While many older towns in New England have a historic green & at least one quaint row of historic homes, Auburn, Massachusetts is different. For the better part of two centuries, Auburn has been an important hub for transportation. In addition to the many small and meandering side roads, Auburn is well known for access routes to major interstates and highways. With connectors to Routes 12 and 20, I290, I90, and I395, Auburn certainly provides easy access to nearby suburbs and the city of Worcester just eight miles away. If those numbers don’t register anything for you, all you need to know is this: Auburn is a busy, modern suburban landscape with byways crisscrossing through at nearly every turn.
Preservationists and historians tend to write about the places where historical structures and landscapes are more or less intact. We’re looking for the sites where we can show something that resembles the way it was. Auburn is not the best place to understand how colonists in Massachusetts built communities radiating from a town common. Nor is it a starting place for grasping the development of mill villages or industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries in New England. But it is a great place to understand how small certain types of community spaces persist into the present, even and perhaps especially in places where people have decided that imminent domain will rule the day.
Having lived in another suburban area with curious planning practices, I am keen to look for cemeteries in places where (to the contemporary eye) they ought not to exist. So, it was with a mix of disgust and delight that I visited the historic cemetery known as West Auburn Burial Ground on Waterman Rd. and Southbridge St. Today, this burial ground is surrounded by many modern buildings and busy connectors. From within the stone walls that mark the parameters of the cemetery, however, there are stones that capture important stories and conjure difficult, rebellious periods of the past.
At the onset, this cemetery was first created for the Warren and Goulding families. Jonah Goulding, who served in the Revolutionary War, was one of the 26 men who fought for Ward (Auburn). Goulding continued fighting after the war, participating in Shays’ Rebellion. As a consequence, Goulding was sentenced to die for an act of legal obstruction, but this was not to be. Goulding was later pardoned and lived until 1826, when he was buried here in this cemetery.
Another notable Auburn resident buried here is Richard B. Jennison (1842-1864). A member of the 36th Regiment, Massachusetts, Jennison enlisted in the army at the age of twenty, interrupting his life as an Auburn farmer. Jennison was only in his 24th year when he died, an event plainly marked on his gravestone which reads: “Starved in Andersonville.” One of the largest Confederate military prisons used during the Civil War, Andersonville became the final battleground for too many young men. During the 14 months that the “rebel prison” was run by Confederates, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were held captive; nearly a third, or 13,000 perished. Some people recreate at Andersonville today; there are even camps hosted on occasion. As for Jennison, there is no high ground in pretending that he is better remembered by his community. Today, his dirty marker is seeping into the earth of a site overshadowed by a Wendy’s.