History

“Deep,‘mid these dim and silent shades, The whispering winds shall linger here, 
The slumbering dead shall lie, To lull their deep repose; 
Tranquil, as evening fades Like music on the dewy air, 
Along the western sky. Like nightfall on the rose.” 

 -Rev. Dr. Samuel F. Smith 
Poet Laureate of Newton and composer of “America” 
(Composed for the consecration of Newton Cemetery in 1857) 

History of Newton Cemetery 

Organized in 1855 and laid out in the popular “garden-style” design that began with Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston, Newton Cemetery continues to reflect the “picturesque” aesthetic envisioned by its founders. At a time when there were no public parks or museums, Newton Cemetery became a destination spot, a place for quiet recreation and reflection, as well as a space to study art and architecture in the landscape. Trolley tracks led right up to the Walnut Street gates, the original of which were designed by George Meacham, a local architect who also designed the Boston Public Gardens. Under the supervision of cemetery president Dr. Henry F. Bigelow (1855-1866) and the care of superintendent Henry Ross (1860 – 1899) , Newton Cemetery became an award-winning horticultural site that most recently was awarded Level II arboretum status. The Civil War Soldiers’ Monument that was erected in 1864 (prior to the end of war) qualifies for listing on the National Register for Historic Places as the second such monument in the state. Originally 30 acres in size, Newton Cemetery is now nearly 100 acres, with the design of newly developed areas returning to the same picturesque landscape the Cemetery began with. 

Newton Cemetery Timeline

  • June 1, 1855

    Dr. Henry Bigelow appointed president

    Dr. Henry Bigelow served as president of Newton Cemetery until his death on January 21, 1866 at the age of 48. Dr. Bigelow was a physician, founding member of the Channing Unitarian Society and Chairman of the School Committee. He lived in Newton Corner. According to an anonymous contributor to Newton, the Garden City of the Commonwealth, published by The Newton Graphic in 1902, “The Newton Cemetery was first conceived in 1854 when leading and influential citizens met together and after mature deliberation chose the present site…Dr. Henry Bigelow and Marshall S. Rice were the prime movers in the enterprise….”. Newton Cemetery was established on April 5, 1855, with Dr. Bigelow one of the seven trustees chosen. The original chapel, dedicated in 1885, was the gift of John Farlow in memory of Dr. Bigelow. John Farlow’s tribute to Dr. Bigelow is engraved on the tablet above the entrance to the current chapel, built in 1941, and reads: To commemorate the virtues and unselfish labors of Doctor Henry Bigelow who died at Newton, Mass. January 21st 1866. This chapel was erected by one who esteemed him and who cherishes his memory as that of a kind friend a true Christian and public benefactor. 1885-1941 
    Dr.  Henry Bigelow is buried in Section N, Lot 50.

    Dr. Henry Bigelow, 1st President of Newton Cemetery 1855-1866
  • June 10, 1857

    Consecration Ceremony

    In the spring of 1857 the Trustees started planning the consecration of the grounds.  The committee responsible for the arrangements included Henry Bigelow, Plympton and Henry Lambert, who recently arrived in West Newton.  (The fountain at the corner of Fountain and Chestnut streets, “Child Playing in the Calla Lilies” by Anne Whitney was erected in memory of his widow).  The ceremony took place on the afternoon of June 10, 1857, in the grounds.  The proceedings were opened by Dr. Bigelow, and the main address was given by the Reverend Frederick Daniel Huntington of Cambridge.  Two hymns were written specially for the occasion, one by S. Jennison Jr. of Worcester, the other by Reverend Samuel Smith, author of “America” and minister to Newton’s First Baptist Church.  Prayers were offered by the ministers of the First and Second Churches in Newton, the Reverends Daniel Furber and Lyman Gilbert.

  • April 4, 1860

    The name “Newton Cemetery” was formally adopted

    Previously called “Grove Hill Cemetery. The “Plan of Grove Hill Cemetery” drawn by Marshall Rice established what is still the basic pattern of the central core of the modern cemetery. 

    Historic Newton Grove Hill Cemetery Map
  • April 16, 1860

    Superintendent, Henry Ross is hired

    Henry Ross, superintendent for 39 years from 1869-1899, is hired. He was born in Newtonville, the son of Silas and Nancy Ross, and attended Newton schools and Seth Davis private school in West Newton before beginning to learn the mason’s trade from his father.  Ross worked first as a mason and later as a florist with Edwin Fewkes of Newtonville.By the time Ross became superintendent, the cemetery had grown from the first 30­acre site to 65 acres. According to Smith’s History of Newton (1880), "the success of the enterprise [was] due largely to [Ross’s] taste and skill, and his devotion to the interests of the cemetery." Ross was particularly interested in horticulture and landscape gardening. He was an active member of the Newton Horticultural Society, read books on landscape gardening by Gilpin, Repton, and Downing, and visited many local nurseries and greenhouses, including those at the Hunnewell estate in Wellesley.As cemetery superintendent, he came in contact with many Newton families. Although Ross did not dwell on death, the number of child burials he recorded is a poignant reminder of the fragility of children’s lives before the advances of modern medicine.
    -excerpted from the Henry Ross Journals

