Fairview Cemetery

One of the earliest burials at what is now Fairview Cemetery was believed to be that of Abram Wright, in 1702 (the gravestone is no longer identified), when the cemetery was a half-acre of pasture dotted with flat slate tombstones. It was not a churchyard, since there was no church nearby. The area was still the “west precinct” of Chelmsford then, and many area residents were buried at the Forefather’s Burying Ground behind First Parish Church in Chelmsford Center.

After Westford became a town in 1729, the cemetery was called East Burying Ground.  More than a century later it was locally and fondly known as “Snow’s Cemetery” after long time caretaker Levi Snow who lived across the street.  He managed the cemetery from 1835 until his death in 1869, when he was laid to rest in the grounds he once lovingly tended.

Levi Snow assumed the care of East Burying Ground just as the nation was undergoing a cultural change in attitude towards death and cemeteries. The creation of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA in 1831, designed by landscape and horticultural artists, forever changed cemetery design and fostered a new compassion for the care of the deceased. From then on, American cemeteries strived to become “garden style” burial grounds rather than somewhat unruly, foreboding plots. Landscaped, serene places of beauty and dignity for the dead, where surviving loved ones could pay their respects and seek solace, became the cultural norm. East Burying Ground was both gifted with and acquired more acreage starting in 1768; as it grew, its caretakers followed the example of Mount Auburn and considered the aesthetic element as well as the practical layout. Pasture once mowed by cows was gradually transformed with ornamental trees and flowers, landscaped lawns, well-placed stone walls, and graceful paths and avenues.

In 1858, just as the Old Division was being expanded, Levi Snow was paid to lay “24-1/2 rods” (392 feet) of granite wall at the east end of Main Street.  Nathan Hamblin and B.F. Keyes added other structural elements.  In 1871, two years before land for the East Division was acquired, George Drew built into the Main Street border wall a “Town Tomb” from slabs of granite mined from Westford’s famous quarries.  The crypt held coffins in wintertime when the ground was too hard to penetrate, awaiting spring burial. Drew also built a “Hearse House” behind what is now the First Parish Church on Main Street for the town’s horse-drawn hearse, a richly upholstered wagon enclosed by glass windows, painted black and gold, and trimmed with silk tassels. Up until 1890, the First Parish Church bell tolled 100 times to announce a resident’s death, followed by four to six peals to signify the person’s sex and another toll of bells to count that person’s years on earth, heard throughout town as the hearse was drawn to the cemetery. Another hearse garage was later constructed at the cemetery near the Tadmuck Road entrance; after the hearse was sold in 1943 it became a tool shed. An office and garage for heavy equipment was later built in 1984.

Drew built the Town Tomb next to the tomb for the family of Solomon Richardson, containing nine descendants of one of the area’s founding families, who died between 1817-1902.  One other tomb is located inside the cemetery, for members of the well-known Abbot, Fletcher, Heywood, Keyes, and Proctor clans who died between 1816-1926.

Edward Symmes, a locally prominent civil engineer and surveyor who created the 1855 map of Westford, designed the plan for the new East Division addition in 1876. His original plan included the present curvilinear path and a large water fountain, but the fountain was conceded to allow for burial space. Symmes was laid to rest at Fairview in 1888.

In 1880 George Yapp, who lived on Concord Street, laid 580 feet of coursed granite ashlar border wall, two to four feet high, topped with flat capstone. Granite pillars of cobblestone and concrete to form gateways were added. When it was finished three years later, the cemetery border stretched 1,000 feet along Main Street and Tadmuck Road and cost a grand sum of $364. The fieldstone wall at the back of the cemetery borders residential backyards on Fairview Drive.

In 1894 the town cemetery commission created a procedure for residents to buy lots and contribute to a fund for “perpetual care,” which ensured permanent maintenance of the grounds.  The following year a tree-planting campaign greatly enhanced the cemetery with many local and hardy species. At the same time, the town petitioned residents to come up with “more pleasing and euphonious names” for the town’s cemeteries. West and North burying grounds were subsequently named Westlawn and Hillside, respectively. East Burying Ground, now the town’s largest and prettiest, was renamed Fairview. The new name was carved into the granite entrance at the corner of Main Street in 1896.

That same year a white gazebo, called the “Shade House” or “Summer House,” was built by William Edwards, who built the Town Hall in 1870 and who had finished the J. V. Fletcher Library the year before. The octagonal gazebo, about ten feet across, offered visitors and mourners shelter from the elements.  The gazebo was rebuilt by students from nearby Nashoba Valley Technical High School in 1982 and repaired in years since.

