recent burials occurred in 1989.

Slate headstones

Slate headstones represent about 20 percent of the total burial markers at Dorchester South. They are generally clustered in the north central part of the burying ground. The slates follow patterns popular in the mid to late 19th century, but are generally modest. The most typical forms are vertical upright rectangles and rounded tympanums on shouldered main blocks, which range in size from tiny headstones for children to about four feet tall. There are also some slate footstones, which have been relocated immediately behind the headstones to reduce the potential for mower damage. By the early 19th century, gravestone carving was usually done by a shop of carvers rather than an individual. Many of the stones show similar form and motifs in the depiction of key features, such as the willow-and-urn design found on many ofthe slate headstones.

The first burial after the cemetery was established was that of Mrs. Lucinda Hawes (d. 1814, photo 8). Her slate headstone features a rounded tympanum on shouldered main block. It is carved in a delicate and distinctive style, with diamond-shaped architectural motifs at the top of the main block and columns at the sides. In the tympanum is a raised willow and urn on a stippled background.

The slate headstone of Edward H. Lathrop (d. 1834) is slightly simpler in style than that of Lucinda Hawes. It has a rounded tympanum on a narrow-shouldered main block. The distinctive carving of the willow is similar to many others at Dorchester South, and the decorative borders are less ornate. The poignant inscription records that Lathrop was the “Intended husband of Miss Nancy Leonard.” Very similar, but simpler still, is the Abigail Merryfield (d. 1840) headstone, which appears to have been carved by the same studio as the Lathrop headstone.

Marble and Other Late 19th- and 20th -Century Headstones

By the mid 19th century, marble was the preferred material for headstones because it was softer and easier to work with. There are a large number of marble headstones in various sizes and shapes at Dorchester South, about 65 percent of the total (photo 9). These primarily include simple marble slabs, some with pedimented tops, as well as several dozen small obelisks and pillars that mimic the larger monuments.

The design of the early marble headstones was much like the slate headstones of the period, but because the stone was softer, they could be carved into more elaborate forms. Over time, marble headstones wereincreasingly made in standard patterns and components. Willows and urns remained popular on late 19th century marbles, but there was also more sentimental and symbolic imagery. The marbles at Dorchester South are in good condition relative to some of Boston’s other historic burying grounds, but many show evidence of sugaring and erosion.

Near the entrance to the burial ground is the small marble headstone of Lewis Frey (d. 1857). Above the inscription is an inset circular area with a carved hand holding a book and pointing upward, a fairly typical late 19th -century motif. The headstone of Mary Martin (d. 1862, photo 1 0) is similar, but has a gothic arch at the top and a scroll in the inset panel at the top of the headstone. The marble inscription is faded but still legible.

A more ornate marble headstone is that of Sergeant Elijah F. Adams (d. 1863, photo 10), who fought in the Civil War. He was wounded at Mine Run and died at Alexandria, Virginia, at age 27. His marble headstone on granite base has a rounded top with protective overhang. At the top of the stone is an inset circle with a wreath and crossed swords. The inscription at the bottom reads: “So he died, thus early reaching the soldiers rest, passing from the din of Earth to the peace of Eternity.”

By the late 19th century, polished granite became the preferred material for gravestones and family monuments because of its greater durability. One exception was the Martha Willard Sawyer (d. 1894, photo 12) headstone, which is made of an, unpolished granite and has a rough-cut base overlaid with an integral stone scroll.

Burials at Dorchester South continued into the 20th century at a much slower rate, typically only for family members of those already interred at the cemetery, which was largely full by 1900. By this time, Boston’s new, larger rural cemeteries in outlying parts of the city had become the most popular choice for burials. Some of these were city-owned, while others, including Cedar Grove, which is only a few blocks to the east of Dorchester South, are private.

Like all of Boston’s older city-owned cemeteries, Dorchester South has undergone some periods when funds were scarce, but the late 20th -century efforts of the Historic Burying Grounds initiative to restore headstones and monuments and to maintain the landscape are very much in evidence today.

Archaeological Description

The Dorchester South Burying Ground has one inventoried Native American archaeological site (19-SU- 1 08) located within its boundaries, and there are seven other Native American archaeological sites located in the general area (within one mile). There are no documented historical archaeological sites within the property; however, this property is a documented burying ground. The nominated property is located on the southeastern slope of the hill upon which the neighborhood of Ashmont is located. Soils are sloped southeast, and the surrounding area is heavily developed by residential structures, with a large hospital complex located immediately to the southeast of the property. The nearest source of fresh water may now be obscured by development in this densely settled area; however, the Neponset River is located approximately 2,500 feet due south of the property.

