May 3, 2022
The City of Portsmouth Cemetery Committee is organizing a headstone-cleaning project in the historic North Cemetery on Maplewood Avenue on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Volunteers are invited to register to join the Committee between 9 am and noon to learn how preservationists clean and preserve historic grave markers.
Limited space is available, so registration is required, using the form here: https://www.cityofportsmouth.com/city/cemetery-committee-contacts
Expert preservationists John Lord from the NH Old Graveyard Association (NHOGA.com) and Michael Griffin, a member of the Committee and caretaker for the historic, private Sagamore and Harmony Cemeteries, will lead the effort. All necessary and appropriate materials for the job are being supplied by the Department of Public Works which has jurisdiction over maintaining the City’s historic cemeteries and the African Burying Ground Memorial, as resources allow. The City Council voted on April 18 to approve the allocation of up to $2,500 from the Historic Cemetery Trust for this project.
In a presentation to the City Council, Committee member Chris Benecick noted that, “It is important to remember the lives once lived who have stories to tell.” He detailed the diverse and significant Portsmouth residents, including New Hampshire’s first Governor John Langdon, signer of the Declaration of Independence William Whipple, his enslaved servant Prince Whipple and other free and enslaved Africans, the first Jewish resident and early Catholics who are buried in the colonial North Cemetery and Victorian Union Cemetery. North Cemetery is the largest 1700s cemetery in the Northeast, with 1800 graves, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It is important for us to protect these historic places amid the growth and development surrounding them,” said Susan Sterry, co-chair of the Cemetery Committee. “These cemeteries exist as invaluable records of the lives and final resting places of residents of the community over its nearly 400-year history.”
In addition to organizing the cleaning project, the Cemetery Committee is dedicated to educating the public about the City’s historic cemeteries, including North and Union Cemeteries on Maplewood Avenue, Point of Graves on Mechanic Street, Pleasant Street Cemetery, and the Elmwood and c. 1671 Cotton Cemeteries adjacent to Proprietors Cemetery on South Street.
The City's Cemetery Committee recently received notification from the NH Division of Historic Resources that the State Historical Resources Council has approved their application to list Portsmouth's historic Union Cemetery on the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places.
The Cemetery Committee is working to increase the visibility of the Historic Cemetery Trust and to encourage the public to donate to the Trust to help offset the cost of future preservation efforts. Donations are welcome via the secure online donation portal on the City website.