by Maryann Chapman
WHERE HAS PORTLAND GRAND TRUNK CEMETERY GONE? This was the question posed by Karl Rawstron of Portland published in the MOCA Newsletter, December 1999. I am pleased to report that this ancient cemetery is alive and well today thanks to a three year effort on the part of Samantha Allshouse and Kayla Theriault, who adopted the cemetery as a Girl Scout Gold Award project in 2010.
Unfortunately, we cannot turn back the hands of time enough to recreate what this burial ground looked like in the late 1700’s. The ravages of neglect, disinterest, desecration and vandalism have taken away so much that we are left with only a skeletal image of the Presumpscot (Grand Trunk) Cemetery.
Historical Roots of the Grand Trunk Cemetery
(Also referred to as the East Deering or Presumpscot Street Cemetery)
Presumpscot Village was an active town of about three thousand residents from c. 1790 – 1890 before incorporation into Portland. However, as early as 1730, records indicate that many families migrated back to, and settled in Falmouth, now Portland, from Newbury and other towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There is evidence that this burial site was the final resting place for many of these earliest settlers. Land and property changed hands many times, bought and sold by families whose names we recognize today: Sawyer, Blake, Lunt, Noyes, Ilsley, Merrill and Galvin. In nearly all cases, there was consideration of, and references to the existence of the burial site as early as 1740. Many records have been lost over time.
- 1793- The first recorded burial of Susannah Merrill Graves, Aet. 48 wife of Lieut. Crispus Graves, Revolutionary War.
- 1893- The final burial of record for Frances I. Boothby Aet. 78, Wife of Silas Boothby.
- March 1898- Leonard Bond Chapman, self- appointed caretaker of the ‘Ancient Cemeteries’ was officially recognized and appointed custodian of these burial site, including the East Deering Cemetery, though without pay. It is notable that the selectmen of the town did allot $400.00 toward expenses. L.B. Chapman continued his devoted service until his death in 1915.
- “Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead. I will measure exactly the sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.” William Ewart Gladstone
- Over many years, this burial site suffered the ravages of neglect, disinterest, desecration, and vandalism. During, the 1970’s and 80’s it became a dumping ground for discarded appliances and vehicles. A mere eight memorial stones remained intact; all covered with spray paint. It was only individual effort and the determination of the teachers and students of Presumpscot School, and notable community members: Councilor Cheryl Leeman, Mr. David Millard, and Mr. Theodore Sawyer, that prevented the total loss of this ancient site.
- October 2010- Samantha Allshouse and Kayla Theriault take on a Girl Scout Gold Award project to cleanup and recover the cemetery with the support and blessing of the City of Portland, Public Services Cemeteries Division. Research uncovers the fact that there are eight veterans buried here, and work begins with the help of historian, Herbert Adams and the newly formed ‘Friends of the Grand Trunk Cemetery’ to acquire replacement stones from the Veterans Administration. A kiosk is built to house the graphic map of the cemetery layout, and white river stones are numbered and placed at each grave.
- August 2012- The Grand Trunk Veterans Memorial is dedicated. Six new memorial stones are placed to honor a veteran of the Revolution and five veterans of the War of 1812. The memorial stone for the Civil War veteran is placed within the enclosure. A memorial bench is also placed in the cemetery to honor the memory of Zoe Sarnacki, former Presumpscot School student; a gift from Samantha and Kayla’s Girl Scout Troop 2051.
- October 2013- Dedication of the memorial stone for Joseph Merrill, Veteran of the War of 1812. Date TBA. Today, we plan to reinstate the cemetery archway or gate. However, we’ve been unable to find any existing photos and thus, we hope that MOCA members might share their knowledge of other Maine cemeteries of the same vintage with existing archways or gates to help us in research. Photos or at least where to look will help. We will begin fund raising once we have adequate information.
On a final note: a week or so prior, while at the cemetery, three descendants of Anthony Sawyer, came to visit their relative’s burial site, all from other states. It was gratifying to know that their continued interest, concern, and support for the Grand Trunk Cemetery resulted from a project of two Maine Girl Scouts whose own determination has inspired a community to examine and value the importance of this small but important historical gem.