Dorchester South Burying Ground has been approved by the Massachusetts Historical Commission for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The two- acre, city-owned cemetery was established in 1814 and is one of 18 municipal cemeteries established between 1630 and 1892. It was laid out by the town of Dorchester to provide new burial space in as the original town burial ground — now called Dorchester North Burying Ground— grew overcrowded due to the town’s expansion in the early 19th century.
The South Burying Ground exhibits a wide range of funerary styles and motifs through their roughly 1,800 graves and approximately 800 headstones and family monuments, which are laid out in orderly rows with a loop road around the perimeter. The first burial took place in 1814; it can be spotted by its slate headstone carved with the willow-and-urn motif typical of the period.
In 1835, site improvements were made by the burial ground committee. The improvements were characteristic of the new garden- style cemeteries of the era and included ordered burial lots, winding carriage ways and numerous plantings. The community was very supportive of the changes and even began donating plants as well as funds towards Dorchester South, according to the website Dorchester Atheneum.
“The Massachusetts Historical Commission is dedicated to preserving the Commonwealth’s rich historic, architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin in a press release. “Inclusion of the Dorchester South Burying in the National Register will help to preserve a historically significant burial place that contains the graves of nearly 2,000 Dorchester residents.”
In the 1980s, the city of Boston created the Historical Burial Grounds Initiative because the older burial grounds were in disrepair. This led to restorations of burial grounds, beginning with those that are located in downtown and later followed by those in outlying parts of the Boston. In the 1990s, a master plan report was created for Dorchester South and it was followed by restorations of headstones and improvements to the perimeter fence.
Galvin serves as Chairman of the 17-member board, which meets regularly and considers historic resources eligible for the National Register four times a year. There are now over 70,000 properties listed in the National Register. To learn more about the Commission’s programs visit sec.state.ma.us/mhc.