WEST NEWBURY — Twelve mostly forgotten souls in a cemetery once designated for indigent elderly and infirm people in town can rest easier thanks to the efforts of Pentucket Regional High School 10th-grader Kade Markee Dennis and his team of volunteers.
As part of an Eagle Scout project, Dennis organized fellow Scouts from Troop 41, along with family members, friends and Historical Commission members, to help him clear the neglected, old burial ground off Poorehouse Lane of fallen trees and brush.
“Many people don’t know the cemetery is even there,” said Chair Bob Janes of the Historical Commission when the Almshouse Cemetery was rediscovered in January.
The Merrimac sophomore said he first learned of the cemetery from his father, who read about it in a Daily News article.
“We both really like history so I thought it might be an opportunity to learn more about it and incorporate it into my (Eagle Scout) project,” Dennis said.
His father is retired West Newbury police Chief Jonathan Dennis and his mother is former longtime West Newbury Finance Director Tracy Blais, who is now town administrator in Newbury.
“My uncle Scott Dennis is really into genealogy and he helped find out some details about the Almshouse and who might be buried there,” the teen said.
There are no visible stone markers and records of burials at the site are sketchy, but according to the town’s vital records, the following five burials spots are listed for the Almshouse Cemetery:
“James Burrill, d. 12/4/1855 ae 91 yr, 11 mo, 2 dy, a pauper
(...) England, widowed female, d. 1/9/1857
Gilman Tewksbury, d. 3/26/1859, ae 44 yr, son of Thomas & Sarah Tewksbury.
Thomas Tewksbury, d. 12/15/1859, 68 yr, 5 mo, 20 dy, son of Jonathan
Anna Woodman, single, d. 6/23/1859, ae 75 yr, dau of Mark & Anna Woodman”
Further research – which included a review of the 1850 federal census – indicated the tract could be home to as many as 12 graves.
According to the book “Cemetery Records of West Newbury,” written by the late Susan Follansbee, a longtime local historian, the cemetery is located on the east side of an abandoned road that leads off the left side of Archelaus Place to Main Street (past the present Town Forest).
Situated at the northwest corner of the Town Forest and the Mill Pond area, the burial ground appears in a 1909 plan of the Mill Pond area found at the Salem Registry of Deeds.
Dennis presented his idea to the Historical Commission and the Select Board for approval before starting the work.
“First, was the planning, which took more time than I thought,” he said. He raised money, purchased supplies, and lined up equipment and volunteers to tackle the approximately 60-by-60-foot site. The work took a little less than four days to complete.
The Scout admits that coordinating schedules was challenging and doing it all while attending school and playing Pentucket sports was tricky.
“I never realized how much planning goes into a project like this,” he said, “ It wouldn’t have happened without the help of my parents and grandparents, aunt, uncles, brothers and sister. My troop members were great in assisting with the cleanup and the Historical Commission helped me so much with all the planning – especially Bob Janes and my new friend (commission member) Elisa Grammer. She is awesome!”
Dennis is awaiting an official board review of his Eagle Scout project. In the long term, his dream is to attend The College of Holy Cross in Worcester – where his older brother Conner Durkin went – and then go to medical school.
Commissioners plan to erect a sign to mark the location of the Almshouse Cemetery and the burial ground will be included on the town’s trail maps for the public to visit. A reference to and map of the spot will appear in the Mill Pond conservation restriction filed with the Essex Registry of Deeds and in the Mill Pond management plan.
“I find it amazing that after all these years, the stone boundaries were able to be located,” Dennis said. “It’s important to remember and honor those who went before us, even if we do not know them.”