Mike Kirby: Old North Cemetery May Benefit From Renewed Attention | Columns
Not many people know, but there is a hidden family cemetery in North Attleboro with graves dating back to the Revolutionary War era.
The cemetery, nestled among the trees between modern homes on Draper Avenue near Old Post Road, is the final resting place of at least 12 members of the Mann family. The Manns were among the first to settle in what is now known as Oldtown, the original settlement of the town of Attleborough. Attleborough, of course, included what is now Attleboro and North Attleboro and was incorporated in 1694.
Among those buried in the cemetery is Dr. Herbert Mann, whose headstone tells the tragic story of his death in 1778. The 21-year-old was killed in a snowstorm, along with 100 others, on a ship anchored in Plymouth Harbor.
Another stone is for Herbert Mann’s sister, Mary Mann Draper, who died in 1808 at the age of 54.
The cemetery has been neglected for decades. Gravestones were falling and crumbling to dust. Vegetation has overtaken the site.
But about 20 years ago, the town’s historical commission gave enough thought to the cemetery’s value and its connection to North Attleboro’s heritage that they launched a preservation effort. The Chicora Foundation of Columbia, SC, was hired to study the site; in a 2007 report, the foundation agreed with the commission that the cemetery was worth saving.
“While there is a lot of work to be done at the Mann Family Cemetery, it has the potential to be an important community resource,” wrote Michael Trinkley, director of the foundation, in a report to the commission. “Its preservation is certainly worth the effort it will require.”
The commission made the effort, gathering volunteers to remove vegetation – poison ivy abounded – and clear the area without further damaging the remaining stones.
The project took off in 2008 with the help of Gary Demers of Demers Brothers Rigging in Attleboro.
The commission had hoped to remove a stone wall that had been built in the following years. But the commission first had to remove a heavy gravestone, putting the gravestones in danger.
Demers found a way to remove the cornerstone using levers. He even provided his company’s services to the city for free.
The restoration of the cemetery, however, was never quite completed. On a recent visit, I saw that maintenance has been neglected and that nature, as always, has taken over the site. The vegetation obscures the stones. Poison ivy abounds.
The Trinkley report predicted it.
“Once these measures are taken, it will be essential for the City to show consistency in its maintenance efforts,” he wrote in 2007. “Cemeteries do not survive“ deferred maintenance ”approaches and will deteriorate rapidly.
This is not surprising, given the few resources a community provides for historic preservation. After all, communities rightly need to focus on educating their children, protecting their citizens, and clearing roads and flowing water.
And this is certainly not a blow to the all-volunteer historical commission, which made a Herculean effort to restore the cemetery to a decent enough condition that it can still be preserved.
But it’s a shame that part of the city’s past seems so unworthy.
Perhaps another volunteer effort could be made to clean up the site again. It may be a school or scout project.
Everything that is done must be under the direction of the historical commission to protect the remaining relics.
The cleanup would allow history buffs or school groups to visit the site and learn that the city had roots from the War of Independence. As Trinkley said, this could be “an important community resource”.
As long as the volunteers are, maybe there is one more thing they could do.
A hotel was recently built a short distance away on Draper Avenue. At the edge of the hotel property is a memorial, erected 25 years ago, in honor of the Draper family, who owned a large farm in Oldtown.
The large boulder is not seated but has been tilted back with the plate pointing skyward.
In my opinion, this shows a lack of respect for the heritage of the city.
Brute force – or perhaps levers – might be enough to put the memorial back in its place.