Historic Portland cemetery gets visible sign of pride

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PORTLAND — One of the city’s most historic sites received something last week it hasn’t had in decades: a sign.

A metal plaque unveiled Nov. 20 now identifies Western Cemetery, the 182-year-old burial ground between the Western Promenade and Vaughan Street. The sign is the latest step in the restoration of the cemetery, which has been subject to vandalism and disrepair for many years, and was used as an off-leash dog run until 2001.

Today, dogs aren’t allowed on the grounds, but a rusting chain-link fence surrounds parts of the cemetery. A neighborhood group, Stewards of the Western Cemetery, is working with the city to replace the fence with a new, more attractive one. The group is trying to raise $40,000 to complete the replacement by spring.

Opened in 1830, the 12-acre cemetery is Portland’s second-oldest. It is home to an estimated 6,600 marked and unmarked graves, including those of Revolutionary War veterans, hundreds of immigrants who fled the Irish potato famine, and the family of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The Stewards group was formed in 2002 to help the city implement recommendations of a master plan for the cemetery, including landscaping and the repair of tombs. But for decades, no sign had marked the historic grounds, according to the group.

“(The new fence and sign) will be visible testimony to our pride in our neighborhood and respect for an important landscape and historic resting place that had been sadly neglected for years,” Stewards President Linda Graffam said.  “The city needs the help of committed neighbors to protect and improve our special places.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

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After decades without any identification, a sign adorns the entrance to Portland’s 182-year-old Western Cemetery. A new fence, some of which already has been installed, right, is expected to encircle the grounds by spring.