Universalist Cemetery

The Federated Church owns the burial ground that lies behind it, named for the church first built on this site.  A deed dated February 4, 1831, conveyed land owned by Alexander Baxter and his wife to the Universalist Meeting House.

The burial ground is an important part of the history of Hyannis, which was a thriving maritime village in the mid 1800s. 

At least 36 sea captains are interred here, and several gravestones memorialize those lost at sea. 

The Civil War was a significant interruption to the maritime industry, and at least 13 veterans of that war are buried here.

There are over 350 gravestones on this acre of land, made of slate, granite, marble and hollow zinc.  They vary in size and include about a dozen tall obelisks.  Familiar Cape Cod surnames include Baxter, Bearse, Chase, Crocker, Crowell, Eldridge, Hallett, Hinckley, and Nickerson.

The earliest death date appears on the slate gravestone “in memory of Caroline Simmons”, who was 1 ½ years old when she died in 1826. 

It is likely that Caroline’s stone was placed later than 1826. 

The next earliest stone for “Infant Snow” is dated 1831, following completion of the church building in November of 1830.

Many infants and young mothers are buried, reflecting the high rates of infant and maternal mortality in the 19th century.  Adults and young children succumbed to illnesses that are treatable today.  Touching inscriptions and interesting epitaphs can be found. 

The inscription on 10-year-old Alexina Baxter’s stone reads: “Sweet, noble, loving child…words cannot tell thy worth…Thy loss to us, angelic ever.  Thou are an angel now.”

Nathaniel Holmes, the first resident gravestone carver of Cape Cod, carved at least 24 stones in the cemetery between 1826 and 1852.  His principal decorative motifs were the willow and urn.

Records related to the establishment of the cemetery have been found at Town Hall, although they are incomplete. 

At a meeting in April 1831 the establishment of a burying ground near the Universalist Meeting House in Hyannis was discussed and the matter was to be taken up by a committee of three and be reported on at the May 1831 meeting. 

The town cannot locate the records for May of 1831.  The town voted to change the boundaries and expand the cemetery in 1851.

Any church records of the cemetery were presumably lost in fires of 1872 and 1904, both of which completely destroyed the church buildings.  The current Federated Church building is the fourth built on this site.  The 1830 building had been replaced by a larger one in 1847 and then then the church was rebuilt after both fires.

The cemetery has deteriorated over time, due to the forces of nature and some vandalism, leaving many stones toppled, buried, and unreadable. 

In 2015, church member Pamela Brown began researching the history of the cemetery and procedures necessary to preserve it. 

She applied for a Community Preservation Act grant in 2016 for the first phase of the project, and the church was awarded $54,100 in April 2017, with an additional $1,000 to be given by the church.  Funds became available in April 2018.

With the grant money, a five-foot-high black aluminum spear-top fence was installed in the summer of 2018, to reduce trespassing and improper use of the cemetery. 

Conservator Donna Walcovy of Mashpee was hired to prepare a “Condition Assessment”.  The assessment will provide a complete inventory and location map of the stones, documentation of stones needing conservation, and the methods and estimated cost for repair of each stone.  This will serve as the basis for planning Phases 2 through 4 and requesting bids from conservators to perform the needed work, in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Practices.  Additional grants will be needed.

The vision for this burial ground is that it become an inviting and informative historic site – “bringing to life” its inhabitants through guided tours to the public.

The cemetery is open to the public, accessed from Elm Avenue, through a pedestrian gate behind A Baby Center.