By Maria A. Cortes
Historic Somerville, Inc., in collaboration with Somerville Historic Preservation Commission, opens the gates of the oldest burial ground in the city, Milk Row Cemetery, for public tours on three Sundays this fall. Although locked most of the time, the cemetery, with its rich historical background, has aroused curiosity among many Somerville residents. That curiosity now gets a chance to be satisfied.
Founded in 1804 by Samuel Tufts, Milk Row Cemetery was originally intended to be a private burial ground for his family members, friends, and neighbors. The vault tombs of Samuel and Timothy Tufts, as well as the first owners of the cemetery, can be seen in the grounds’ southwest corner. The cemetery’s name can be explained by its location on Milk Row Street, now Somerville Avenue. The street was the primary route for transporting products from the nearby dairy businesses to Charlestown and Boston.
Milk Row cemetery played an important role for Somerville residents during the Civil War, being the city’s only burial ground. In 1863, with the help of citizens, the Civil War Soldiers Monument was erected in the cemetery. It is believed to be one of the first monuments in the country honoring fallen Civil War soldiers. The names of sixty-eight Somerville volunteers who died in the Civil War are inscribed on the sides of this marble memorial.
In order to introduce this unique historical site to Somerville residents, Historic Somerville organized costumed tours at the Milk Row Cemetery. One of its members, Emma Forest of Somerville, dressed as a 19th century woman and impersonating a member of the Somerville Improvement Society (that took control over the cemetery in 1892), was guiding a tour last Sunday. The City welcomes interested individuals to become volunteers to participate in historic performances, lectures and other events in order to educate Somerville residents of their city’s historical heritage.
Milk Row Cemetery will be also open on October 21 for The Ghost of Somerville event and on November 12 for the Veteran’s Day Lecture.