Old Pioneer Burying Ground

Most people pass this modest lot (1500-square foot, less than 0.1 acre) at the corner of Old Lowell Road and Carlisle Road (Rte. 225) without realizing its historic significance as Westford’s oldest known burial ground. Old Pioneer was originally a private family burial ground within the vast farmland owned by Aaron Parker in the early 1700s. Parker’s grandfather Abraham had come from England in 1644 and settled in the Woburn area before moving to the Chelmsford territory. Parker and his family were among the earliest settlers in the area, and were listed on the first map when Westford was incorporated in 1729.

Parker and his wife, Abigail Adams (just coincidentally the same name as the wife of second US president John Adams) had 10 children, and they and their resulting clan became so large that this part of Westford forever became known as “Parkerville.” Parker died in 1772, not living to see at least a dozen of his relatives fight as Minutemen in the American Revolution. Many of the Parkers fought at Concord and Lexington, during the siege of Boston, and at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Like many large farming families, the Parkers kept a small area of their property as a cemetery for relatives and close friends. It is said that one relative had an arm amputated and the severed limb was buried here many years before its owner was laid to rest, which inspired many ghost stories. Along with Parker relatives lie several members of the Corey family, who were wiped out by a smallpox epidemic.

Westford history records indicate that in 1788, Aaron’s great-grandson Leonard Parker received one pound and some shillings to bury a Native American man named James Symonds, who had been ill and under his care. It is possible that other Native Americans lived on the land or had connection to the Parker family and were buried here as well. The presence of Symonds inspired the site’s reputation as an “Indian burial ground.”

As many as 22 people may be buried here. None have headstones but chunks of half-buried granite dot the space, surrounded by a low stone wall. A small wooden sign under a pine tree marks the cemetery as a historic resting place for this small group of Westford’s earliest settlers.

About 200 years after the last burial, the owners of the land at the time, James and Adele Fahey, rededicated the cemetery as part of Westford’s July 4th celebration in 1972. A parade featuring costumed Minutemen and fife-and-drum corps paid homage to the Parker family and town history. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, then the state’s senator, sent an American flag that flew over the Capital for the flag pole on the site. The Westford Cemetery Commission undertook the care of Old Pioneer Burying Ground in 1994.

Old Pioneer is strictly a historic site and does not allow burials. Should you visit, please read and observe our rules and regulations.

 

Google Map/Directions:  From Rte. 495: Take Exit 32/Westford, right off ramp from 495N, or left off ramp from 495S onto Boston Road. Stay in middle lane to go straight through lights at intersection (“four corners”) to continue onto Carlisle Road. Old Pioneer Burying Ground is at the corner of Old Lowell Road on your left, surrounded by a low stone wall.

From Chelmsford: Take Rte. 27 from Chelmsford Center, take right onto Carlisle Road (Rte. 225), pass  Jack Walsh Field and take a right onto Carlisle Road. The cemetery is just after this turn, on the right corner of Old Lowell Road surrounded by a low stone wall.