History of the Pittsfield Cemetery

The first record we have mentioning the need of a public cemetery in Pittsfield was in 1753, when it was voted by the settlers of  Pontoosuc Plantation (now Pittsfield) that a cemetery be established for the present and future inhabitants .  No action was apparently taken at that time and it seems the inhabitants continued  to bury the dead in spots generally chosen for their elevation and dryness.

After 1768, the Old Cemetery (first cemetery) came into general use, this burial ground was located adjacent  to the corner of North Street and East Street on about one and a quarter acres now known as Park Square.

The growth of the town eventually rendered this first cemetery  impractical and inadequate.

In 1830 the New Cemetery (second cemetery) was established where the Common is now located on First Street.  In 1840 the town fathers voted to remove the bodies previously buried in the Old Cemetery  and reburied these remains in the New Cemetery .  This continued up until 1849.

In 1849, Dr. Joel Stevens of Pittsfield was notified that his kin were to be removed and that he was instructed  to be present on the morning of the day designated for the removal.  Dr. Stevens presented  himself at the appointed time and registered his objection to the removals and threatened  court  action if the remains were touched.  Dr. Stevens gave as the reason for his objections the opinion that the New Cemetery on the Common would in short space of time become just as inadequate as the Old Cemetery and that the bodies therein would again have to be removed to still a third location.  Dr. Stevens further argued that the growing town should have a cemetery that would fulfill its needs for hundreds of years to come and that if such a cemetery were established he would withdraw his  objections to the removal of the remains of his kin.

At a town meeting held on November 13th, 1849, it was decided to consider the establishment of a proper burial ground and a committee consisting of Solomon L. Russell, Thomas F. Plunkett and Oliver L. Root were appointed to select a location for the establishment of a new  and adequate cemetery.

The committee examined several sites and the place finally selected was the farm of George W. Campbell, which was located about one mile north west of the  center of town and contained about 130  acres of land.

A cemetery corporation was organized at a meeting held on April 8th, 1850 and at subsequent meetings held on the 22nd and 23rd of April the following officers and directors were chosen.  President, Calvin Martin; Directors, Solomon L. Russell, M.H. Baldwin, Oliver S. Root, Thomas F. Plunkett, George W. Campbell, N.S. Dodge, Henry Clark, Robert Colt and David Campbell.  The Treasurer appointed was James H. Dunham and the secretary/clerk was Elias Merwin.

The farm of George W. Campbell was then purchased by the town for the sum of $4,000 and then deeded to the newly formed corporation in June of 1850 for the sum of one dollar with the stipulation  that any citizen of the town could have a free burial space in the cemetery.

(This stipulation was later removed on June 24,1919 by Mayor William C. Moulton.  As a result, there are no free burials  stipulated in the deed. )

It was also part of an agreement that monies received from the sale of lots and graves would be applied to the purchase of  additional land as the future might require.  The Corporation then borrowed money in anticipation of future lot sales and was used to engage a Dr. H. Stone, landscape architect of New York, to lay out the property for cemetery use and to supervise its establishment and operation.

The formal dedication of the Pittsfield Cemetery was held on Monday, September 9th, 1850, with a Proper and fitting ceremony.  At ten thirty on that morning a procession consisting of the Housatonic and Pontoosuc fire companies, officers of the Corporation, invited guests and others, formed on the west side of the park under the direction of Colonel George S. Willis as Chief Marshall and then moved to the grounds of the new cemetery. The exercises were held on what was then called Chapel Hill a part of the cemetery that later became known as the Unknown Mound, but later reverted back to its original name of Chapel Hill.

Addresses were given by Calvin Martin, the Reverend Henry Neill and Reverend Doctor Todd.  A poem, that was prepared for and suitable to the occasion was delivered by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The first interment was the remains of a Major Butler Goodrich on September 9th, 1850.   From 1850 until 1882 no records were kept listing the interments in the cemetery. This practice changed on January 1st, 1882 with the leadership of the then Superintendent George Murdock.

In 1764, Pittsfield’s first cemetery, the Old Burial Ground, was located in the center of town between North, School, and Allen Streets. In the 1830s, the bodies and headstones were moved to the New Burial Ground, where the First Street Common is located today. All were moved again in the 1890s to the northern edge of Pittsfield Cemetery. This view of the common was taken in the early 1900s.

Copied from the Postcard History Series Pittsfield
The Berkshire County Historical Society Copyright 2016

Pittsfield Cemetery Today

To the original 130 acres that were consecrated in 1850, land has been added and some sold. Today the grounds cover an area of about 180 acres, with some 95 acres currently in use, providing a park-like retreat perpetually preserved in its original natural beauty.

Here lie many of Pittsfield’s early pioneers who contributed much to the growth of the city and to the establishment of this nation.

While there are many other noteworthy memorials to be found here the most imposing must be the Thomas Allen obelisk. Believed to be the largest polished granite shaft in existence, it came from quarries in Missouri, owned by the Allen family. It was shipped by rail and erected here in 1885 by the late Allen’s daughter. The Allen family had also financed the construction of the imposing cemetery gateway arch completed in 1884.

A fine example of mausoleum architecture is exemplified by the structure built here in the western part of the cemetery by Gordon McKay. Made of native Lee marble, this structure’s stained glass cathedral windows were on display at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 prior to being installed here in 1900, three years before McKay’s death.

But Pittsfield Cemetery is not merely a memorial to famous men. It is the repected resting place for some 27,000 mortal beings from all walks of life. It is, through the memorialization of these lives, that the history of our community has been recorded here for posterity.

Non-sectarian since its inception, Pittsfield Cemetery is a non-profit corporation governed by civic-minded trustees of outstanding ability. Here visitors can find a variety of trees and shrubs planted to enhance the diversity of our natural terrain. An endowment fund assures lot owners of responsible care of the grounds. Burial lots are offered for sale in sections contemporary in design, yet traditional in their settings. With ample land for expansion, Pittsfield Cemetery will be able to provide lots for many years to come. We also operate a modern crematory to provide for the needs of those who desire this service in the community. Offered also are arrangements for temporary or permanent decoration of lots, and special care for memorials and shrubbery.

The main gate fronts on Wahconah Street and is open daily from 8:00 A.M. until sunset. The Cemetery office is located just inside the main gate and is open from 8:00 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. weekdays and from 8:00 until noon on Saturdays.