Where the Streets Have No Name?
In 1830, a survey map of the town of Northborough was created by resident Gill Valentine. The historical significance of the rendering comprises the names of landowners, vital industries, and familiar topography of the town. Curiously, the streets are not labeled, although they were named at that time.
Today those are the same streets we drive on regularly, whose names are often too familiar to warrant a second thought. While many bear the names of old families, such as Brigham and Fay, others simply carry the ID of landmarks and land forms, such as Church and Stirrup Brook. Attractive and elegant new red street signs are a testimony as to the importance of street naming and I like how they show you both where to go as well as where we have come from.
As for those signs? My friend who lives on Valentine Road is used to her street sign disappearing every February, a la incurable romantics. My friend who lives on Tomahawk pretty much assumes that anything with the high school mascot's name on it won't last more than a week or two. So when Fox News showed up last week to cover the story that over 100 street signs in town have gone missing, I wasn't very surprised.
You may or may not have seen the coverage on the late evening news a few weeks back, but as my other friend, Serendipity, will tell you, always put on lipstick and style your hair before heading out to a baseball game near the center of any town. Yes, a few of the sound bites were ME (and my hand gestures) explaining what I have seen and heard about this local scandal.
The $15,000 price tag to replace those elegant new red signs is a serious matter, as are the safety and "getting lost in your own hometown" factors. Off camera, though, I'll admit that I joked that I was more concerned about the loss of visible reminders of Northborough's founding families' names.
Mapmaker Gill Valentine would certainly have gotten a huge chuckle out of this, considering he did not use the street names 1830 anyway, and that his namesake sign had nothing to do with a holiday!
Map of Northborough, Surveyed by Gill Valentine. Northborough Historical Society, 1830.
SITE VISIT IMPRESSIONS
Today's weather? No snow on the ground, ground dry, skies sunny...a perfect day to walk the Brigham Street Burial Ground since beginning this project. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit the site, armed with a sketch of its history and of who may be interred there. With the objectivity of a researcher, but my personal curiosity of getting a new impression of the place, I headed over and started walking a grid.
And that is where the experience got tricky.
Having read about burial customs of the times, having found a witness's documentation of more burials in addition to the 4 still there, and understanding the family and neighbor relationships that existed about 1730, I "saw" so much more in that patch of land than I ever would have thought.
The parcel was cleaned up and cleared before the winter, so the ground was completely exposed and easily walked. The Holloway/Wheeler family members are still where I remembered, of course. Each of the parallel and west-facing graves is still well-marked with head and footstone, the roughly 5ft by 2ft mound between the stones smattered with large rocks among the moss. This time, however, I stood back away from that small section in order to really observe the larger area nearby with a new perspective. And that is when it struck me. There are even more groupings of parallel patches of stones, some mounded and some sunken. There are even a few parallel sunken spots near the rear of the parcel. All these are not news, of course, as the observations have been made by others in the past. For me, however, to have a researched to date a count of close to 20 possible burials and to be able to count at least that number of visible marked spots left me stunned, frankly. I was also saddened by the understanding that they have been long since forgotten, except by those who maintain the property to keep it clean and mowed.
There have been several efforts in the past to identify those buried there. My very non-scientific hope is that the advances made in technology over the last several decades, coupled with the advances of the information age, can shed new light on just what the story is in this interesting old place. And which of the brave founding families should be remembered and honored.
Beth Finch McCarthy