  • May 5, 1862

    First Military Funeral

    First Military Funeral for William Benson of the 1st MA Infantry, killed at Williamsburg, VA

  • July 1, 1864

    Dedication Ceremony for the Civil War Monument

    From the City of Newton website

    The Soldier’s Monument bears the names of 61 Newton soldiers who were killed or died from service in the Civil War. Erected in 1864, the Newton Soldier’s Monument is believed to be the second oldest monument to Civil War dead in Massachusetts, and is one of the earliest in the Northeast to be built while the conflict was still in progress.  By 1862, in the early days of the war, Newton lost at least 14 men.  The monument is a stone obelisk and an entablature made from granite and marble, and was designed and carved by Chester Mitchell of the Mitchell Granite Company in Quincy. The Monument project became a cause celebre in Newton, prompting over 1200 donors to contribute funds, and over 1100 public school children to contribute a dime each to the cause.  The obelisk, entablature, and structural curbing on the knoll cost approximately $5,500 to build.  The Soldiers’ Monument was dedicated on July 23, 1864, in a ceremony marked by songs, poems, speeches, and sermons.  There are no burials on the site of the Newton Soldiers’ monument, but about a third of the men on the monument are buried in Newton Cemetery. At the time of the 1864 dedication, 43 names were inscribed in alphabetical order on two of the three marble panels of the entablature.  Eighteen Newton soldiers who died after the dedication ceremony were soon added to both marble tablets.  The central marble panel in the entablature remains blank.  

    Newton Cemetery Civil War Monument 1864
  • September 14, 1864

    First side hill tomb built

    First side hill tomb built, for Gov. William Claflin (27th governor, 1869 - 1872)

    Claflin tomb
  • July 26, 1869

    The Cemetery builds a new front gate

    The Cemetery builds a new front gate, by George Meacham, the designer of the Boston Public Garden and counts over 4,000 visitors that year

    Newton Cemetery Gate
  • January 15, 1874

    Charles Wilson Ross becomes assistant (1874-1890) to Henry Ross

    Charles Wilson Ross, Assistant Superintendent of Newton Cemetery, 1874-1890. 


    In 1874, Charles Wilson Ross was hired as Henry Ross’s assistant. Charles was Henry’s cousin and the younger brother of the builder Henry F. Ross (often confused with Henry Ross), who built the original chapel at Newton Cemetery. Charles W.’s first official job was helping to put up a wooden fence along Beacon Street. When he left in 1890 to become Newton’s Superintendent of Streets, it was said “…[he] has been assistant with Henry Ross in the superintending of the Newton Cemetery and has much experience in the handling of men and construction of drives of the Cemetery and the laying out of its beautiful park-like expanses of hill and valley, slope and plain…” 


    Map to Charles W. Ross in Newton Cemetery, Section C Lot 8

    Charles W Ross
  • April 30, 1885

    Newton Sentinel maple tree removed from the Claflin School

    Newton Sentinel maple tree removed from the Claflin School in Newtonville and planted at NCC. Cuttings given to Arnold Arboretum in 1885 

    The Sentinel Maple is a mutant of the sugar maple.  It lacks a central trunk and has the narrowest canopy of any known maple.  Recognized as unusual by both J.F.C. Hyde, Newton's first Mayor, and A.H. Fewkes, son of the Newton Centre florist, it seems that they both watched it grow in the grounds of the first Claflin School in Newtonville.  When additions to that building were imminent and the tree had to be moved, it was through Hyde’s influence that it was taken to the Cemetery and not to the Arnold Arboretum.  In 1885, Newton Cemetery Superintendent Henry Ross gave cuttings to the Arboretum where it has been propagated.  The Newton Cemtery tree, “Newton’s Own Tree”, is now over fifty feet tall and can be seen close to the wall just south of the main entrance. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze marker at its base in 1937. 

    Read the article here

    Newton Sentry Sugar Maple at Newton Cemetery
  • November 18, 1888

    The Cemetery becomes accessible via public transportation

    Late 1880s The Cemetery becomes accessible via public transportation . After the electrification of the street railways in the late 1880s, the cemetery became accessible by public transport.  In due course there was a line from Newtonville down Walnut Street to Upper Falls, another from Newtonville along Homer Street to the Centre and, when construction of the “Boulevard” was completed, down Commonwealth Avenue from Boston to Auburndale. 

    Newton Cemetery trolley and fees
  • January 18, 1889

    Grand Army of the Republic Charles Ward Post

    Grand Army of the Republic Charles Ward Post 62 buys land for the Soldiers’ Lot 

    Soldiers’ Lot
  • January 18, 1895

    H. Wilson Ross becomes assistant to Henry Ross

    H. Wilson Ross (son of Charles Wilson Ross) becomes assistant to Henry Ross, ultimately becoming superintendent in 1888, prior to the death of Henry Ross in July 1889 

  • May 2, 1898

    James F.C. Hyde buried at Newton Cemetery

    James F.C. Hyde, Newton’s first mayor, becomes first member of Newton founding families to be buried at Newton Cemetery (instead of East Parish Burying Ground on Centre Street). When the Newton Park Commission was appointed in 1885, Hyde and Newton Cemetery superintendent Henry Ross were two of the six members.

