Salem Street Burying Ground
The Salem Street Burying Ground (photo by Julius Long)
1930 plaque at entrance gate (photo by Julius Long)
Commemorative boulder for Bunker Hill soldiers (image from Wikimedia Commons)
Backstory and Context
During the 19th century, modifications were made to the Salem Street Burying Ground according to changing ideas of fashionable cemetery design. These included the rearranging of tombstones into strict alignment and later the rotation of the tombstones 180 degrees to face new gravel paths, numerous changes to the material and style of the perimeter fence, the construction of a granite wall along the eastern side, landscaping to create a “garden” cemetery in the Victorian style, and the addition of two monuments [1; 2; 3]. The first is an obelisk commemorating physician, Revolutionary, and Massachusetts Governor John Brooks (1752-1825), which was erected in 1838. The other is a commemorative boulder honoring the New Hampshire soldiers who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, which was dedicated in 1849 . In the latter half of the 19th century, the area surrounding the cemetery became more active as Medford grew. Neighboring the Salem Street burying ground were the First Baptist Church of Medford (1841-1873), the Boston & Main Railroad’s Medford line and its locomotive house and train shed (1847-1900s), a coal yard, a rum distillery, a livery stable and boarding house (1872-1910), and a lumberyard. As the cemetery could no longer expand, burials slowed, and Oak Grove Cemetery became the preferred burying place for Medford citizens. During a ten-year span from 1917-1927, only one person was buried at Salem Street, and only two more (in 1934 and 1938) followed . At least 600 people were interred at the burying ground in its nearly 280 years of use. In 1930, Medford added a formal gate and commemorative plaques at the entrance in honor of Medford’s tricentennial .Unfortunately, during the 1940s the tombs were buried under new sidewalks during a street widening project which necessitated pushing back the Salem Street Burying Ground’s perimeter wall. Vandalism in the 1990s led to the disappearance and breaking of a number of the slate headstones, but recent efforts by the Medford Historical Commission have resulted in the restoration of many of these . The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. It holds 425 tombstones, mainly carved slate, with iconography spanning the Puritan era (death’s heads), the “Great Awakening” period (cherubim), and more secular neoclassical images associated with the later 19th century .