A History of Locating of Cemeteries in Wells, Maine
by Hope Shelley, Town Historian & the Town of Wells
The location of the cemeteries in Wells begin in the 1920s and 30s when Judge Lester Bragdon researched and documented many of them by location, family and inscribed notations. His numbering system was utilized until 1997 and is noted on the 1997 Cemetery Listing as the ‘previous number.’
By the 1980s the Historical Society realized that the names of the abutters and streets were outdated on Judge Brandon’s list so the volunteer Cemetery Committee of the Historical Society began to search for those that Judge Bragdon had noted. In the process not only were more cemetery locations found but also more burials were noted. This volunteer Cemetery Committee, chaired by Dorothy Keyes and served by many dedicated volunteers such as Charlotte Moody, Marcy Dzamba, Charles MadDonald, and Curtis Wormwood, was a seasonal operation and their work was not completed due in large part to the numbers needing documentation.
In 1994 interest was renewed and additional time became available for some volunteers. Visits to sites, measurements of the cemetery perimeters, conditions of the stones, family names and the GPS coordinates were noted for nearly 1/3 of the two hundred cemetery locations in Wells.
The 1997 Cemetery Listing notes only property Tax Map and Lot numbers, family name –when known, and the abutters. The complete documentation for each site is available at the Historical Society’s Meetinghouse Museum Library.
Memorials to the dead offer many clues to the living. Modern stones bear only brief inscriptions. In an earlier time, the stone cutter incised lengthy epitaphs and sometimes incorporated several versus exhorting the reader to reflect on the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. Looking at a gravestone is like reading someone’s diary. Often one can determine the deceased social status, wealth, education, and even family background. This boon to genealogists also provides everyone with a sense of time.
Cemeteries are now referred to as “Open-Air” Museums. Since museum exhibit artistic and historic artifacts, it is understandable that the decorative headstones are considered to also be artifacts. Wells has many such headstones with distinctive decoration depicting the social periods of our 370 plus years of settlement. Several granite quarries as well as accessibility of field stones and slate account for the majority of these Wells memorials.
In 2013-2014 the Town of Wells embarked on a Cemetery maintenance program in an effort to locate, clean-up, photograph and locate the 200 or so cemeteries in Town. The Town has made efforts to create updated Tax Maps and town-wide mapping to identify all cemetery locations in Town. The Town Code Enforcement Office has an on-going program in place to actively receive information from property owners, abutters and citizens on cemeteries throughout Town.
As the growth of the Town of Wells continues, the need to have these cemetery locations known is ever important. The Cemetery Ordinance of Wells and State mandates compel us to protect these valuable links to our past.