The Star-Herald

Historically speaking – Week of June 8, 2022

Presque Isle has two large cemeteries located right on Main Street or U.S. Route 1: the Johnson Cemetery just north of town in what was originally the town of Maysville; and Fairmount Cemetery just south of town.

Fairmount was established in 1864 by a group of local business men and currently contains 10,000 burial plots of which approximately 6,000 are full.

Why would anyone want to talk about a cemetery – or consider going on a tour of one? Cemeteries are actually now considered outdoor museums as they often have much to tell us about our history. In addition, Fairmount could be considered a “garden cemetery.” These types of cemeteries are quite different than the “burying ground, graveyard, or churchyards” of the past with nothing more than long rows of headstones side by side. Garden cemeteries came into existence in the early 1800s and were designed to encourage visitation. A garden cemetery includes lanes that lend themselves to walking, an abundance of trees and shrubs, and often wildlife (there are definitely many chipmunks present in Fairmount). There is even a special word for gravestone and cemetery enthusiasts – a “taphophile”!

Fairmount, like other garden cemeteries established during the Victorian Era, is rich with beautiful architectural symbolism such as urns, clasped hands, crosses, broken pediments, carvings of various plants of Victorian meaning, a large statue, and much more.  

It is the largest cemetery north of Bangor and covers 30 acres. Although it was opened in the 1860s, you will find gravestones dated 1810 and 1825. These individuals were re-interred after the opening of this cemetery. Prior to the mid-1800s, it was the practice to lay your loved ones to rest in individual family plots. This became troublesome for a few reasons. One was that the family plots were in the way of progress as roads were built to accommodate growing populations. Another reason was that family plots were not planned landscaping and visitors paying their respects often had to combat poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. This is not an issue in a formal cemetery.

Fairmount is also the location of Presque Isle’s Civil War Monument. Originally known as the Soldier’s Monument (as our forefathers never imagined other wars), the monument was erected in 1873 and officially dedicated on July 4, 1874. It is one of over 140 such monuments in the State of Maine. The majority of these were put up after 1900 making our monument one of the first in the State. The monument is around 15 feet high with a granite base and a marble obelisk and eagle.  

Much can be learned by a casual stroll through this beautiful cemetery. Who is interred there? How did they impact the history of our community? What symbols are contained on their headstones and what does that tell us about them? How many different types of materials were used to create the headstones?  Are there any interesting epitaphs? Visitors can also learn more about community history by ascertaining who played a major role in the growth of our city, but is not interred there.

Presque Isle Historical Society has long recognized the importance of cemeteries to the fabric of our history and has been leading tours of historic Fairmount Cemetery since 2013. There are four tours of Fairmount scheduled for this summer: June 9, July 7, Aug. 11, and Sept. 8. Cost of the tour is $5 per person. For more information on the tours or to register for one, please contact the Society at pihistoricalsociety@hotmail.com.  

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.

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