Friday, April 11, 2014



The upper most photo was taken today, April 11, 2014

The lower picture shows the condition of the stones in 2009, prior to the Reclamation project. 

     Over the last month, I have succeeded in accumulating a growing amount of research material, records, and on-going questions about the residents of the East Deering/ Grand Trunk Cemetery and I need another file box, or two!  Re-creating the story of the lives of these early settlers who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries is an adventure which has taken me by surprise.  More and more, I find myself reading about the early history of Old Falmouth, the town of Deering and what and who contributed to the city we know as Portland.

     Recently, I was invited to participate on a panel to discuss the 'Future of Historic Cemeteries in Southern Maine', sponsored by Spirits Alive, the group that is dedicated to the care and preservation of Eastern Cemetery.  I was asked to speak 'briefly' about the situation of the cemetery before Samantha and Kayla decided to take on the reclamation project and why volunteers came forward, and who they were.  

     This photograph of the Boothbys' memorial stones in 2009 was one I shared to demonstrate the effect of the vandalism.  The whole site was strewn with glass, cans, and trash and all of the remaining stones were covered in blue spray paint.  The area was over-grown with brush and broken branches.Once the young women connected with the City of Portland Cemeteries Division, and declared their commitment, actions were taken to cleanup the burial site.  

     This was not the first effort to preserve what little remained of the Grand Trunk Cemetery.  In 1898, Leonard Bond Chapman, self appointed care-taker of the 'ancient' burial sites, exhorted the Selectmen of the town of Deering to support and care for these sites who housed the remains of the areas first settlers.  Chapman  specifically mentions the East Deering plot as one of those needing care, even then.  
     Our friend, Theodore Sawyer, author of 'From Back Cove to Quaker Lane', and who,  I so often refer to in my posts, shared his concerns and exhorted the City Council to take action to take care of this cemetery.  He did this before leaving the state in 1967.  In 1973, he petitioned the Maine Old Cemetery for direction and aid.  Numerous articles published in the then, Portland Evening Express were written about the deteriorating condition of the Grand Trunk Cemetery by a number of concerned citizens; in 1967, 1981, 1999.

     In 1999/2000, Presumpscot School teacher, David Millard,  and his students and parent volunteers  did an extraordinary project in research,  and in marking the graves at the cemetery. They were able to use ground penetrating radar to locate at least 100 graves.  They marked these with wooden crosses.  The students and school received a certificate of merit from the Maine Old Cemetery Association.  Unfortunately, vandals made off with the crosses and proceeded to desecrate the stones with spray paint.  The area again, became over-grown and lost any resemblance to a sacred burial ground.

     The city of Portland has in its care two large cemeteries:  Evergreen and Forest City and twelve 'inactive' cemeteries.  With the limitation of budget and personnel, the largest of the inactive cemeteries; Eastern and Western require more attention.  Of the twelve, the East Deering/Grand Trunk was probably the most devastated and efforts to  preserve the little that remained always seemed futile, and thwarted by people who just didn't care, or so it as a remote place to party.


     When Samantha and Kayla took on this project, they were convinced that they only way their efforts would be sustained and the remnant of the cemetery preserved for future generations, was to involve the community at every level.  They approached, and made presentations to the East Deering Neighborhood Association, the Parent Council of Presumpscot School, Portland Trails, Spirits Alive, City Councilors and their own Portland Girl Scout Service Unit.  The tour of the cemetery helped to bring some of these people together; many of whom never realized that the cemetery even existed. Articles published in local newspapers raised interest in the project and people regularly stopped by to visit.

    The invaluable help and research expertise of Herb Adams in documenting that there were eight Veterans of the Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War, ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Grand Trunk Cemetery Veterans Memorial.  A group of 'Friends' contributed to the 'Adopt A Veteran' project to secure the military records allowing us to receive government issued stones for seven of these men.  
     Probably most significant, is that the project,'Unearthing the Roots of the East Deering and Back Cove Communities', has brought about the connection to living descendants who continue to share information and their continued support for the effort to preserve the remnant of the Grand Trunk Cemetery.  Those who live in the greater Portland area participate in our annual planting parties and have attended our Dedication ceremonies.



     A young man who attended the panel discussion stopped to speak with me and conveyed his interest in what I shared,  but hesitated to ask me what was on his mind.  Finally, respectfully, he asked"  Have you prepared anyone to take over the project? (once I'm gone. of course!)  Very insightful and very important question!




     Three Junior Girls Scouts:  Ella Pillsbury, Emma Brackett and Megan Cunningham will carry on the legacy of their Girl Scout sisters,  Samantha and Kayla,  through their Girl Scout Bronze Award project dedicated to the Grand Trunk Cemetery.  Their project has three components: 
  1.  to plant a perennial garden to honor the memory of the all those interred,
  2.  to create a repository of records to be housed at the Cemetery office, and to,
  3.  have the Machigonne Service Unit (Portland Girl Scouts)  adopt the cemetery as a yearly service project.   
     The photos are of their presentation to the administrative volunteer Service Team and assembled Leaders.  The good news is that the Service Unit agreed and will carry on the project with a yearly commitment:  
  • In the Spring:  clean-up from winter, the pathways, graves and gardens.
  • In the Fall:  hold the annual bulb planting and clean-up gardens to prepare for winter.
     While the city of Portland is committed to the care of its cemeteries, the key to making sure that our inactive, ancient cemeteries receive the attention they need and deserve as historical landmarks, rests with volunteers who will actively participate in their care and over-sight. 
Otherwise the question posed by a concerned gentleman in 1999 to the Maine Old Cemetery Association members about the Grand Trunk Cemetery will be all too true:


Final Note

     If any of you who follow this blog are interested in contributing to the girls' project from your own gardens or in any other way,  please contact me.  I know people sometimes have perennials they divide in the spring.  We will keep you informed of the girls progress.  Sometime this summer, we hope to place a stone which will be dedicated to the memory of all those early settlers laid to rest at the GTC.

     I will continue with the story of the Boothby  family in my next post.

Early Spring at the Grand Trunk Cemetery