OXFORD – In a word, it’s a “disgrace.”
That’s the description resident Sharon Jackson gave to the Board of Selectmen recently after visiting the historic Craigie Cemetery on King Street with her family.
Dozens of gravestones, dating back to the early 1800s and marking the final resting spots of local veterans, farmers, business men and infants, are toppled or leaning. Pieces of plastic flowers, ceramic ornaments and other adornments are broken, shredded and strewn.
Craigie Cemetery is the site of the town’s first common area and one of 19 cemeteries in town. It is sited behind the Oxford’s first meeting house which is listed on the National Historic Register of Places.
But Jackson and others say the condition of the cemetery is disgraceful and must be addressed. Until that happens, voters at a Special Town Meeting last month said they would not approved proposed amendments to the Cemetery Ordinance, enacted in 2006, that would have tightened up regulations and added additional restrictions on burials and upkeep.
“It’s a disgrace to walk in there.” said Jackson.
The state of disrepair
Ceramic figurines of angles set at the gravestone of infants such as 2 year-old Ina Bell Wing, who died in 1917 and is buried alongside two other infant siblings in Craigie Cemetery, lie smashed on the ground. A plastic fence and flowers strewn to another side. Ceramic praying hands that lay at the feet of her infant brother and sister , Iva and Edgar, are broken and carelessly tossed aside.
The cemetery adornments of Ina and her sister, who died in 1928 at only a few months old and their brother Edgar who was born only six months after his older sister died, may have been the sporadic victims of vandals or perhaps Mother Nature.
The headstone of Horatio Smith a veteran who died in June of 1907 after what the Oxford Democrat described as a long and painful illness lies toppled under an American flag and next to it is the broken gravestone of his wife Adeline who died only a year later. They left a daughter behind.
Nathan Coy, a native of Minot bought a tract of Oxford land in 1845 but drowned just four years later at the age of 56 trying to save his 8-year-old son Oliver who had fallen in the nearby river. His headstone lays on the ground near his wife Juliana, who outlived him by nearly 50 years.
This is a cemetery filled with heroes, some as old as the War of 1812.
It is a cemetery filled with stories of those whose lives someway connected with Oxford.
Some of the stories are known. Many are not.
Some have family members who visit. Others have no one to care of their final resting place.
Getting to this point
So how did this serene plot of land with its old stand of trees located behind the historic town meeting house come to be in such disrepair?
The town has a Cemetery Committee with what appears to be three vacancies on the seven-member committee and a Cemetery Director Paula Locke, who said neither she, nor members of the Committee, have a comment on the cemetery’s condition.
But Jackson said the condition of the cemetery must be fixed.
“Money should be put in the budget,” Jackson said. She has recommended that the town hire someone to repair the stones.
Town Manager Butch Asselin says there is money set aside under the Municipal Facilities budget for the town cemeteries. This fiscal year $17,400 was approved by town meeting and as of July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, $2,201.05 has been used for mowing, parts for mowers, gas and supplies.
There is a set of Cemetery Rules that guide all cemeteries in Oxford. The rules call for a general cleanup of all cemeteries no less than once a year. The clean up takes place in the fall, before Columbus Day. All flowers, ornaments, decorations on graces or headstones, and so forth in the cemetery at the time of the cleanup are subject to being removed and disposed or permanently, according to the rules.
Once the cleanup is done, nothing new may be placed in the cemetery to mark or decorate a grave until the Monday before Easter Sunday. Flowers left at a grave must be either loose or in unbreakable containers.
The rules are straightforward and much more lenient than rules at many other cemeteries.
Proposed new rules expand on regulations for veterans graves, perpetual care, burial of pets, foot stones and the disposition of cremated remains in plots
All plots would continue to have perpetual care, meaning mowing, trimming and so forth, but under the proposed amendments all stones and upkeep will become the responsibility of the owners. If extensive work is required, the family must have permission of the town.
The proposed amendments do not address what happens if there is no family to care for a grave site.
OXFORD — So how did Andrew Craigie, a Cambridge, Massachusetts developer and socialite who had served as the first Apothecary General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and lived in a house that served as George Washington’s headquarters during that war, become associated with Oxford, Maine?
During and immediately after his time with the army, (he was mustered out in 1783) Craigie sold drugs and medicines wholesale with a partner in New York City. But he also became a financier and land speculator, buying and selling parcels of property in New England and Ohio, amassing a large fortune in the process.
He developed most of East Cambridge, and was responsible for the construction of the Charles River Dam Bridge, first known as Craigie’s Bridge, that connected East Cambridge and Boston
It was during this time that Craigie, like many other Massachusetts men, came to Maine to purchase land. In the 1790’s, he became the largest landowner in Shepardsville of nearly 14,000 acres in what became Hebron and later Oxford.
Much of the land had originally been granted to Alexander Shapard Jr. by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the purpose of enticing others to the undeveloped land later to be incorporated as the State of Maine. As part of the grant, he was to settle ten families in ten years on the land, according to “The Annals of Oxford,” published in 1903.
“The Annals of Oxford” says Craigie invested in the development of local water power and built the original mill on what is now known as the Robinson Mill complex on King Street. He built a huge farm for raising domestic animals. He dammed the outlet Thompson Lake, built mills for lumber and grinding of cereals and created the Oxford Village, known for years as Craigie’s Mills.
He also hired an attorney to run his entire Oxford operations.
Craigie died in 1819 after overextending his fortune in land speculation and being forced to hide in his Brattle Street mansion to avoid debtor’s prison. His widow later was forced to rent rooms in the mansion. One of her tenants was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He later bought the house which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Longfellow House-Washington Headquarters National Historic Site.
In 1829, the heirs of Andrew Craigie offered to erect a meeting house in Oxford to honor Craigie. A site selection committee identification a three acre lot and the meeting house was built the following year. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Meeting House and Common.
Craigie’s patriotic service is still recognized each year when an outstanding federal government pharmacist is presented the annual Andrew Craigie Award.