the Brunswick Zone bowling alley in Lowell, through the grass where a
drive-in theater once stood, you can enter the woods through a narrow,
For some, it may just be
any woodsy area in Pawtucketville. But for Dracut teacher Rebecca Duda,
rejuvenating this spot along Pawtucket Boulevard has become a mission.
closer, past protruding branches and a mossy, leaf-ridden floor, the
remnants of smashed headstones clutter the area. Remains of stone
pillars where family plots were marked are hidden there. Claypit
Cemetery is Dracut’s oldest burial ground. It is also forgotten, with
more than 20 known residents laid to rest here some 200 years ago,
their markers smashed by vandals or buried under brush.
to the web to be unraveled, Pawtucketville was part of Dracut when the
burials took place. The land was later annexed to Lowell, but all who
are buried there are part of Dracut’s past.
is more than just cleaning up the cemetery, since there isn’t much of a
cemetery there anymore," said Duda, an eighth-grade history teacher at
Lakeview Junior High School in Dracut. Duda is spearheading the Claypit
project, with hopes that she and her team will be able to restore the
"We would like to see it not only preserved, but sustained after the re-creation," she said.
Before any cleanup efforts begin, Duda and her team believe research and public outreach should come first.
is no sense in cleaning up until we have a commitment from a civic or
government group," said W. Dean Eastman, a recently retired Beverly
High history teacher and Duda’s former instructor. Eastman heads the
website primaryresearch.org, which was originally established to post
information related to Beverly history, but now is chronicling the
Two students also have
joined the project. Eighth-graders Emily Fox and Megan Fawcett began
assisting in the research, and will continue into the summer months and
"I never really liked history before," said Fawcett.
donning insect repellent to brave the cemetery site in search of
headstones, digging through town and census records from the past, and
even accompanying Duda to Boston this summer to search church records,
Fox and Fawcett went from taking on a little extra school credit to
spending weekends unearthing headstones.
first assignment remains ongoing: sifting through census records for
information on early Dracut settlers who may be interred in Claypit. In
addition, there are church, land, and tax records, plus obituaries, to
be found and researched. Their discoveries are being chronicled on
While attempting to locate records at Dracut Town Hall, Duda discovered that the town’s records do not go back that far.
town cannot find the documents," said Duda. "Vital records only go from
1840 onward, even though Dracut became a town in 1701."
to research problems is simply finding out who owns the cemetery.
Pawtucketville was part of Dracut until being annexed to Lowell in 1874.
to the Lowell assessor, the town of Dracut still owns the cemetery, but
according to Dracut, the Lowell assessors can say Dracut owns it
because they don’t want to have to maintain it," said Duda.
According to a letter from the Lowell assessor’s office, Dracut owns the Claypit Cemetery, even though it is in Lowell.
Through research, Duda and her team have come across nine names of people buried in Claypit that were previously unknown.
the information that has really generated buzz is the nugget of
African-American history that has been discovered. While there have
been unproven accounts of African-Americans being buried there in
unmarked graves, Fox and Fawcett’s research turned up clues in the
"This information tells us
that there were many African-Americans living in the Pawtucketville
area," said Fox. "Blacks and whites lived as neighbors in this
community while slavery still existed in the South."
the African-Americans buried in Claypit, the most prominent known to
date are members of the Lew family. Barzillai Lew was a soldier in the
Revolutionary War and the family was well known in Pawtucketville, Duda
said. Further research has found that blacks in Dracut helped in the
Underground Railroad efforts to help slaves escape to free states from
1810 to 1850.
Duda discovered the cemetery
while casually talking with a faculty member one day who introduced her
to Bud Paquin of the Dracut Historical Society. After Paquin came to
speak to Duda’s history class, he brought up the Claypit Cemetery to
the teacher as an aside.
"He brought maps and told me it was overgrown and in terrible condition," said Duda.
1939, the Elks attempted to take inventory of the 12 remaining
headstones on site. In 1961, a history column in the Lowell Sun
described the cemetery as "abandoned." In the early 1980s, another
Dracut teacher attempted to clean up the area with several students.
And in 1992, following teenage vandalism, the Pawtucketville Historical
Society and the Dracut Cemetery Department cleared the site.
Paquin, too, attempted to revamp the cemetery, but to no avail.
Now, it’s Duda’s challenge.
the headstone is a symbol of people’s lives. Research immortalizes
these people’s everyday lives," said Duda. "People can build upon it."
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.