Following Clues to Restore an Historic Cemetery (more clues still needed!)

Have you recently noticed a “new” cemetery emerging on Dresden Avenue across from the Common?

What you are actually witnessing is the re-emergence of the oldest identifiable burial ground in Gardiner.  With stones dating back to 1791, the “Old Churchyard” actually takes us back to the days when Gardinerston was known as Pittston, Robert Hallowell Gardiner was just a boy, and Revolutionary War General Henry Dearborn lived where the library now stands.

St. Ann’s Church, between Christ Church and the Gardiner Lyceum, c. 1830. The burial ground contains stones dating back to 1791.

The churchyard was originally consecrated for those who worshiped at St. Ann’s, an Episcopal church established at the behest of Sylvester Gardiner and the first church built in the region.  The history of St. Ann’s, itself, is a colorful story…. including fires, a madman, and various re-buildings and alterations (stop by the Community Archives Room for a full account!)  Many of Gardiner’s earliest and most influential citizens had close ties to the church, as well as with it’s successor, Christ Church (built in 1820) — and many of them (and their loved ones) were laid to rest in the old churchyard.

The known graves in the churchyard span from 1791 to 1892, with most dating from about 1800 to the 1850s. By the end of the century, however, the old churchyard seemed largely forgotten; in 1890, the Gardiner Home Journal noted “One stone was so sunken that the only part visible was the top bearing an urn and weeping willow with the name “Capt. David Lincoln.”  By the turn of the following century, fewer than 10 stones were still standing.

Thanks to a few hardy volunteers (as well as hundreds of hours of labor and a fair amount of research), the churchyard is looking much different today.  Bill King, of Bath, had once photographed a row of his ancestors’ stones on a visit to Gardiner, but when he returned years later, he found stones downed, broken, and moved from their proper locations.  Thanks to only two photographs known to exist, he and Hank McIntyre have been able to re-place about two dozen stones to date.  A few more will be ready to return to their known spaces by next summer.

St. Ann's Churchyard and O.C. Woodman School, c. 1990
This is one of only two known photographs of the the churchyard before restoration. If you know of any others, please contact Dawn in the Community Archives Room!

However, many more stones remain and their proper locations are unknown.  In August, Ground Penetrating Radar identified 40 “anomalies,” or likely grave locations for which no stone was standing.  That number aligned with the list of graves known to exist in the early 1900s.  The exploration even turned up a long-buried (and perfectly preserved) headstone and footstone from 1814.

Ground-Pentrating Radar, summer 2017.
Ground-Penetrating Radar identified 40 “anomalies” in the churchyard.

A trove of over two dozen broken headstones (plus a dozen footstones) still await repair and eventual re-placement, but physical challenges are only part of the concern.

Some of the stones are in many pieces

 

Still others are incomplete

The greatest challenge remains linking the remaining stones to their proper locations.  Researching historical and genealogical records has helped to identify many family connections and relationships among the buried, but without any photographic clues it is difficult to know which stone belongs where.

The “planting” season is over for now and this winter will be busy with stone repair and research.  In the meantime, we still hope that someone, somewhere, might find an old photograph of the Old Churchyard (even if it’s in the background) before next summer.  After all, Maine winters are long and perfect for sifting through old photographs — and any clue might help!  If you do find something (or have questions), please contact Dawn at the library (582-6890 or archive@gpl.lib.me.us).

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For the Love of a Library

Some of my best memories from childhood were spent with a book. I can remember many a time being dropped off at the public library where I would spend hours surrounded by books and I would read to my heart’s content. I could go an adventure, visit a foreign land, or solve a mystery with my favorite detective, Nancy Drew. Many times I would become cross with my mother because she’d pick me up too early, wherein she would inform me that I’d been on my own in a sea of books for hours.

I was lucky enough to spend time in the public libraries of whatever town in which we were stationed. I spent my summers in Maine, visiting my grandmother, Marguerite Kierstead. As a retired schoolteacher, she made sure to feed my voracious appetite for books. As an adult, I am unable to be without a book, and as such, I am a frequent patron of my local library. Gardiner Public Library holds a special place in my heart. It is the same library where my grandmother brought me in the summer, and the same library where I now work once a week.
Anne Davis does an amazing job of overseeing Gardiner Public Library. GPL has quite an extensive collection, is frequented by hundreds of patrons, and is run with a fantastic, albeit skeleton, crew. We should be celebrating the jewel that GPL is in our community, rather than continually questioning its purpose and need.
I am a teacher now myself, and I know of many kids who don’t have books at home. Yes, they can access their school library, however the collections at public libraries tend to be much larger than those at schools. GPL has a wonderful children’s room where kids can enrich their vocabulary and deepen their comprehension by having access to a vast variety of materials.
GPL is just as much a haven for adults as it is kids. We have a beautiful art history collection, a rather large Large Print section, and a wonderful archives room, just to mention a few of the “amenities”. Many people use the internet, attend book clubs, and rent movies for free.
The incredibly knowledgeable staff at GPL is there to serve and support your needs. If you live in one of our participating towns, please support us by becoming a member!
Sarah Duffy, Library Assistant

Ladies Literary Overnight

Recently we had our second annual Ladies Literary Sleepover in the library – yes, we did it a second time!
Eighteen women had fun in the library, after hours.  We talked, we ate, we laughed, we ate, we played games, we talked, we visited, we ate, we slept (a little) and we got up and did it all again!
The ladies began arriving around 7:00, munchies and sleeping bags in hand.  We set up our buffet of yummies in the Young Adult Room, and YUMMIES they were!  We had blueberries, chips, fruit, salad, pizza, eggs, soda and chocolate (it’s not a party without chocolate!!!).
Dawn Thistle, our Archives Librarian, had an historic Gardiner scavenger hunt.  Everyone gathered in the Reading Room, for this interactive trip through the area – from the 1800s forward.  What a fascinating way to learn about where we live.

 

After munching, and chatting some more, folks migrated to various areas of the library – some for games, Scrabble and Hugger Mugger in particular, some for reading of books, some for reading of tarot cards, and some for more visiting.
Eventually, we chose our various sleeping spots – several in the Children’s Room – on the stage, in the puppet area, as well as surrounding the train.  The rest of us slept on the main level of the library – one person opted to sleep in the stacks among the biographies, but the majority spread out in the Reading Room.
Sunday morning we were up early – coffee, fruit and Frosty’s donuts were on the menu – can I just say YUM!!!  We all gathered our various and sundry belongings, checked the stacks one last time, and headed home to our regularly scheduled Sunday events.
Will we do this next year???  Watch the calendar and check with staff for a sleepover next Summer!