Application to National Register of Historic Places
Narrative for Cohasset Central Cemetery
Active for almost three centuries and containing about 500 gravestones, Cohasset Central Cemetery (Coh.804) is sited on a bluff, abutting and overlooking Little Harbor to the north. The rising and falling glaciated terrain of the 4.286-acre cemetery slopes down from North Main Street and is dotted with mature trees. Its borders are North Main Street to the south, Joy Place (formerly known as “the road to the Burying Ground”) and private property to the west, and privately owned land to the east that connects to the residence at 94 North Main St. Located near Boston, Cohasset is a coastal community on the South Shore of Massachusetts.
The Cohasset Town Common, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, lies less than ¼ mile east of the cemetery along North Main Street. Large, well-maintained houses built in the early 1700’s to the early 1900’s, including one of the oldest houses in Cohasset (1713), characterize North Main Street in the vicinity of the Common. Joy Place, abutting the cemetery, features two early houses (1765 and 1808) and six from the mid 1900’s.
The cemetery is fenced on three sides with the fourth (north side) abutting Little Harbor. The main entrance (at Terrace Drive) consists of an ornate iron gate flanked by two dressed, square, granite posts with pyramidal tops and supported by quarter-round granite blocks. Smaller, similar posts linked by metal bars border the cemetery along North Main Street. A wrought iron gate with brass cemetery sign, reading Cohasset Central Cemetery, centers this area. Granite posts linked by chain border Joy Place. Until removed in August 2000, a cyclone fence ran the length of the border along Joy Place. Eleven missing granite posts were found unused on the property and chain was attached to rings imbedded in those granite posts to recreate the original fencing. A network of contiguous curvilinear paths (Terrace Drive, Seaside Avenue Central Avenue and Westerly Avenue) winds through the northern section of the cemetery.
The cemetery has three principal sections that were acquired at different times and reflect changing burial practices and funerary art. The newest section in the north (acquired 1867-1873) is lowland that reaches to the water’s edge at Little Harbor. To the south is the Old Burying Ground (1705, expanded 1787) situated on a bluff with a clear view of Little Harbor and opposite 20 Joy Place. In the southern section of the cemetery (acquired 1825), the terrain rolls down from the Old Burying Ground to a pair of granite retaining walls framing a path known as Garden Way, which was formerly used to provide hearse access. The retaining wall along the north side of Garden Way is approximately two feet high; the one to the south is significantly higher and contains approximately seventeen sealed granite-framed in-ground vaults principally constructed into the retaining wall bordering Garden Way. From the retaining wall, the land rises up a gentle slope in the southernmost section of the cemetery. A variety of trees and manicured shrubs are interspersed throughout and along the borders.
The oldest part of the cemetery contains graves of some of Cohasset’s earliest settlers. Markers are set in small rows and include many arch- and square-top stones made of gray slate and facing west to witness the rising sun of the Day of Judgment. Many different motifs can be found among the stones including winged cherub and winged skull. Of particular interest among these old slates are those attributed to the first and second North River carvers (photo 1, map #5) and the father and son workshop of Jacob Vinal, Sr. (photo 2) and his son, Jacob Vinal, Jr. (photo 3, map #7). The oldest gravesite in the cemetery, that of Margaret Tower (photo 6, map # 11), is dated 1705. The headstone, however, is believed to have been erected several years after her death, so while Margaret Tower’s is the cemetery’s first grave, the first gravestone is that of Sarah Pratt (photo 1, map# 5), who died in 1706.
While slate was almost universal for eighteenth-century gravestones, in the nineteenth century marble and granite emerged as fashionable materials. Particularly common was a dark gray granite quarried in Quincy, Massachusetts, known as “Quincy granite.” Most of these gravestones, which are found in the southern section of the cemetery, typically include urns, obelisks, pointed-arch-top stones, scrolls, and statuary. While some markers are in rows, on the whole they are arranged in a less orderly fashion than the 18th century markers. A small number consist of a monument to a single family surrounded by stone curbing, stone posts, or cast iron fences, many of which are fabricated into a branch motif (photo 14). Some of the Victorian cast iron fencing enclosing gravesites and family plots is in need of conservation, as are some of the marble markers.
A good example of a marble and granite marker is the Jenkins family monument (photo 13, map# 18), etched as follows: “Samuel B. Jenkins, died 1876 at age 37, Adeline B. Jenkins, died 1880 at age 59, and Samuel L. Jenkins, died 1886 at age 74.” Resting on a square granite base, a square marble shaft is topped by a marble statue of an anguished female figure. Gazing to the heavens with her head cocked slightly to one side, she is dressed in classical attire with one hand to her breast and the other holding an anchor. The ca. 1877 marble and granite gravestone of Eliza Chadbourne (map# 21) features contemporary architectural forms: a pointed arch on top emblazoned with a shallow relief sprig of ivy, and a small inscribed panel set between two stylized Corinthian pilasters. Several children’s stones also have display the common Victorian-era motif of kneeling lambs (photo 11, map# 22).
Markers in the northernmost section of the cemetery, the last section to be acquired, vary in materials and styles, but are primarily marble or granite with classical motifs. One exception is a simulated stone marker made of hollow metal belonging to members of the Tower family (map#19). In general, the graves in the north section of the cemetery are not arranged in any particular order; some are in short rows, others in clusters, and others stand alone. Newer grave markers include simple granite stones with smooth and rock-faced finishes, dating from the late nineteenth century to the present day. The graves of several nationally known theater actors who summered in Cohasset are located here. These include William Hanlon; Lawrence P. Barrett (1838-1891; Map # 16), whose marker is a large, unfinished stone standing approximately 4½ feet high engraved with his name and those of two others; and Henry W. Stuart (1836-1903), whose simple, flat, rectangular stone marker bears his stage name, Stuart Robson (map # 17).
Of specific note is the Celtic Cross monument (COH.935; photo 15, map # 14), dedicated in 1914, which stands eighteen feet high on a low hill in the north. It consists of an intricately carved cross resting on a three-part base all made of granite. The marker features the seals of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (clasped hands, harp, rising sun, ivy and shamrocks) and the L.A.A.O.H. (clasped hands, harp, ivy and shamrocks). The inscription recounts the tragic death of ninety-nine Irish emigrants who perished aboard the Brig St. John on October 7, 1849, of which forty-five unidentified victims are buried here. This impressive monument is the apex of the cemetery, emotionally and physically, situated as it is on a knoll, which is further defined by a columbaria wall. The view from the memorial sweeps across a panorama of markers and beyond to Little Harbor and the sea, which has dominated so much of Cohasset’s past. .
In addition to its gravestones, the cemetery contains a receiving tomb built circa 1873 (COH.936; map # 15). Refurbished in 1970, it is now used as the caretaker’s shed for storage of landscaping and maintenance equipment. The one-story, rectangular brick structure has rock-faced gray granite corner quoins, lintels, sills, and foundation. Iron cresting runs along the ridge of the gable roof, and courses of stepped brick form a continuous cornice around the building. Roofing material is asphalt shingle. Openings include two windows with the 6/6 sash and a large, wood-panel double door. The single-room interior still contains the six original compartments used to hold the caskets for the deceased pending burial, especially during the winter months when graves could not be easily dug. The tomb is located on the cemetery’s western edge just south of the main entrance, approximately opposite 24 Joy Place, from which it is accessed.
Objects in the cemetery that are outside the period of significance include two stone rubble and slate columbaria built in the 1980’s. The vaults and the columbaria are discreetly integrated into the contour of the land and do not affect the cemetery’s visual integrity. While all cemetery plots for full burials have been sold, some are as yet unused. Since new sales are for cremated remains only, it is anticipated that the general characteristics of the cemetery will not change significantly in the coming years. The cemetery’s overall appearance reveals that it has been well maintained, and although a few elements (such as a handful of headstones and even fewer iron fences) are in need of repair, the vast majority of its resources are in excellent condition.