Portland Girl Scouts set sights on restoring hidden cemetery
PORTLAND — If you weren't looking for it, chances are you'd miss the small East Deering Cemetery, nestled between the back of Presumpscot School and the train tracks.
It's been there for more than 200 years, but with no street access and a location off a well-worn path through the woods, the cemetery has fallen victim to vandals and visitors who leave behind garbage and smashed glass instead of flowers.
Now, two Girl Scouts have made the cemetery their project on the path to earning the highest Girl Scout honor, the Gold Award.
"We have to do something that will carry on," explained Samantha Allshouse, who along with Kayla Theriault is spearheading the restoration project.
The cemetery has had several names over the years, including the Presumpscot Street Cemetery, the Back Cove Cemetery and the Grand Trunk Cemetery.
Allshouse said their research showed the cemetery had started as a family site, and then changed hands several times. It is believed that the Grand Trunk Railroad used it as a place to bury people who died on trains.
The girls found out about the cemetery from Troop 2051 leader Marianne Chapman. Allshouse then got in touch with Presumpscot School teacher David Millard, who had cleaned up the cemetery with one of his classes 10 years ago.
Millard shared some information with Allshouse and Theriault. The girls then visited the Maine Historical Society to research the people who are buried in the graveyard.
Finding the graves is challenging, because most of the stones are now just stubs, or have been toppled or moved. Millard and his class had marked out some of the 104 graves with wooden crosses, but when Allshouse and Theriault took on the project last fall, all they recovered was one, broken cross.
"We got the city to come in, clean out the brush and mow," said Allshouse, a senior at Cheverus High School.
The city also righted a couple of grave stones, and put gravel around them, said Theriault, a senior at Casco Bay High School.
"We're going to clean it again, and get the city to get some of the graffiti off of the stones," said Theriault, standing next to a 200-year-old gravestone someone had scrawled with a vulgarity in blue spray paint. Nearby trees have also been vandalized with spray paint.
The girls hope that by having the school or the East Deering Neighborhood Association to adopt the spot, the vandalism will stop. Portland Trails is also working on improving the nearby trail system.
On Sunday, the two girls and younger scouts and volunteers will clean up the cemetery beginning at noon.
On May 11, they plan to mark the grave sites they have located with numbered stones, which will correspond with a map they will display at a kiosk they are building at the entrance of the cemetery.
On May 22, the girls will lead a public tour of the cemetery from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Another part of the project is to try find relatives of the people buried in the cemetery. Some of the predominant names are Sawyer, Graves, Merrill and Boothby.
As part of her Gold Award project, Allshouse is also designing a curriculum for Millard to use in his classroom about the history of the cemetery.
For more information about the restoration project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.