The Native American archaeological site within the burying ground (19-SU-1 08) consists of a single fragmentary steatite bowl fragment, likely associated with the Late Archaic period (approximately 5,000-United States Department of the Interior National Park Service I National Register of Historic Places Registration Form NPS Form 10-900 OMB No. 1024-0018

Dorchester South Burying Ground Suffolk , MA

Name of Property County and State

3,500 years BP [before present]. The seven other Native American sites located within one mile of the property (19-NF-138, 19-NF-18, 19-SU-35, 19-SU-27, 19-SU-28, 19-SU-91, and 19-SU-92) consist primarily of undatable find spots along the Neponset River. Site 19-SU-92, an undatable collector’s find spot, is located directly across the street from the parcel on the Carney Hospital property. Given the above information, a high potential exists for locating additional ancient Native American cultural resources on the property.

A high potential exists for locating historic archaeological resources at the Dorchester South Burying Ground. The property appears to have been part of a larger pasture area prior to its transformation into a burying place in 1814. Therefore, there is low potential for historic archaeological resources dating between 1630 and 1814 within the property. By 1877, there were still no buildings located within adjacent lots surrounding the burying ground, further emphasizing the previously rural nature of this location. Currently, there are approximately 800 stone markers documented within the burying ground, though approximately 1,800 residents of Dorchester are believed to be buried there. This discrepancy indicates that there are numerous unmarked burials within the burying ground. These unmarked burials would be protected under the Massachusetts Unmarked Burial law (M.G.L. Chapter 7: Section 38A).

Additionally, Native American human remains, if present, would require additional review under the Massachusetts Unmarked Burial Law. Each burial should be considered a potentially significant historic archaeological deposit.

8. Statement of Significance

Applicable National Register Criteria

(Mark “x” in one or more boxes for the criteria qualifying the property for National Register





A. Property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the

broad patterns of our history.

B. Property is associated with the lives of persons significant in our past.

C. Property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of

construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values,

or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack

individual distinction.

D. Property has yielded, or is likely to yield, information important in prehistory or


Criteria Considerations

(Mark “x” in all the boxes that apply.)

D A. Owned by a religious institution or used for religious purposes

D B. Removed from its original location

D C. A birthplace or grave

CJ D. A cemetery

D E. A reconstructed building, object, or structure

D F. A commemorative property

0 G. Less than 50 years old or achieving significance within the past 50 years

Areas of Significance

(Enter categories from instructions.)


Community Planning and Development

Landscape Architecture

Social History

Period of Significance


Significant Dates

. 1814 – Cemetery established

1830s – Cemetery redesigned

Significant Person

(Complete only if Criterion B is marked above.)


Cultural Affiliation



Edmund J. Baker. surveyor

Samuel Downer. horticulturist

Period of Significance

Suffolk, MA

County and State

The period of significance for this nomination extends from 1814, when Dorchester South Burying

Ground was established, to 1964, the 50-year cut-off.

Criteria Considerations

Criteria consideration D applies to Dorchester South because it is a cemetery. However, it derives

primary significance from its age, its strong association with the Dorchester community, and its

distinctive design features as an early example of the transition from a Colonial burial ground to a rural


Statement of Significance Summary Paragraph

Dorchester South Burying Ground, located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, qualifies for listing

on the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C, with significance at the local level.

The site possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

The burial ground was established in 1814, with only a few lots laid out to meet immediate need. In 1835

Edmund James Baker, a local surveyor, laid out the rest of it. Around the same time, Samuel Downer and

other members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society added ornamental plantings to embellish the

cemetery. Dorchester South is the burial place of many generations of Boston residents, including two

owners of the Baker Chocolate Company, one of Dorchester’s most illustrious businesses. The collection

of tombs, monuments, headstones, and footstones exhibits a wide range of funerary styles and motifs.

Narrative Statement of Significance (Provide at least one paragraph for each area of significance.)

Criterion A: Broad Patterns of History

Dorchester South Burying Ground meets Criterion A due to its strong association with the history of the

community. It is a well-preserved cemetery, established in 1814, that has been active for 200 years. The

roughly 800 headstones, footstones, family monuments, and tombs at Dorchester South document the

social history of the community from 1814 to the present, and contain information that is not readily

available elsewhere. Most of the people buried at Dorchester South are Protestants of European ancestry.

