AUGUSTA — A cemetery with some 45 gravestones lost to time in dense woods off Riverside Drive was recently rediscovered, and contains the graves of both Civil War and Revolutionary War soldiers.

Gravestones there date back to at least 1801 and the last interment took place there, city officials believe, in 1910. But until recent deeds and other historical research, the city had no record it even existed.

This gravestone for Revolutionary War veteran Robert Deniston was discovered in Augusta’s lost cemetery. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Among the graves are one of Robert Deniston, a Revolutionary War veteran, whose slate stone remains upright and in remarkably intact and legible condition. Another is the marker of Henry Lyon, a Union soldier who fought in five Civil War battles with the 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment before he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. His granite headstone has toppled over and broken into pieces.

The overgrown and long-neglected cemetery — with no paths or roads leading to it — was rediscovered by Augusta resident Justin Vogel. Vogel and his wife, Amanda, were considering buying a historic Riverside Drive house once owned by the Lawson family, which has multiple gravestones in the old cemetery.

Vogel discovered a city right-of-way to the cemetery while researching the deed to the property. Then Vogel, who said he’s always had an interest in history and cemeteries, trudged through knee-deep snow in December 2020 to find the cemetery.

“It’s stunning, absolutely gorgeous,” he said of the cemetery shielded by large trees and surrounded by thick thorny puckerbrush. “It’s sad to see it so overgrown, but it’s so beautiful, so peaceful. I felt driven, even after someone else bought the property, it became a passion beyond the property itself.

“I considered it a crime all these poor souls were buried there and no one was looking after them,” Vogel added. “I want to see those folks respected, and people be able to go and sit and see that beautiful place.”

Eventually, city officials plan to make that happen. The city is in the process of surveying the cemetery, which was conveyed to the city in two parcels — in 1842 and 1859. Augusta officials also plan an archaeological survey and to clarify where the right of way to the property is located. The hope is that a path can be built to allow the public to access it, and for the site to be restored and maintained by city staff.

Until then, city officials say the cemetery will remain closed to the public, to protect the site and not create any problems with the owner of the property that includes the deeded right of way to the cemetery. The property was recently sold and city officials have not yet been in contact with the buyer.

“Legally and morally, we are obligated to restore this cemetery but obviously want to do it in a sensitive fashion — to respect the memory of those interred there and to prevent inadvertent damage to the site,” City Manager William Bridgeo told city councilors in a memo after city officials learned about the presence of the cemetery.

A finger pointing to heaven is seen on the 1857 gravestone of Albert Lawson in Augusta’s lost cemetery. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

It wasn’t until Vogel came across information posted online by Holly Johnson of Rhode Island, a descendant of the Lawson family, that he was able to learn much about who was buried there. Johnson’s fourth and fifth sets of great-grandparents, Suitliff and Milleson Ingraham Lawson, and Suitliff’s parents, William and Sarah Stone Watson, are buried there.

Johnson had been researching her Lawson ancestors for years and found their burial place mentioned in a book published in the 1930s, but found no mention of it among modern accounts of Augusta cemeteries. She posted information online about it, having no idea if the cemetery even still existed. After Vogel found it, he contacted her to say he thought he knew where that cemetery was.

In July, she and her husband, Chuck Beltz, came to see the cemetery, guided by Vogel and Earl Kingsbury, the city’s director of community services.

“The cemetery is a treasure!” she said upon seeing it for the first time. “I’m very excited about this. It’s rare you get a chance to make a contribution like this, find something that’s really new. So that’s a big thrill.”

Earl Kingsbury, Augusta’s director of community services, examines gravestones July 28 in Augusta’s lost cemetery. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Johnson said finding the cemetery, combined with information gleaned from newspapers, land records and original documents held by the Kennebec Historical Society, allowed her to reconstruct at least two generations of Lawsons who are not otherwise well documented. The discovery should also help others with family buried there track their family roots.

Johnson said the cemetery is on a piece of land that had belonged to the Lawson family, who had a farm there, which was deeded to the city in 1842 by Albert G. Lawson, one of Suitliff’s sons.

Kingsbury said research by Matt Nazar, the city’s director of development services, indicates the cemetery is referred to by three family names, Lawson, Babcock and Doe. His research indicates the cemetery had been an active private cemetery for at least 40 years before it was deeded to the city.

A pair of Deniston family gravestones, for Joseph and his wife, Ruth, were discovered in Augusta’s lost cemetery. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Deniston’s burial, in historical documents, is described as being at a small cemetery on the Doe Farm. Lyon’s service records indicate he was buried at Babcock Cemetery. The stones of the two soldiers are both in the same, recently rediscovered cemetery.

Nazar’s research also indicates the cemetery could also be the final resting place for John Gilley. According to “The Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine” that was written in 1892, Gilley is buried in the Lawson yard, which was later owned by Horace Doe. It states, “In this yard lies the dust of John Gilley, one of the earliest settlers, who lived to a great age — reputedly to 124 years.”

Nazar said Gilley’s story was featured in 1985 in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” not just for living to be 124, but also for reportedly marrying an 18-year-old woman when he was 80 years old and fathering 10 children, the last when he was 100.

However, Gilley’s grave has not been found in the rediscovered cemetery, at least not yet.

Earl Kingsbury, the city’s director of community services, looks at gravestones July 28 in Augusta’s lost cemetery. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Kingsbury said 45 gravestones have been found so far on about three-quarters of an acre, but that more may be found to be covered in leaves or brush when the city restores the grounds. Erosion appears to have taken place around some of the graves.

“We’ll work with the property owner to provide a right of way, and restore it, and do the families and veterans down there some justice,” Kingsbury said of the cemetery. “It’s a real gem. Most of these stones are in such great shape, it’s amazing.”

Vogel and Johnson both said they’re pleased to hear the city plans to restore and preserve the cemetery.

“I’m so glad the city has done nothing but indicate they take this very seriously,” Vogel said, “that they take the souls, the veterans, buried out there, very seriously.”


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