Maine: An Encyclopedia


As in many states with early European settlements, Maine has a wide variety of cemeteries. They differ in size, design, ownership, religious association, documentation, and physical condition. The Encyclopedia does not intend to document all cemeteries, but to note the variety and context of these sites in Maine. (Enter cemeteries in the Search box upper right.)

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: [condensed and edited],

During the 17th, and early 18th centuries in most towns, “graveyards” were located in churchyards and usually near the center of town. However, overcrowding of graves and new sanitation laws mandated the closing of most by the 1850s. New cemeteries were located on the edge of towns—distinct and separate from the focus of activity among the living. By the mid-19th century, a new type of formal cemeteries was being established in America.

The new “cemeteries” (replacing earlier terms such as “graveyards”) were not simply a place to bury the dead but represented a new type of cultural institution. They were now formally designed to resemble gardens. The dead were not simply interred but memorialized. New rules defined such things as the proper care of the grounds and the appropriate attire and demeanor while visiting the cemetery.

The boundaries of most 19th century rural cemeteries are marked, for instance, by fences or shrubbery. Planting may mark sections, plots or individual graves, setting off the individual graves as well as the entire cemetery, both physically and visually, from the surrounding area.

Landscape architects distinguish historic Maine cemetery designs primarily as “Nineteenth Century Rural” and “Lawn Cemetery” designs.  The two “design” cemeteries on the National Register of Historic Places are Evergreen in Portland and Mount Hope in Bangor.  In addition to the overall design features, above ground tombs and mausoleums are distinguished by their architectural designs.

The rural cemetery was designed with romantic vision, based upon English landscape gardening. Nature, in contrast to an increasingly urban setting, was idealized and sought out; cemeteries, located close to the city, were consciously designed to provide sanctuary, solitude, quiet, adornment, and beauty. It was common, especially on Sundays, for full families to picnic in cemeteries “taking long walks in the peaceful setting, thinking about the past and the future, and keeping a little bit of history alive for themselves.”*

Perpetual care lawn cemeteries or memorial parks of the 20th century represent a transformation of the “rural” cemetery ideal. The lawn plan system deemphasized monuments in favor of unbroken lawn scenery, or common open space.**

Others on the National Register in 2015 are the German Cemetery in Waldoboro, the Wing Family Cemetery in Wayne, Togus VA Medical Center and National Cemetery in Togus, East Bethel Cemetery in  Bethel, Coombs Cemetery in Bowdoin, Free Will Baptist Church and Cemetery in Islesboro, Oxford Congregational Church and Cemetery in Oxford, Eastern Cemetery in Portland.


Additional resources

*Forest Hill Cemetery Committee of Historic Madison, Inc. A Biographical Guide to Forest Hill Cemetery: Madison, Wisconsin. Madison, Wisc. Historic Madison, Inc, 1996), vii. (accessed February 6, 2015)

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. “BURIAL CUSTOMS AND CEMETERIES IN AMERICAN HISTORY.” National Register Bulletin. (accessed February 6, 2015)

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “EXPLORING HISTORIC CEMETERIES. “ (accessed February 6, 2015)

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This entry was last modified: November 10, 2017 01:47 AM

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