Christian symbolism is evident on many of the headstones.

One of the most poignant stories at Dorchester South is that of infant mortality. Often there were multiple

deaths of children from a single family. Children were typically memorialized with small headstones,

many with sentimental imagery and language, such as the two small headstones that honor three children

of Moses and Marietta Gleason all of whom died at an early age. Many of those who lived past infancy

went on to live long lives, such as Abigail Merryfield, who died in 1840 at the age of 90.

Veterans are well represented at Dorchester South, especially veterans of the Civil War. Some are

commemorated by military-issue marble headstones, while others have more personal marble headstones

erected by family members. Civil War veterans honored at Dorchester South include: Corporal John

Ford, who died at Bull Run in 1861; Sergeant Elijah F Adams, who died in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1863

at age 27; and Joel E. Bird, Co. H, 39th Regiment, who was born in Dorchester in 1844 and died at the 2″d Division Hospital in Culpepper County, Virginia, in 1863.

One of Dorchester’s most prominent industries has been the Baker Chocolate Company, established in

1780 and still in business (although no longer in Dorchester). Two of the company’s owners, as well as

many other Baker family members, are buried at Dorchester South. Edmund Baker (d. 1846) was owner

from 1804 to 1823, and Henry Lillie Pierce (d. 1896) was owner from 1854 to 1895, a period of rapid

growth for the company . Both are interred in the Baker family lot in the southwest part of the burying

ground. Pierce also briefly served in 1873 as Mayor of Boston, and as a member of the United States

House ofRepresentatives from 1873 to 1877.

Criterion C: Art and Design

Dorchester South Burying Ground meets Criterion C as a well-preserved, 19th-century municipal

cemetery that illustrates evolving New England burial styles. It was founded in 1814 as a traditional New

England burial ground, with little thought given to its spatial organization or appearance. In the 1830s,

the grounds of Dorchester South were laid out by Edmund J. Baker, a young surveyor, whose father had

chaired the initial committee to purchase the land for the cemetery.

The improvements to Dorchester South made by Edmund J. Baker in the 1830s include the pattern of

roads and lots that still establish the overall character and rectilinear spatial organization of the cemetery.

It is in a transitional style between the older New England burial grounds, with their haphazard layouts,

and the curvilinear style of the rural cemetery movement established at Mount Auburn Cemetery (NHL)

in 1831. Other city-owned Boston burying grounds that reflect this early 19th -century transitional style

are: Bunker Hill Cemetery in Charlestown (1807); Hawes Union in South Boston (1816); and Bennington

Street Cemetery in East Boston (1837, NR).

In addition to the new layout at Dorchester South in the 1830s, members of the Massachusetts

Horticultural Society, led by Samuel Downer, a prominent Dorchester businessman and horticulturalist,

undertook embellishment of Dorchester South through ornamental plantings. This was a new idea about

burial grounds that the Horticultural Society had established at Mount Auburn Cemetery. The new plant

materials at Dorchester South consisted of trees, shrubs, and ornamental plantings, some of which were

donated by local residents. Dorchester town reports indicate that by 1839, 300 trees had been planted.

Beautification efforts at Dorchester South continued through the 1840s. After that there is relatively little

mention of improvements to Dorchester South, as a new generation of Boston cemeteries was being

created on the outskirts of the city.

Dorchester South’s roughly 800 burial markers are a rich collection of outdoor art that exhibits a wide

range of 19th- and 20th -century funerary styles and motifs. The headstones and family monuments are

predominantly marble, with a smaller number in slate, brownstone, and granite. They reflect the early

19th -century classical imagery of willow and urn, as well as the sentimentality of the Victorian era in their expression of natural and classical forms, choice of marble as a primary material, and flowery epitaphs.

The later family lots, with their more uniform granite monuments, reflect changing technology and a

more impersonal aesthetic associated with the machine age.

Context: Boston’s Historic Burying Grounds

Boston has eighteen municipally owned historic burying grounds that were established between 1630 and

1893. Seven of these date to the 17th century, three to the 18th century, and eight to the 19th century. The

historic significance of these burying grounds has been widely recognized and well documented through

Boston’s Historic Burying Grounds Initiative, begun in the 1980s. Dorchester South, established in 1814

and redesigned in 1835, represents an important transition between the city’s older, urban burying

grounds and the later rural cemeteries.

