Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2015 Preservation Award Winners
Granary Burying Ground Entrance Gate and Fence, Boston (Dorchester)

Granary Burying Ground Entrance Gate and Fence • Boston (Downtown)

Rehabilitation & Restoration

Of the fifteen historic burial grounds in Boston, the Granary Burying Ground, established in 1660, is the oldest. As one of sixteen official destinations on Boston's Freedom Trail, it is also one of the most-visited historic sites in the city. The Boston Parks and Recreation Department's Historic Burying Grounds Initiative maintains the property, which holds 2,300 tombs and gravestones and more than 8,000 interments. These include some of Boston's most famous early citizens–Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and James Otis–as well as nine early governors, 266 Revolutionary War soldiers, and Elizabeth Vergoose, the author widely known as Mother Goose. Originally part of the Boston Common, the burial ground was partitioned from the public land by a fence in 1739. Over time, the burial ground was fully separated from the common, and then surrounded on three sides by buildings, with a tall brick wall and simple wooden entrance gate lining the side along Tremont Street. In 1840, the wooden gate and brick wall were replaced by the current entry gate, 300-foot-long cast-iron fence, and wall of Quincy granite. Isaiah Rogers designed the Egyptian Revival-style granite gate. Rogers was a prominent American architect who went on to design the West Wing of the United States Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. The Granary Burying Ground is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource of the Park Street Historic District, and is also located within the City's Historic Beacon Hill District.

Prior to the recent project, the burial ground's historic cast-iron fence displayed numerous incorrectly repaired or replaced components, and many pieces were missing entirely. The bases of most pickets and posts were so worn that they could be lifted and moved. Rust jacking and wall tilt contributed to cracked granite and caused the fence to lean, and the granite wall and gate were dark with grime and rust. In 2014, the Historic Burying Grounds Initiative set out to restore the fence, with the goals of retaining as much historic fabric as possible and making long-lasting repairs. After a year and a half of research, design, and restoration, the historic fence is now set plumb to the adjacent sidewalk for the first time in decades. The cast-iron fence components were cleaned to bare metal, restored, repainted, and reinstalled. The team replaced missing or nonhistoric elements with reproductions. About one-third of the 600 pickets were recast with either new pickets or finials. Some historic details, such as rail-to-post connections and threaded rods that connected post finials to post bases, first had to be removed from the site, cleaned, and deconstructed; these elements were then carefully recreated. Although the granite wall had shifted over the years, it was structurally stable, so it was not reset. Instead, the team repaired cracks and installed a Dutchman in one area of significant granite loss, under a fencepost. Chips at the wall joints were generally not repaired, to avoid unnecessary removal of original material and to preserve a tangible sense of the structure's age. Finally, the granite wall and monumental entry gate were cleaned of rust and grime, possibly for the first time since their installation in the 1840s.

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