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State funds rehabilitation of Dudley burial ground, Roxbury parks

Nate Homan
State funds rehabilitation of Dudley burial ground, Roxbury parks
State funds will fix the stone walls, fencing and paths in the The Eliot Burial Ground in Dudley Square. (Banner photo)

Big improvements are coming to historical and natural sites in Roxbury.

The administration of Governor Deval Patrick announced a $450,000 investment in three parks and open spaces in Roxbury. The projects are funded through the administration’s Signature Urban Parks initiative to improve the historic Eliot Burying Ground near the heart of Dudley Square, the Buena Vista Urban Wild and the Puddingstone Gardens.

The Eliot Burying Ground, also known as the Eustis Burying Ground, dates back to 1630 and is the first burial ground in the town of Roxbury, one of the first six villages established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.

Many of the streets in Dudley Square were laid out during the first years of the settlement. Back then, the Eliot Burying Ground was situated on the only road to Boston, which gave the town an advantageous location for trade and strategic military positioning.

Historic Burying Grounds Program Director Kelly Thomas noted that while there are many similarities between burial grounds in Boston and Roxbury, the history of the Roxbury site reflects the distinctive intimacy of life in the small village.

In her letter on the Boston Parks and Recreations Dept. website, Thomas writes about the evocative imagery of the past landscape and history of the Eliot Burying Ground.

“When I visit the burying ground, I can imagine the soldiers hiding behind the gravestones while being cannonaded by the British ‘Regulars’ stationed about 1,000 yards away down Washington Street,” Thomas wrote. “I can almost see the original geography of the Shawmut Peninsula: The narrow muddy ‘Boston Neck,’ the dike near where Harrison Street is now located running along Northampton Street holding back the tidal waters and locals collecting shellfish in the tidal flats where BU Medical Center and the Southeast Expressway now exist.”

Buried in the grounds are the Rev. John Eliot, governors Thomas and Joseph Dudley, and Massachusetts Chief Justice Paul Dudley along with 35 tombs, 18 of which have aboveground monuments. The burial ground was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 25, 1974.

The rehabilitation initiative dedicates $182,000 to repairing the fences and walls around the grounds, asphalt pathways and historical information signs.

“This is part of our land conservation program and a chief part of the program is improving urban parks and open spaces in Roxbury,” Assistant Secretary at Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Stephanie Cooper said. “These three sites are on the list of the city’s desired projects because the community wanted to see these resources go to preserving the many important locations in Roxbury.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Project Manager for Urban Parks Energy and Environmental Affairs Sam Carson said he hoped these rehabilitation programs would bring more people to Roxbury.

“This ground was opened the year the city was founded,” Carson said. “The process is very delicate and requires specific equipment in order to improve and preserve the site.”

Puddingstone Park Urban Wild, located at the corner of Seaver and Normandy streets, was first cleared and transformed into garden space about 50 years ago after local residents pushed to maintain the open space. Volunteers came together to plant trees and shrubs in May of 2003. But locals say that more work is needed in order to restore and beautify the site. Of the many improvements needed, better public access ways, pathways, drainage and erosion control are at the top of the list for the site.

The Buena Vista Gardens, also known as the Warren Gardens, include a 50-foot rock cliff in a 1.5-acre urban wild. This area has been long neglected with inadequate public access points and overgrown grass and shrubbery. The EEA hopes to turn this site into a public recreation site for picnics and community events.

“We want to provide a place for people to sit and relax,” Cooper said. “Buena Vista is the only natural clearing in Roxbury for people to go to sit and relax and take in the spectacular views.”

The state has set aside a total of $143,000 for the Puddingstone renovation and $175,000 for the Buena Vista Gardens. The EEA is set to begin these projects this fall and complete them by the Spring of 2015.