    James F.C. Hyde, Newton’s first mayor
  • January 18, 1904

    Newton Cemetery receives first place among rural cemeteries

    NCC receives first place among rural cemeteries by the Association of Cemetery Supervisors

  • January 18, 1915

    The current Administrative Office is built

    In 1913, the Trustees voted to put up a new, modern building to replace the office which, for fifty years, had shared premises with the living quarters of Henry Ross, the first superintendent of Newton Cemetery. Located near the pre-1869 cemetery entrance, the old building was “of a character that would not have been tolerated for a day on the premises of any of our proprietors.” An expenditure of up to $18,000 (inclusive of landscaping and furnishing) was authorized and Kendall, Taylor and Company, the architectural firm that designed many of the early buildings for the Newton (now Newton-Wellesley) Hospital, was chosen to draw the plans. The contractors were Hurley Brothers. In February, 1915, the first meeting was held in the building that, with minor alterations, still serves as the office of the Corporation

    Newton Cemetery Administration Building
  • November 18, 1921

    An ice storm destroys many of the cemetery’s finest trees

    A November ice storm destroys many of the cemetery’s finest trees, mostly maples. 250 cords of wood were cut

  • September 18, 1933

    Murdock Fountain installed

    The fountain is named for Francis Murdock, who was the nephew of the Corporation’s first treasurer, Joseph N. Bacon. He was a trustee of the Newton Savings Bank, the Newton Trust Company and the Newton National Bank and served the Newton Cemetery Corporation for over forty years as clerk, auditor and trustee. When he died in 1917, he left $5,000 for a fountain to be erected in his memory.  Because of the “high cost of materials” it was decided to invest the money and allow interest to accumulate until there were sufficient funds for a memorial “worthy of the giver”.

    The subject was discussed several times in the years that followed, but it was not until 1933 that the Trustees approved the fountain design by Gladys (Ross) Sebold, daughter of the first cemetery superintendent Henry Ross. Mrs. Sebold was a member of the Newton High School class of 1919 and the Smith College class of 1924. After receiving her A.B. from Smith, she entered the Cambridge School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture where she took courses and did field work from 1924 to 1927. In June 1927, she received a Certificate in Landscape from the Cambridge School. In 1934, when the Cambridge School and Smith College affiliated, her Certificate was re-evaluated and she received a Master's in Landscape Architecture at the June 18th Commencement ceremony. She worked for three years in the New York City office of Beatrix Farrand, one of the founding members, and the only woman, of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Both Mrs. Ross and her husband (a professor of landscape architecture) were members of the ASLA.

    The contract for construction was awarded to Jones Brothers Co., a locally-owned quarry business that also provided the granite for the fountain. The owner, Seward W. Jones, was a Newton resident and was active in the Massachusetts legislature. When he died, he was interred at Newton Cemetery in a family lot located near the fountain. The fountain project included laying a thousand feet of pipe to carry water to and from the Chapel ponds, and, as in the case of the new City Hall then under construction across Homer Street, gave “employment to quite a force of men” at a time when work was hard to find.

    Newton Cemetery Murdock Fountain
  • January 18, 1938

    MDC takes 2 acres of Cemetery land for a pumping station

    MDC takes 2 acres of Cemetery land for a pumping station on Commonwealth Avenue. Also, Newton Cemetery replaces horses with a hydraulic dump truck

  • October 20, 1939

    Section E opens

  • January 18, 1950

    First urn garden is opened

    First urn garden is opened. Also, the City takes 4 acres by eminent domain at the corner of Walnut and Homer for new library site, a plan that doesn’t happen until 1991

  • January 18, 1956

    Additions are made to the chapel and columbarium

    Additions are made to the chapel and columbarium by architect Edwin B. Goodell and landscaped by the Olmsted Brothers

  • March 5, 1975

    Section C-North developed

    Surveying done by Barnes Engineering of Auburndale, MA. Plantings done by Herber C. Philpott of the Mt. Auburn Cemetery

  • January 18, 1985

    New maintenance building and greenhouses built

    New maintenance building and greenhouses built, designed by Douglas Okun and Associates

    Newton Cemetery Greenhouse
  • July 26, 1996

    New main gate is erected
  • January 31, 2004

    Walnut Court opens

    Walnut Court, Newton Cemetery’s first Community Mausoleum opens

  • February 18, 2012

    Walnut Court II opens
    Newton Cemetery Walnut Court
  • April 10, 2012

    The Board agrees to develop the last 10 acres

    The Board agrees to develop the last 10 acres of available land in the North West corner of the cemetery

  • September 4, 2014

    Newton Cemetery receives Level II accreditation as an arboretum

    By achieving particular standards of professional practices deemed important for arboreta and botanic gardens, Newton Cemetery is awarded a Level II Arboretum Accreditation by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and The Morton Arboretum. There are more than 140 tagged specimens on the 100 acres of grounds, including a rare Sugar Maple, the Newton Sentry, the original tree of its kind.
    Read more here.