Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 5, 2013

A little cemetery -- a lot of history

Andover Stories
Gail RalstonAndover Historical Society

---- — Hidden in plain sight on the campus of Phillips Academy is a small, less-than-2-acre cemetery. Located off Chapel Avenue, it’s not the town’s oldest, nor is it the largest. What it lacks in size and date, however, is more than made up for in the history of those interred in this sacred space.

The first burial occurred here in 1810, a student at the Andover Theological Seminary named Lewis LeConte Congar. The land was owned by Isaac Blunt, proprietor of the Blunt Tavern on Salem Street. Approached by the Trustees of the Seminary, Blunt sold to the school, in 1820, a 1.01 parcel of land for $400. The cemetery was now officially open to serve the seminary as well as Phillips and, later, Abbot Academies.

In 1872, a group of volunteers formed the Chapel Cemetery Association. Each member owned a plot and each pledged $25 to be used for the care and maintenance of the monuments and landscape.

For the next 30 years, the association attempted to gain possession of the cemetery, but the trustees failed to act on their request until 1908, the year the seminary left the campus. By then, the association had established a constitution and bylaws creating the group as a legal entity. The land was formally conveyed to the association that year “on the condition that it shall be used for a cemetery for the burial of the dead, and for no other purpose whatsoever.”

Over the years, various firms would propose plans for the layout and landscape. In 1921, the Olmsted brothers designed an addition to the property to bring the total, and current, acreage to 1.78 acres. Burial inventories were also conducted, and the association found it necessary to consider future plans in light of the finite space. One solution was the creation of a circular garth that added 88 cremation burials. A master plan was published in 2007 and a conservation plan in 2012.

Within the Chapel Cemetery’s stone walls, the history of those buried not only reflects teachers at the seminary and the academies, but also tells the stories of individuals active in town as well as on campus.

John Dove, the man who proposed flax production to the town’s Smith brothers, and many in his family greet the visitor at the north entrance. Alice Buck, the woman who led the charge to save Indian Ridge, resides along the main path. Women authors Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Sarah Stuart Robbins are buried here.

Other Andover residents include Warren Draper, the printer; Charles Carter, park commissioner and business owner; and John Aiken, textile manufacturer and Central Street resident. Samuel Cram Jackson, first minister of West Parish Church, and Justin Edwards, third South Church minister, are neighbors.

Cecil Bancroft, the academy’s eighth principal, was honored as chairman of the town’s 250th Anniversary celebration, while Professor John Wesley Churchill served as toastmaster for the 1896 Banquet.

And arguably the most famous burial is that of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mrs. Stowe came to Andover in 1852 with her husband, Calvin, who had just been hired as seminary professor. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had just been published and, once on campus, Mrs. Stowe continued her writing. Residing at the stone building once used as a carpentry shop for the Seminary, Mrs. Stowe challenged the sensibilities of Andover residents by hosting parties, charades and putting up a Christmas tree at a time when such celebrations were not observed.

The Chapel Cemetery continues to serve as the final resting place for many connected to the academy. Memorial trees are also being planted to honor respected and beloved teachers. With its history, the stories yet to be uncovered, and the trust undertaken, the association holds proudly this space as, in its words, an “historically vital country cemetery.”