Our history

From its humble beginnings in the late 1700s, as a small burying ground owned by John Low and abutting the First Parish Church, Hope Cemetery & Woods has evolved into the present day 100 acre park-like setting through the generosity of abutting landowners who donated or sold farmland and woodland to the cemetery corporation.

The first person buried in the Old Church Yard was Colonel Joseph Storer’s widow, Hannah March Storer, who died in February 1790. Her husband died serving in the Revolutionary War. Colonel Storer had previously donated the lot on which the First Parish Church now stands.

In 1816 local citizens organized the Kennebunk Burial Ground when they purchased ¾ of an acre of land including the burial grounds from John Low. This section is now called the Old Church Yard or Old Cemetery.

An additional six acres were purchased and in 1854 a corporation was formed with the first lots being sold that year. Those signing the corporation petition were W. L. Thompson, F.M. Thompson, Natl L. Thompson, Chas Thompson, George Wise, Wm Lord, Geo. W. Bourne and Edw W Morton.

The cemetery was developed in seven parts including the Old Church Yard northeast of the First Parish Church (now called the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church). The next area built was the Main Yard, Division I, followed by the Main Yard, Division II.

Division I is a simple modified elliptical design with rows of graves marked in the center by a picturesque focal point. Within this are graves of Littlefields, Perkins, Cobbys, Lords and Curtises. Division II added in the later 1800s is the most picturesque portion of the cemetery. Both Divisions were developed in the garden style, popular at the time of development. The garden style of landscaping is noted for its park-like settings with curving paths and specifically placed plantings. In Division II exists a large focal point in the shape of a flower with graves of four of the Parsons family forming the petals of the flower. This is surrounded by curving lanes and specially chosen plantings.

Sections A, B and C were laid out next. Section A with its straight rows of graves complements the Main Yard, Division I. Section B followed the general design of Division II with curving paths and distinctively chosen plantings. It has two focal points, both triangular shaped plots. Graves of members of the Ward and Parsons families lie in the triangles. As the century progressed the graves were laid out in straight rows which make up about half of Section B. Section C was also laid out in straight rows with the largest single focal point in the cemetery being a rectangular shaped piece of land housing more of the Parsons family’s graves. The most recent section developed is Hillside with young trees and straight lines. It abuts a wildflower meadow and woods.

The current welcoming entrance of granite columns capped with marble balls and a decorative iron fence replaced earlier wooden gates in 1904. Hartley Lord gave the new entrance as a memorial to his wife Julia who died in 1902. Lord, a successful Boston and Kennebunk businessman, was born in Kennebunk in 1825 on the day Lafayette visited Kennebunk. Close to the main entrance lies the Cemetery’s receiving tomb built in 1905, replacing an earlier one constructed in 1863.

In 1951 An Act to Ratify and Confirm The Incorporation of Hope Cemetery Corporation, of Kennebunk, in the County of York, was passed by the Ninety Fifth Maine Legislature. This was necessary since according to the act some of the records on incorporation, particularly those between 1854-1873 have been lost presumably because of fire and also in 1854, the year of incorporation, there was no statutory provision for recording its incorporation in any office of public record.

In 1952 a small cape-style office and storage building was built. It continues to be the cemetery office. An additional maintenance building was built at a later time to store large equipment. From the time of incorporation in 1854 until 1894 Edward W. Morton served as the administrator of the cemetery. From 1894 until the 1950s the administrative duties were performed by a series of different people at their places of business. Since then, a paid cemetery superintendent has overseen the functioning of the cemetery with input from the Board of Directors.

Records of those buried long ago in the Old Church Yard and in other parts of Hope Cemetery are found in the few Hope Cemetery books that have survived. Some are stored in the Cemetery’s safety deposit box at Kennebunk Savings Bank while some are located at the Brick Store Museum located across the street from the historic First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church.

Historical documents

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Historical maps of Hope Cemetery

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GIS map of old church yard

In Fall 2017, two interns from University of New England began the Hope Cemetery Mapping Project, a long-term project with the ultimate goal of having a searchable online database available to the public. The project was designed and directed by Susan Bickford, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist at Wells Reserve and GIS instructor at UNE. The initial phase of the project was to create an interactive map of the Old Church Yard section of the cemetery. Additional sections will be mapped in the future. Click on the image below to view the interactive map:

Sources for historical information

Edward Emerson Bourne. The History of Wells and Kennebunk from the Earliest Settlement to the Year to the Year 1820, At Which Time Kennebunk Was Set Off and Incorporated. Portland: B Thurston & Company, 1875. (downloadable from google books)

Edward E Bourne III & Hartley Lord II. Kennebunk in the Nineties and Biographical Sketches. Kennebunk: The Brick Store Museum, 1965.

Edward E Bourne III & Hartley Lord. Kennebunk Folks. Kennebunk: The Brick Store Museum, 1967.

Edward Emerson Bourne III & Hartley Lord II. Kennebunk’s First Meeting House. Kennebunk: The Brick Store Museum, 1968. P. 8-9

Edward E Bourne III, author; Francis Gilman Collier & Hartley Lord, editors. Zion’s Hill. Kennebunk: Brick Store Museum, 1981.

George A Gilpatric. The Village of Kennebunk, Maine: interesting facts from old documents and maps and observations. Kennebunk: The Star Print Inc., 1935. http://www.mykennebunks.com/Archives/Gilpatric%20whole%20reduced.pdf p. 6 Storer reference , p. 17 Kennebunk Burial Ground and Hope cemetery & John Low

George A Gilpatric. Kennebunk History: Not A History but a few items in addition to and a sequel to “The village of Kennebunk, Maine”(revised to 1939): a description of a few more old homes, a few biographical sketches. Kennebunk: The Star Print, 1939.

Daniel Remich. History of Kennebunk: from its earliest settlement to 1890, including biographical sketches. Portland: Lakeside Press, 1911.