While cemeteries are oft thought of as spooky places, every graveyard is full of stories, and the Wildwood Cemetery is no exception. On Saturday, Terry McDermott will lead a tour of the cemetery, speaking on its historical aspects.
The earliest graveyard was set next to the church, begun in 1734. On the tombstone of a small boy was inscribed, “The first to be buried here.” A macabre element is that the father of the boy was instrumental in choosing the site for the cemetery. No name was given in the source article in an old edition of the Town Crier.
The old graveyard remained in use until nearly 1800, when a larger cemetery was begun across the street. It is that cemetery that is still in use today. One of the first plots to be used in that new cemetery was that of Rev. Isaac Morrill, who served as minister of the Congregational Church from 1740 until his death in 1792. Known as “The Fighting Parson” he served in the French and Indian War and marched to Concord with the Minutemen in 1775. The plot, in the section immediately to the left of the old Town Hall, is marked with a large brick monument, resembling a chimney. Many other family members and in-laws are buried in the large plot, including Morrill’s son-in-law, Cadwallader Ford, Jr., captain of the Wilmington Minutemen on Concord day, 1775.
The area behind the old Town Hall includes a small stone-lined pond, known as the baptismal pond. The old Town Hall, now the Arts Center, was built about 1845 as a Baptist church. The church was unable to continue, however, and the town took over the property about 20 years later. The stone lining of the pond was added as a WPA project in the 1920s, at which time the nearby stone building was built.
The cemetery received a large gift of land in the late Nineteenth Century from Dr. Mrs. France Hiller, extending the cemetery out to Wildwood Street. Mrs. Hiller became known as the ‘casket lady”’ after she had two very large mahogany caskets carved for herself and her husband. Dr. Henry Hiller served as a cemetery commissioner, and had a very successful patent medicine business.
He died in 1888, before the completion of his casket. After his death, his widow took his place on the cemetery commission. Once his casket was completed, she created a large burial mound with a vault, near Wildwood Street.
At some point, she observed that the grass was quite sparse in the new section of the cemetery. She asked Schamiel Macintosh what might be done. Schamiel was a local blacksmith with shops and businesses in Wilmington Square. Schamiel was close with Mrs. Dr. Hiller, having married her niece, Agnes Mathinson in 1892.
He told her that the soil in that area was quite sandy, without enough nutrients in it. He recommended adding manure.
So Mrs. Dr. Hiller arranged to have a big party in the Town Hall, for the sole purpose of making the grass grow green in Wildwood Cemetery. Admission to the party would be $5 a couple, or a load of barnyard fertilizer. Very few people in Wilmington could afford the cash price, but everyone had a pile of manure. The results were said to be quite aromatic. And eventually, the manure was spread on the grounds, and the grass grew quite well.
Mrs. Dr. Hiller died in 1900 and her elaborate casket was placed in the tomb with that of her late husband. By 1935, the vault was starting to leak. Her second husband, who had been her coachman, had the coffins buried and the burial mound leveled. The Hiller graves are marked with two large urns, near the first road on Wildwood Street.