NORTHBOROUGH – Upon first glance at the Brigham Street Old Burial Ground, it does not look like much more than a grassy, wooded lot. But, if you look more closely, you will notice four legible headstones and a fifth illegible marker clustered together. Other stones that don’t have inscriptions dot the landscape.
However, there is even more beneath the surface, quite literally.
Land for the burial ground was set aside sometime between 1724 and 1729, at the request of Westborough’s northern proprietors. These were people who lived in the district that would become part of Northborough.
At the time, the closest burial ground and meeting house was located several miles south in Westborough’s town center.
The first documented burial in the Brigham Street Old Burial Ground was a proprietor’s son, William Holloway Jr., in Jan. 1727.
In 1744, the Second Precinct of Westborough was formed after the northern proprietors petitioned for self-governance.
The Brigham Street Old Burial Ground closed in 1749, when a meeting house and new burial ground were built on Howard Street, in what is now Northborough.
Out of the five stones that remain standing at the Brigham Street Old Burial Ground today, four are legible headstones with names and dates. The fifth is a possible headstone, according to a stone conservator who investigated the site a few years back and could decipher some of the information. The grouping marks a family of four and contains the oldest grave sites.
The stone conservator had predicted 80 burials after a visual sweep. As many as 60 to 80 burials are visible, evidenced by mounded or depressed plots and wolf stones, which are flat stones that were laid over the buried body to prevent animals from uncovering it.
In 2017, ground-penetrating radar (GPR), a method that uses radar to detect structures below the surface of the earth, identified additional burial locations. It revealed that the majority are in the southwest section. The report estimates 110 burials.
Thanks to extensive research by Northborough resident and professional genealogist Beth Finch McCarthy, we know the identities of 42 people so far who are buried in the town’s first burial ground.
Finch McCarthy had predicted 100 people who may have died during the time period. However, only an archeological project would confirm the exact figure.
To determine who is buried at the Burial Ground, Finch McCarthy reviewed who lived and died in that part of town during the years the site was open for burials and pieced together the puzzle using the GPR graph and genealogical research. This included reviewing documents about people’s deaths, including ministers’ diaries, church books, and documents housed in the Northborough Historical Society Archives and published local history books.
Information on the known, probable and possible burials has been compiled into a table that is displayed on an interpretive sign at the site. It was installed in 2021 thanks to funding from the Northborough Community Preservation Act.