Friday, October 30, 2009

History Lessons Carved in Stone

A Gravestone in Vally Cemetery
for two children of Deacon John Pinkerton

from The Derry News, October 29, 2009
History lessons carved in stone

By Suzanne Laurent

LONDONDERRY — Dry leaves crunch underfoot and trees take on their muted autumn hues, the brilliance of early October now gone. While cemeteries and old burial grounds are interesting in their own right, they are almost more fascinating as Halloween approaches followed by the melancholy days of November.

The cemeteries of Londonderry and Derry are grassy slopes of history. They tell of the time when Londonderry covered the entire area, before Derry branched off to become its own town.

Various religious and secular organizations were associated with the beginnings of the first four cemeteries. Private lots were once common in town, but the descendants of these families moved their ancestors' remains to public cemeteries in the 19th century.

The Old Hill Cemetery, east of the town center on Hovey Road, began as the first churchyard of the Presbyterian West Parish in the original Londonderry. A drastic change occurred in this cemetery in 1930 when officials decided to clean up the broken stones that were tilted at dangerous angles amidst tangled underbrush.

"No measurements were taken of the location where the markers originally stood," said Town Historian Marilyn Ham.

The cleared yard was plowed by tractor, leveled and seeded.

"When the stones were to be reset, most were at the roadside," according to an account in The History of Londonderry, Vol. 3, edited by Ferne Schmidtchen.

"The decision was to place them in rows beginning near the wall where they leaned. By chance, the space between the headstone and footstone was not the usual distance. As a result, the uninformed observer might believe that early Londonderry was inhabited by midgets."

Pillsbury Cemetery on Hovey Road is Londonderry's newest cemetery and abuts the Old Hill Cemetery established in 1733. It opened in the fall of 2004 as the town ran out of space for new plots in Pleasant View Cemetery on Mammoth Road.

The Valley Cemetery (1793) on Pillsbury Road is located between the Old Hill Cemetery and the town center. It was also known as the Rev. Dr. Morrison's Churchyard for his Presbyterian meetinghouse that stood to the east.

According to a story in the Derry News dated Friday, Nov. 11 1881, "The town of Londonderry appropriated $300.00 for improvement of cemeteries in town, and accordingly work was commenced last Saturday, on the cemetery near Col. Pillsbury's. Many trees have been cut down and among them the famous old white oak, that has kept 'watch and ward' for nearly sixty years, over the tomb of the beloved Morrison."

Here is a look at some interesting people buried in Londonderry:

Major John Pinkerton, the founder of Pinkerton Academy, was buried in the Old Hill Cemetery, also called Pinkerton Yard. His horizontal tombstone, raised on four corner posts, had an extensive inscription which included the amounts of his bequests to the Presbyterian Churches of both the east and west parishes.

The Pettengill family cemetery, once located on Harvey Road, was relocated to Sunnyside Cemetery when the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport built a new runway five years ago. There are two other private family cemeteries in town: The Kendall Cemetery on Kendall Pond Road and the Towne Cemetery on John Street.

George "Duffy" Lewis, a star outfielder for the Red Sox in the 1910s, is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery on Gilcreast Road. In 2000, John Clayton, a columnist for the Union-leader, discovered that Duffy's grave was unmarked and wrote two articles about it. A subsequent fund in Duffy's name provided a gravestone and flowers in perpetuity.

Ginger Harvey's grave is located in Sunnyside Cemetery on Litchfield Road. Ginger's father was a slave and Ginger worked in a home in Londonderry. One day as Ginger was approaching the house to work, she noticed smoke. She grabbed a broom and banged on the windows alerting the still sleeping family. The family asked what they could do to repay her and Ginger asked that she have a Christian burial. She lived to be almost 100 years old and was interred in 1865.

David Rollins Leach is buried in a family vault in Glenwood cemetery. He bequeathed $3,000 to found the Leach Library which opened on Feb. 25, 1880 with 1,000 books.

Londonderry has a Pet Cemetery on Harvey Road established by Minnie McGuire who felt that pets, too, should have a suitable final resting place.
Credit to The Derry News,
-(My computer is with the Geek Squad so I've posted this Derry News story in lieu of having my own database and Word files available to research a story. Hopefully I'll be back on line soon with my own postings!)


  1. David Rollins Leach was the brother of my 3rd Great Grandfather, Ira Leach. Ira packed up his family and moved to Michigan, with my 2nd Great Grandfather David C. Leach, in tow, along with other family members. David C. Leach fathered Major Floris Leach, and Major Floris Leach fathered my Grandmother Vera Asenith Leach, who was my dad's mother.

    I'm quite proud of my Irish and New England ancestry. Many of the Leach family members still live in Michigan.

    1. Kay, thanks so much for dropping by, and I enjoyed your description of your Leach lineage. I hope you read the other posts here about life in Londonderry where your ancestors originated!