Fairview continued to grow, improve, and reflect the sentiments of the community.  In 1902 the patriotic organization Sons of the American Revolution (S.A.R.) placed cast iron Maltese crosses, carved with an image of the famous Minuteman statue by Daniel Chester French that stands at the Old North Bridge in Concord, MA, on the graves of Revolutionary War veterans. Many of Westford’s large Minutemen contingent fought at Lexington and Concord, the Siege of Boston, and the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Another section of the cemetery was established in 1906 for Civil War veterans, called the Soldiers’ Lot, marked with several white, arched, government-issued stones. Between 1907-1938, an unmarked section called “Strangers Row” was reserved for the burial of approximately 14 unidentified, unclaimed, or indigent persons. In 1997 the Cemetery Commission placed a large memorial stone in the East Division etched with a sentiment of respect for those lost souls.

The New Division, a narrow strip of land on the southern border, was added in 1924. Before that time most of the people buried at Fairview were white, British descendants; after this addition the cemetery became more diverse in the ethnicity of its surnames and types of gravestones.   

The Tadmuck Division, added to the west end of the cemetery closer to Tadmuck Road, was added in 1936.  Much of the wall built in the 1930s and early 1940s was done by laborers working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get people back on their feet during the Great Depression.

The West and Old West Divisions, from Main Street into the middle of the cemetery, contains the oldest graves, some 300 black and gray flat slate markers from the Colonial and Federal periods.  Many of the hand-carved markers are still legible and in good condition.  Veterans of the Revolutionary War and many founding members of the community rest here.  The simple arched headstones are thought to represent the “portal” between life and death, and abstractedly, also the shape of a person’s head and shoulders. Burials were typically laid behind the stone then; today almost all burials occur in front of the monument.  Many of the stones feature illustrations of skulls, the symbol of death, and range in height from a foot to over five feet tall.

As cultural attitudes changed over time, so did the headstones. Federal and Victorian memorials moved away from the Puritan and Colonial fear of grim death and began to reflect more compassionate sentiments of sorrow, loss, or even the celebration of life in their designs. Angels, urns, willow branches, and classical columns became popular. Poetry was often carved, and angel wings or scalloped collars were added to the skulls (“winged death heads”).

As Westford’s most prominent cemetery, citizens of all backgrounds were buried at Fairview and their memorials are just as unique in style and material. Tombstones, obelisks, chests, tablets, and statues made of slate, granite, marble, pink quartz, and sandstone can be found. The grave of Charles J. Searles (1836-1901) has a monument of zinc, which was common at the time. Also called “white bronze,” the three-foot obelisk resembling quarry-faced granite was made by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport CT, which operated until after WWI.  Some granite stones are made to look like tree stumps, symbolizing a life cut short. Small statues of lambs, usually made of white marble, symbolized the death of a child.

Joseph B. Griffin (1816-1896) and his family have Fairview’s only spherical monument, a pink granite globe roughly three feet diameter resting atop a base of grey granite. The tallest monument at Fairview, an obelisk of polished pink granite, honors the family of John William Pitt Abbot (1806-1872), a Westford attorney, mill and railroad owner, and trustee of Westford Academy. Perhaps the most unusual memorial rests atop the grave of George Heywood (1829-1914), who owned a grist mill on Depot Street next to the Stony Brook Railroad tracks.  A large granite grindstone, polished on one side and bearing deep grooves on the other, could have been taken from his own mill. Today, modern gravestones might feature laser-etched photos of the deceased or symbols of their hobbies or careers.

Although church bells no longer toll hundreds of times after the death of its citizens, Westford continues to honor the gravesites and memories of loved ones entrusted to its care. American flags are placed annually on the graves of veterans on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and in December holiday wreaths are also placed. For most of the year, the cemetery is bright with flowers left for loved ones and canopied by flowered trees or autumn leaves.

Located one mile east of Westford Center at the corner of Main Street and Tadmuck Road, Westford’s first public cemetery is the largest (10.45 acres) and second-oldest (after the historic Old Pioneer Burying Ground) in town. Fairview Cemetery has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002.

Although still holding burials for current deed holders, Fairview no longer sell plots for full-casket burials and only a few lots remain available for urns; please see our price sheet or contact the Cemetery Department for more information. Please read and observe our rules and regulations when visiting our cemeteries.

 

Google Map/Directions:  From 495N or 495S: Take left off Exit 32/Westford ramp from 495N, or right off ramp from 495S to take Boston Road to Westford Center/Common. Take a right at Common and pass the J.V. Fletcher Library, Town Hall/fire/police station. After passing the Rhoudenbush Community Center, bear right to stay on Main Street and pass the Frost School. Fairview Cemetery will be on your right after you pass the stores and Whitney’s garage.

 From Chelmsford: Take Rte. 110 into Westford and take a right on Tadmuck Road (not Tadmuck Lane), Fairview is at end of Tadmuck/Main Street.  From the Drum Hill Rotary in Chelmsford, take Old Westford Road pass the Chelmsford High School sports fields and climb hill into Westford, which turns into Main Street. Fairview will be on your left.