Eastern Cemetery 

Washington Ave & Congress Street, Portland  | Nominated to Places in Peril in 2012

The Issue

Eastern Cemetery has a well-documented history of deterioration, vandalism, lack of investment, and neglect. Above all, time and weather have not been kind to Eastern Cemetery: stones have toppled over, broken, and sunk into the ground. Photographs from the 1960s and '70s disclose that scores of stones have been lost. Others are badly in need of conservation. Numerous family tombs require repair against the threat of collapse. Litter constantly blows in the Cemetery from Congress Street through the wrought iron fence, and the fence itself needs major repairs and painting. Vandals have inflicted serious damage and groups of people regularly congregate in the cemetery, leaving behind their trash. The City's austere budgets mean the Eastern Cemetery will continue to suffer from lack of funds.

Eastern Cemetery is a municipally-owned historic cultural landscape that needs considerable investment in conservation and maintenance to survive. Fortunately, an active and committed friends group, Spirits Alive! at Eastern Cemetery, has sponsored work days, tours, and education programs, and raised funds to commission a recently-approved master plan.

Our Position

Opened in 1668, Eastern Cemetery is Portland's oldest public burial ground and is a vital link to the City's early English settlement. The 6.8 acre site overlooks the town's original location and the remains of Portland's early leaders and Revolutionary soldiers repose there. The Cemetery shelters the graves of Captain Lemuel Moody, who built the Portland Observatory, as well as the captains of the Boxer and Enterprise, who lost their lives in a nearby sea battle during the War of 1812. The physical distribution of grave sites at Eastern suggests the social stratification in early Portland: Anglo-American residents, African Americans, the poor, and impoverished outsiders are all clustered in different locations. Eastern Cemetery's rolling topography is typical of colonial cemeteries. The Cemetery's gravestones include symbols and inscriptions that suggest changing attitudes toward death across three generations, while representing an important art form in their own right.

In 2006, concerned citizens formed Spirits Alive! at Eastern Cemetery, a friends group dedicated to the preservation, stewardship, and improvement of the Cemetery. Landmarks continues to support the advocacy and fundraising efforts of Spirits Alive! and encourages the City to fund and implement recommendations in the approved master plan. Greater Portland Landmarks has developed lesson plans on burial practices and the history of the cemetery as part of our City is a Classroom program and offers tours of the cemetery in conjunction with our school tours at the Portland Observatory.

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What You Can Do

  • Support Landmark's advocacy and educational efforts
  • Learn more about the efforts of Spirits Alive! at Eastern Cemetery to preserve the cemetery
  • Volunteer with Spirits Alive! or attend one of the organization's events
  • Urge City leaders to support city and community investment in preserving the cemetery and implementing its Master Plan
  • Subscribe to our mailing list to stay updated on advocacy efforts, educational programs, and upcoming events.