Recently, there has been discussion in Lowell about an old colonial road which leads to the Claypit Cemetery in Pawtucketville. The old road has been the topic of discussion lately, because the monks who bought the land on either side of the road are looking to develop it. The old road would be lost. The old road, and the Claypit Cemetery which the monks’ land borders, are the last links to colonial Dracut. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the history the site holds and the several efforts to clean up the site.
Claypit is Dracut’s oldest cemetery. The area in which Claypit is located was once part of Dracut. The area today is called Pawtucketville and it was part of Dracut until it was annexed by Lowell in 1874. The land Claypit Cemetery is on was originally part of the Coburn farm. Edward Coburn was Dracut’s first settler.
Surprisingly, for such an important historical site in town history, the cemetery has been neglected for most of the last 130 years. As early as 1880, there is evidence that Claypit was already falling into neglect and disrepair. The remains of Rev. Thomas Parker were moved to Woodbine Cemetery on West Meadow Road due to the poor conditions.
In 1904, historian P. Hildreth Parker visited the site and compiled a list of the epitaphs she found on the headstones. According to her notes, there were seventeen still remaining.
Silas R. Coburn published The History of Dracut in 1922. He provides a brief description of the site. He writes that “some family” has a plot with posts and chains and that the cemetery itself has no protective fencing along its borders. He writes that there was a cart path that led from Varnum Avenue down to cemetery. This would be the old road.
After the publication of The History of Dracut in 1922, several years passed before any interest was again taken in Claypit. This time it was by the Elks. On April 5, 1939, they took an inventory of the headstones. There were only twelve headstones remaining.
In 1981-1982, Dracut High teacher Donat Paquet went to Claypit. The condition of Claypit bothered Paquet because he returned with six seniors from Dracut High School and cleared out the brush and debris.
After Paquet’s efforts, another ten years passed before interest was shown in Claypit. In 1992, the Pawtucketville Historical Society’s Alan Manoian began an effort to learn the site’s history and educate the neighborhood of its historical importance.
In 2004, I was hired as a teacher in Dracut. The school librarian suggested I call Bud Paquin at the Dracut Historical Society, because there was a cemetery, I would be interested in. I called Bud and he agreed to show me Claypit. It was May so the leaves were in bloom. Bud knew where to enter the brush to access the site. We had to walk through bushes with prickly thorns.
My students and I led several clean ups of the cemetery and posted our research online at primaryresearch.org. I ordered replacement markers from Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC for the three Dracut veterans buried there. After 10 years, Lowell has finally agreed to keep the grass cut and install the headstones. I am beyond grateful and look forward to raising funds for a fence, historical marker, and restoring all the headstones. I had hoped Dracut would have maintained the cemetery since it is the town’s history but to date there appears to still be no interest. (We could use Community Preservation funds to restore it.)
The monks have been wonderful neighborhoods to Claypit and have cleared the site. But the future of the old colonial road remains in question. There is a proposal from the Pawtucketville Citizens group to the monks on how to preserve the old road. I hope it is accepted. Once history is lost, we cannot get it back.