In the early 19 1h century there was major concern about the older burying grounds, which were barren,

poorly maintained places. The problem was threefold. First, they were seriously overcrowded in a

rapidly expanding city with no further space available for burial within the city limits. The second factor

was a public health issue. At the time, Boston residents were largely dependent upon private wells, and

the burial grounds were believed to be contaminating the water supply . The third factor was changing ???

Once the land was acquired, rudimentary improvements were made, including construction of two gates

and laying out the burial ground “in a regular order for depositing the dead.” The first burial was Lucinda

Hawes, who died in May 1814. In 1824, the town authorized Jacob Bacon to build three tombs. Town

records contain no further mention of the burying ground for the next decade.

Improvements, 1830-1870

In 1831, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which included many of Dorchester’s prominent

citizens, founded Mount Auburn Cemetery (NHL) in nearby Cambridge. Mount Auburn is considered

the first rural, or garden, cemetery in the United States, designed to provide a permanent resting place for

the dead and solace to the living. Burials typically occur in family lots where family members can be

buried together in perpetuity, as opposed to the older burial grounds, where burials were located

chronologically and were often moved to provide space for new burials . One of the well-known

horticulturists involved in this movement was Samuel Downer, the prominent Dorchester businessman

who was also a founding member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

In 1835, town officials decided that Dorchester South should be made more attractive. A committee was

appointed to lay out the South burying ground in squares and lanes “in a handsome manner as it will wish

and also to lay out lots for the use of the inhabitants to build tombs and report their findings to the town

on March or April meeting.”4 The committee consisted of Edmund J. Baker, surveyor; Edward H. R.

Ruggles, cabinetmaker; Darius Brewer, druggist; Colonel Nathaniel Ford; and Dr. John Spooner.

Edmund J. Baker (the son of Baker Chocolate Company owner Edmund Baker, who chaired the original

committee) was assigned the task of laying out the cemetery . A fundamental difference in Baker’s new

layout from the earlier layout was that it was a planned cemetery, with an overall spatial organization of

rectilinear family lots which were typically fifteen feet square. A second distinction was the inclusion of

well-drained roads and pathways, to make access more pleasant for visitors.

In 1837 the town appointed Samuel Downer to chair a committee “for Ornamenting the Dorchester Lower

Burying Ground.” The responsibilities of the committee included planting of trees, shrubs, and

ornamental plants. As funds were limited, the committee solicited donations of plant material from local


By 1839, fifteen tombs had been constructed, 80 graves laid out, and roughly 300 trees had been planted.

In 1844 Darius Brewer, one of the committee members charged with beautifying the cemetery, was hired

to build a wall around the burying ground. Also in the 1840s, the walkways were re-graveled, another

reflection of the pride that the community took in its new burying place.

Improvements at Dorchester South continued through the 1840s under the watchful eye of the cemetery

committee. The perimeter wall was rebuilt, tombs were added, roads and paths were graveled, and

plantings were ongoing, largely with donated plant material. Exact species are not documented, but there

are references to numerous hedge plants, which may have been planted around the perimeter, as well as

mature shade trees and fir trees . In 1844 a small, wedge-shaped piece of land was purchased as an

addition to the burial ground at its southwestern comer, bringing it to its current size of two acres. By the

late 1840s the burying ground was well established and required only routine maintenance.

4 Dorchester Town Records, 11-9-1835.

There was some discussion of expanding Dorchester South in the late 19th century, but the creation of

Forest Hills Cemetery (1848, NR) and Mount Hope Cemetery (1852, NR) nearby eliminated the need.

Establishment of Cedar Grove Cemetery, a short distance to the south along the Neponset River in 1868,

further relieved pressure on Dorchester South.

Dorchester Annexed to Boston, 1870-present

In 1870, when Dorchester was annexed to Boston, it was still a rural community of 12,000 residents.

Dorchester Avenue, which had been laid out as a public road in 1854, soon became the primary access

point for the cemetery. The arrival of the railroad the same year brought increasing residential and

commercial development that transformed the previously agricultural area into a streetcar suburb. In the

late 19th and early 20th centuries, Dorchester attracted working-class families, mainly of English, Irish,

and other European descent. The predominantly Catholic area was delineated by parishes. The 1884

Atlas of Boston (map 3) shows the rectangular shape of the burying ground, as well as a narrow right-of-way extending west to Washington Street. By 1904 the right-of-way still existed, but was no longer

shown as part of the burying ground.

In 1870 the city assumed responsibility for care of all municipal cemeteries, including Dorchester South.

