Friday, April 23, 2010

Volunteers Needed for Cleanup of Town’s Oldest Cemetery

A cleanup of Old Fields Burying Ground on Vine Street will be held on the morning of Saturday, May 1 from 7 a.m. until noon. The rain date will be Sunday, May 2.
Neighbors and everyone who appreciates old cemeteries are invited to stop by any time, don gloves and pick up brush and leaves among the old headstones. Organizers Bruce and Vicky Whitney will provide free lunch at noon.
Located near the corner of Vine and Brattle Streets, the Old Fields Burying Ground was once South Berwick’s chief cemetery and dates from the 1600s.
“For the past two years, the neighbors of Old Fields and members of the Old Berwick Historical Society have joined together to help clean up and bring new life to the historic Old Fields Burying Ground,” Bruce Whitney said, adding that all ages and all talent levels are welcomed.
“It doesn’t matter where you live in town,” he said. “If you have an hour or two on May 1, please join us. If you have a rake and a ground cloth, please bring them. And everybody should dress with long pants and long sleeves.”
So far over the past two years, volunteers have removed 40 trees from the overgrown cemetery, which covers 1.75 acres overlooking Leigh’s Mill Pond. Some eight tons of leaves, logs, branches and brush have been cleaned up and hauled off, said Whitney.
The number of volunteers grew from 24 to 44 last year, and Whitney is hoping to see 50 helpers this year.
“The transformation of this cemetery is not complete but great and noticeable progress has been achieved,” he added. “You will work hard and you will work constantly, but you will also be rewarded for your efforts.”
Also known as Vine Street Cemetery, the Old Fields Burying Ground contains 339 known graves, including South Berwick’s founders and veterans of the World Wars, Civil War, French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. It is no longer cared for by local cemetery authorities and currently depends on volunteers for maintenance.
One of the interesting graves is that of the early colonist Hetty Goodwin, who was captured by the Indians and carried to Canada in 1689.
Veterans’ graves include those of a Civil War brevet major, and soldiers of the American Revolution. The cemetery is also the resting place of early Congregational ministers, including Rev. Jeremiah Wise, ordained here 300 years ago when this area was the center of town. The community’s main church stood here and residents worked at sawmills on the Great Works River and a shipyard near the Hamilton House. Jonathan Hamilton’s grave is in the burying ground as well.
For more information about the cleanup event, please contact Bruce Whitney (207) 384-384-2051, 384-2753 or BWHITNEY@GWI.NET. History information about the cemetery can be found at the Old Berwick Historical Society’s website,
Photo caption: Volunteers are needed to clean up Old Fields Burying Ground on Vine Street in South Berwick on Saturday, May 1, from 7 a.m. to noon. Shown here are some of last year’s spring cleanup volunteers. (Courtesy photo)