Living

On Settler’s Hill, familiar names are prominent

HOULTON, Maine — High atop Evergreen Cemetery in Houlton, perched on a tree lined hill above the rest of the burial grounds with an expansive view of the community in the distance, are the graves of many of the individuals who helped build it. 

To most residents, the surnames of those buried on Settler’s Hill in the cemetery are instantly recognizable. That is because the monikers — whether they be Gentle, Putnam or Burleigh– continue to mark buildings, streets or blocks in the downtown.

Arguably the most famous figure buried on Settler’s Hill is the town’s founder and namesake, Joseph Houlton, who rests there alongside his wife and five children. Houlton, who was born in New Salem, Massachusetts, founded the town in his name in 1807. At the time, it was still part of Massachusetts. Maine became its own state in 1820. The town was incorporated in 1831.

Leigh Cummings, who is curator of the Aroostook Historical and Art Museum, said Friday that there is a lot of local history to be found on Settler’s Hill. He noted that besides the Houlton family, there are a number of Putnam family members buried on the hill because they were some of the town’s first settlers. Aaron Putnam is considered to have partnered with Joseph Houlton on settling the town, and Houlton married a woman named Sarah Putnam.

William H. Houlton, a grandson of Joseph Houlton, the founder of the town, returned to the community for the centennial celebration in 1907 and had the bodies of all of his close relatives removed and buried on Settler’s Hill in Evergreen Cemetery and a monument erected on the spot with the genealogy of the Houlton, Putnam and Kendall families recorded on it, to reflect his descendants. It is pictured on Friday, August 17, 2018.
(Jen Lynds)

“She is considered to be sort of the grandmother of Houlton,” said Cummings. He added that there was some discussion about naming the town Putnam, but the town of Washington, Maine in Knox County had been incorporated as “Putnam” in 1811 in recognition of General Israel Putnam, a Revolutionary War hero. The name was officially changed to Washington in 1825, according to the town’s website.

Although the hill is the final resting place of some of the town’s oldest and most famous residents, Cummings acknowledged that its name is a bit misleading. While a number of the early settlers are buried up there, it is by no means a complete record, he said.

He pointed out that Shepard Cary, another New Salem, Mass. resident who moved to Houlton in 1822, is buried just below Settler’s Hill on Angel’s Hill, so named because of the prominent statue that rests on the mount.

“The Cary’s are a family who are a whole story on their own,” said Cummings. “Shepard Cary had a massive lumber operation, and he was a member of the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate.”

Gravestone of Joseph Houlton, who founded the town of Houlton in 1807. It is pictured on Settler’s Hill in Evergreen Cemetery on Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (Jen Lynds)

His brother, Dr. George Cary, a local physician and state legislator, founded what is now the Cary Library in 1904 with a bequest from his estate.

Ironically, Settler’s Hill was not the initial resting place of the earliest Houlton family members, according to Cora M. Putnam, author of 1958’s The Story of Houlton. Houlton and his relatives had been buried on a plot of land then known as Soldier’s Cemetery until William H. Houlton, one of his grandsons, returned to the community for the centennial celebration in 1907 and was disturbed by the condition of the burial lot. He had the bodies of all of his close relatives removed and buried on the hill and a monument erected on the spot with the genealogy of the Houlton, Putnam and Kendall families recorded on it, to reflect his descendants.

For more information on Houlton history, visit The Cary Library, the Aroostook Historical and Art Museum or check out their websites and Facebook pages.

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