Initially, cemeteries were under the Board of Health because of serious problems associated with the

city’s oldest burying grounds. In 1897, responsibility for all Boston cemeteries was transferred to the

newly established Boston Cemetery Department, which began a systematic upgrade of the city’s older

burial grounds. The new caretakers commented that records were very poor, and that the roads were not

properly constructed, requiring grading and resurfacing.

Annual reports from the early 20th century also provide a window into cemetery operations. The

cemetery was open to visitors during the day and received a small amount of money from the sale of

cemetery lots. By 1905 there was a tool shed in the southern part of the cemetery, the foundation of

which still remains. Through the 20th century, burials at Dorchester South continued at a slower rate than

they had in the 19th century, mostly occurring in existing family lots, and only modest improvements were made to the cemetery. The most recent burials occurred in 1989.

By the 1980s, most of the city’s older burial grounds were in disrepair, so the City of Boston created the

Historic Burial Grounds Initiative to document existing conditions in each of the 21 oldest burial grounds.

This led to a large effort to restore the older burial grounds, beginning with the downtown ones, followed

by those in outlying parts of the city. In the late 1990s, a Master Plan report was prepared for Dorchester

South, followed by restoration of the headstones and improvements to the perimeter fence.

Archaeological Significance

The Dorchester South Burying Ground was created in what was once a rural area of the town of

Dorchester. Today, the area is surrounded entirely by residential, commercial, and medical development.

The currently known and potential archaeological resources, as described, may contribute important

social, cultural, and religious information related to the use of the property by Native Americans and the

use of the property as a burying ground, with burials of approximately 1 ,800 individuals. Stratified

deposits and buried features in the areas not disturbed by burial shafts, or the documented grading and

landscaping associated with burying ground improvements and maintenance, may provide additional

information about the Late Archaic (5,000-3,500 BP) use of the property, and possibly additional

occupations before and after this period.

Throughout the burying ground there is great possibility to identify unmarked burial shafts, tombs, and

other burial-related subsurface features that have since lost any above-ground markers. Additionally, the

modification of the burying ground in the 1830s, and subsequent re-alignment and organization of burial

locations and layout of roads, may have resulted in the 1811-1830 burials no longer being documented

within the system of roads and plots currently recorded for the burying ground. Archaeological

investigation could potentially locate and demarcate these first burials, likely in the center of the cemetery

as described previously, and could potentially identify unmarked graves based on forensic characteristics

and burial goods. As a documented cemetery with a known Native American occupation within its

boundaries, the entire Dorchester South Burying Ground has high potential for significant archaeological


9. Major Bibliographical References


Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Files of the Historic Burying Grounds Initiative, including

historic maps, gravestone inventory records, Park Commission records, and City Council records.

Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Historic Burying Grounds Initiative 3-Volume Master Plan.

Boston 1987.

Clapp, Ebenezer Jr. History of the Town of Dorchester. Dorchester, MA: Dorchester Antiquarian and

Historical Society, 1859. (Available on Google books.)

Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town 1630-1893. Cambridge:

Published by the author, John Wilson & Son, University Press, 1893. (Available on Google books.)

Simmons, Scott E. “The Dorchester South Burying Ground and the Rural Cemetery Movement.” 

Unpublished manuscript in the files of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, 1986.

Thornton, Tamara Plakins. Cultivating Gentlemen, The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite,

1785-1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Walker-Kluesing Design Group. Historic Burying Grounds Master Plan. Boston: Parks and Recreation

Department, August 1998.

Verbal Boundary Description (Describe the boundaries of the property.)

Dorchester South Burying Ground consists of a single two-acre parcel located at 2095 Dorchester

A venue, Boston. The parcel number is: 1704193000. The parcel is bounded by Dorchester A venue on

the east and O’Connell Road on the west. Gallivan Boulevard lies one block to the north, and Valley

Road lies one block to the south.

Boundary Justification (Explain why the boundaries were selected.)

The nomination encompasses the entire area that comprises Dorchester South Burial Ground, approximately two acres. It does not include the former right-of-way that extends west of the cemetery to Washington Street.

9. Form Prepared By

name/title: Shary Berg, preservation consultant, with Betsy Friedberg, MHC NR Director

organization: Massachusetts Historical Commission

street & number: 220 Morrissey Boulevard

city or town~ Boston state: MA zip code:


telephone: 617-727-8470

date: May, 2014


Posted on

April 9, 2020