NORTHBOROUGH – Have you ever wanted to know the people from centuries past beyond the gravestones in the biggest cemetery in Northborough? The original burial ground, situated on one acre, was established in 1749 after an outbreak of throat distemper swept through the town and caused the deaths of 60 children. Prominent people buried there include Reverend John Martyn (1706-1761), the first minister of Northborough, and the first physician of Northborough, Dr. Stephen Ball (1735-1798). The Howard Street Burial Ground is located right behind the First Parish Unitarian Church and contains 163 grave markers, including those of soldiers from the Revolutionary War.
The newer section of the cemetery on Howard Street, called the Howard Street Cemetery, opened in 1837, the iron gate at the main entrance a gift to the town from Mrs. Cyrus Gale, Jr. and Mrs. Samuel Wood. As with many women in history, much of what we know about them is through their husbands. We know that Ellen Gale was active in her husband’s pursuits, who is most known for funding the building for the Northborough Free Library in 1894, and made contributions of her own, including the cemetery gate.
A recognizable name to anyone who attended Northborough Public Schools is Marion E. Zeh (1908-1965), who is buried in the front of the cemetery close to the Zeh Elementary School, which was named in her honor in 1962. Zeh graduated from Framingham State Teachers College, which is now Framingham State University, and taught in Northborough for 20 years until she retired in 1957. A colleague described her as “an exceptional teacher who taught the town’s first special-needs class. She could relate to children very well and they to her. To see them out playing together you’d think she was one of them.”
Although inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Blair may not be a local household name, his legacy is surely recognizable—his photography company was purchased by George Eastman of the Eastman Kodak Company in 1899. Blair founded several companies that manufactured and sold cameras, film, and other photography-related items. He is also buried in the newer section of the Howard Street Cemetery.
The Howard Street Cemetery is 40 acres thanks to several land acquisitions over time. The older burial ground underwent restoration most recently in 2018, which involved bonding and patching broken stones, resetting the head and foot stones, cleaning the etched surfaces, and sealing the edges of stones where the slate had split.
Over the years, various organizations in Northborough have offered cemetery tours, the most recent one being part of the Northborough 250th celebration in 2016 sponsored by the Northborough 250th Committee and the Northborough Historical Society. “Ghosts in the Graveyard” featured reenactments of 13 notable figures from Northborough’s history with residents portraying the ghosts and leading the lantern-lit tours. The event was a success with 150 guests attending to learn about the spirits of the past.
You can relive the tour through this video thanks to Northborough Cable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX_ztuZe6sY.