BANGOR — Tucked into the Queen City’s east corner, Mount Hope Cemetery provides a quiet oasis for the living — and the dead, naturally — about 2 miles from the traffic-humming Bangor Mall. The cemetery has sheltered Bangor’s famous and obscure residents since the 1830s — and visitors mistakenly believe that every gravestone spreading on both sides of Mt. Hope Avenue belongs to the Mount Hope Cemetery Corp.
“Mount Hope was originally set up as a profit-making cemetery” in 1834, Superintendent Stephen Burrill said during a recent interview. “The front piece and the hill are the original cemetery; then it expanded east and north from that.”
The “hill” to which Burrill referred is Mount Hope, the topographical bulge visible from the cemetery’s State Street entrance. A circa-1864 or 1865 photograph indicates that a large farmhouse once stood just beyond Mount Hope; that building vanished long ago, and graves now spread across the long-forgotten farm.
Outside the superintendent’s cottage where Burrill has his office, the morning sun cast long shadows across the snow-speckled cemetery on this particular Friday. The earliest identifiable graves lie a short distance to the northwest; the newest graves, at least many of them, lie across Mt. Hope Avenue.
The cemetery’s early backers faced competition in the mid-19th century. Cemeteries lay scattered throughout Bangor, Burrill explained. Although some were family plots, there were other burial places in the Queen City back then.
Realizing that little profit existed in burying people, the Mount Hope backers approached Augusta, and “in 1858, by legislative act,” Mount Hope “became a not-for-profit cemetery,” Burrill said. “They felt it was a better management policy.” The cemetery officially became the Mount Hope Cemetery Corp.
According to Burrill, there are four types of official cemeteries in Maine:
• Not-for-profit, like Mount Hope Cemetery.
• Association, like the Greenlawn Rest Cemetery Association that maintains a cemetery on Route 100 in Clinton. Under this category, “a cemetery is run like an association,” Burrill explained. “It has no municipal control.”
• Municipal, such as Oak Hill and Woodlawn cemeteries in Brewer. Tax dollars fund seasonal maintenance in municipal cemeteries.
• Religious, such as the Catholic-affiliated Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Ohio Street in Bangor and, off Mt. Hope Avenue, three Jewish cemeteries belonging to Bangor’s three synagogues: Beth Abraham, Beth El, and Beth Israel.
The Mount Hope trustees originally hired a superintendent who served “almost like a contractor,” hiring workers to maintain the grounds and later billing the cemetery corporation, Burrill said. That all changed when his grandfather, Harold S. Burrill Sr., was hired as the cemetery’s first paid superintendent circa 1930.
Harold Sr. served in that capacity until 1946, when F. Stanley Howatt took over. After he stepped down in 1969, