|1906 City Atlas: Lowell Hist Society|
Friday, January 31, 2014
Lowell's Other Catholic Cemetery: St. Peter's (Part 1)
St. Peter's Cemetery:1900 – 1913
This week's post was written by historian, Walter Hickey.
I suppose the individual responsible for this little tale is David McKean. Invariably on one of his tours of St. Patrick's Cemetery he would mention St. Peter's Cemetery, tell us it was short-lived, and that legend had it that there was talk of 'irregularities' in it's administration, but that a lot of research would be required if the whole story be told. This is the beginning of that story.
2013 was the year we decided to do something about that. Dave had collected some news articles which he passed along and those provided a start. The cemetery was created by two real estate agents, Edward R. Donovan and John J. Gray, who purchased 20 acres from William Manning on April 30, 1900 for $1000 an acre (Northern Registry 318-311). The land was in the rear of St. Patrick's Cemetery and was bounded by Boston Road, Spencer Street, and Court Street.
By 1900, there were only two acres remaining for burials in St. Patrick's Cemetery and it was fairly obvious that additional burial space would be required. This was part of the planning of Donovan and Gray. As an incentive to purchase the prices of lots were considerably less that those charged by St. Patrick's Cemetery. In St. Patrick's, a 7x8 lot (56 square feet) cost $60. In St. Peter's the lots were all 10x10 (100 square feet).The price was either $10 or $25, depending on location.
Father Michael O'Brien, of St. Patrick's Cemetery, had earlier tried to buy the land from Manning but he offered such a low price that Manning would not even listen. One day, when both Donovan and Gray were overseeing the work being done, Rev. Michael O'Brien called to them over the fence and offered to buy the land for $10,000 over the price they had paid Manning. His offer was refused.
The Lowell Sunday Telegram of Dec. 9, 1900 wrote:
“Examination of the plans, deeds and prices set forth by the proprietors of the new cemetery, and realization of the liberality shown therein, give evidence that the Catholic people of Lowell are to be greatly benefited by this addition to their mortuary privileges. The land that has been prepared by Messrs. Donovan and Gray at great expense is a sightly tract of at least twenty acres, laid out with walks, drives, and wide avenues. There are now ready about 4000 lots just as level as a floor. Every lot is high and dry, and is perfect for burial purposes.
The cemetery opened ...with room for thousands....but in the next 13 years fewer than 800 burials took place. Finally, on December 26, 1913, the city council repealed the order authorizing Donovan and Gray to use the land for burial purposes and the cemetery became part of St. Patrick's cemetery as the Archdiocese of Boston had purchased the land from Gray. (Gray's partner, Edward R. Donovan died in 1904, and was buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery – NOT St. Peter's.)
Several years ago, St. Patrick's Cemetery computerized their records and those are now available online (http://stpatrickcemetery.com/) for burials after 1894. BUT...those buried in St. Peter's Cemetery are not in that database. One Sunday morning, Karen, Dave and I drove to the Cemetery (doesn't everybody spend at least one weekend day in a Cemetery?) and took names of several graves and checked them against the database of St. Patrick's burials.
NONE, 1900 – 1913, were in that database. This meant that the cemetery had no record of all those buried in the old St. Peter's Cemetery. It appeared to us that a) the burial records had not survived, and that all were 'lost records”. Burials dated 1913-1914 were in the database as it was then by St. Patrick's Cemetery.
The issues quickly became WHO is buried in St. Peter's Cemetery? and How do we find out?
The answers lay in the records of the Lowell City Clerk. The actual death records through 1904 are available on Ancestry.com and death records after 1904 are on Familysearch.org as well as Americanancestors.org.
It was determined that it would be possible (if not a little insane) to compile a list of burials by looking at each death record 1900 – 1913. Accordingly Karen and I proceeded to look at each record looking for Place of Burial: St. Peter's Cemetery. When finished we had a list of 730 individuals. A few are dated after 1913 as the undertakers indicated “St. Peter's” as the place of burial. At last, there is a list of those interred in the old St. Peter's. That list is available at the St. Patrick Cemetery office.
On Tuesday, December 11, 1900, Edward R. Connor became the first to be interred in St. Peter's Cemetery. Now, the question arose: “WHERE is his grave?”