East Dixfield man finds long-lost Canton Mountain Cemetery

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CANTON — Nelson Coolidge of East Dixfield may have finally found the final resting place of Simon Coolidge, his sixth great-grandfather, who was the first settler in Canton and Jay in the late 1700s.

It’s a long-forgotten, stone-walled cemetery, measuring 20 by 30 feet on the northern side of Canton Mountain, which Nelson’s ancestors called The Burying Place.

There are no stone markers standing, but there may be markers in the ground, long buried in debris and leaves from a clump of maple and ash trees growing inside the cemetery.

Nelson, 69, lives on Severy Hill Road off Route 17 with his wife, Beverly. He said he saw the cemetery long ago while hunting on the mountain with his father. They could see the graves’ indentations in the ground.

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“My dad was born in 1909 and knew about the cemetery and showed it to me,” Nelson Coolidge said of Lester Coolidge. “Some of the old deeds talk about The Burying Place.”

He said a woman sent him a copy of an old deed describing the property outline.

He doesn’t know how many people are buried there. But he would like to see the cemetery cleaned out and restored to when it was in an open field.

If Simon Coolidge, who came to Canton from Watertown, Mass., had served in either the French and Indian War or the Revolutionary War, Nelson Coolidge believes the cemetery would have to be fixed by law in order to honor the veteran.

“It’s been well over 100 years since anybody’s paid any attention to it,” Nelson said. “The leaves and twigs have piled up. I have no idea if a war veteran is buried there or not. It ain’t my town or I’d have someone here, cleaning it up.”

Canton Mountain Cemetery

Elise Despres, secretary of the Canton Historical Society, said Friday that the town knows it as the Canton Mountain Cemetery. The society had been trying to find it for about a decade until the summer of 2011, when Despres had a chance encounter with Nelson Coolidge at the Otis Federal Credit Union in Jay, where she is employed.

“I would be willing to bet that Simon’s buried there, but how to prove that, I don’t know,” Despres said. “I’d love to find out where he’s buried. Simon was one of the first settlers here, so it would be nice to know.”

She said the society knew The Burying Place was on Canton Mountain — they just didn’t know where.

“The Canton Historical Society hunted for it for a long time, looking alongside roads, but (The Burying Place) was out in a back field,” Nelson Coolidge said. “Of course, it’s big woods now.”

“There’s tons of history up there, so it’s very fortunate that I was able to happen to talk to Nelson that day,” Despres said. “Finding that cemetery is like one of those big mysteries in your head.”

Nelson, who served in communications with the Army in the Vietnam War from 1966-67, grew up in the area. He had hayed the fields where cattle once grazed.

Now those fields are overgrown with thick woods and brush.

Lester and Alice Coolidge lived in the old homestead on Severy Hill. Nelson’s grandfather, Harry Coolidge, lived on the next farm over.

Nelson is a member of the Dixfield Historical Society, representing East Dixfield. The Canton-Dixfield town line, which is still marked with an old stone marker bearing early dates, is near the trail leading to The Burying Place and lies near the Coolidges’ homestead and farm.

So when Despres told Nelson about the society’s search for the Canton Mountain Cemetery, the 1963 graduate from Dixfield High School told her he knew its location.

“I was tickled pink,” Despres said.

On Oct. 9, 2011, Nelson took Despres and her husband, Paul, to The Burying Place. Nelson used to work with Paul Despres in the paper mill.

In the fall of 2009, Nelson retired as a millwright from Verso Paper in Jay. After his return from Vietnam, he began his paper mill career at the Otis Mill in Jay, unloading pulp off railroad cars by hand.

Revolutionary War

Nelson said Sunday that he’s reviewing scrapbooks and family lore to learn if Simon Coolidge was a veteran of the Revolutionary War or the French and Indian War.

Simon’s nephew, Joseph Coolidge, served under Col. Gamaliel Bradford in the 14th Regiment of the Continental Army in 1780, Nelson Coolidge said.

Raised in Boston on Sept. 16, 1776, the 14th Regiment saw action at the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Monmouth.

Nelson said he found a genealogy book in the Mexico Public Library that stated Simon’s ancestor, John Coolidge, came to Massachusetts from Cambridge, England, in about 1630.

Simon Coolidge was born Dec. 29, 1741, in Watertown, Mass., according to genealogy information by Norman K. Mitchell on Ancestry.com. He married Mary Jameson on Dec. 25, 1764, also in Watertown. She was born June 24, 1741, to Samuel Jameson and Abigail Holden.

When Simon Coolidge came to the Canton area, Canton and Jay were known as Phipps-Canada, Nelson said. Mitchell said it was between 1780 and 1785 and that Simon Coolidge settled in the part of Jay that would become Canton near Severy Hill.

The Phipps-Canada territory was first occupied by the Abenaki Indians, whose main village, Rockameko, was on Canton Point. They were wiped out by smallpox in 1757.

The township was then granted by the Massachusetts General Court to Capt. Joseph Phipps and 63 others for their services in the French and Indian War. But the Phipps-Canada plantation was not settled until after the Revolutionary War.

On Feb. 26, 1795, Phipps-Canada was incorporated as Jay, named for John Jay, the first Supreme Court justice. In 1821, Canton was set off and incorporated as a town.

Despres said she has an older copy of a deed dated Feb. 20, 1863, which states that four square rods are reserved where Canton Mountain Cemetery is located.

“This deed was for John Coolidge, and I also have a copy of a deed dated June 10, 1987, for Richard Bailey,” she said. “These deeds mention farms for a Daniel Flagg and William Flagg in that area and the Flaggs had married into the Coolidge family.”

Despres said there were two distantly related Coolidge families that settled in what would become Canton. One was Simon, who lived on the mountain with the Severys and Flaggs, and the other lived closer to where the main part of town is.

Nelson Coolidge said he doesn’t think the cemetery is too far from the original road that went to Severy Hill.

“It’s not too far from Hannaford Hill, and it took me a long time to find out where that was,” he said. “If you’re on the Hannaford Hill Road, there’s an old Ski-Doo trail that went through old fields.

“When I was a kid, there was all these big fields up there, not these big woods. There’s a trail up there and (the cemetery) is not too far off that trail or from an old foundation.”

A man in Lewiston called Nelson a while ago, wanting to know the GPS coordinates of the cemetery, but never showed up to be taken there by Nelson.

“There have been a lot of people that have asked me about it, and I’ve shown it to a few people, but there’s never been any follow-up,” he said. “Not even from Canton town officials.”

But Despres said Canton doesn’t have the money to tend to many of its 15 cemeteries, especially ones that are tucked away on private property in deep woods high on a mountain, only accessible via all-terrain vehicle.

She said cleaning up the cemetery would be a good project for an Eagle Scout or a group interested in preserving historical cemeteries. But they would have to get permission from the landowner.

“I don’t know who is buried there,” Nelson Coolidge said. “It’s possible that Simon is, but I can’t find his grave anywhere else. He was up here in the 1790s and he might be buried there.”

Despres said that should anyone have information about the Canton Mountain Cemetery/The Burying Place and who is buried there, or historical information about the area, they can contact her at 897-6919 or by email at elised@myfairpoint.net.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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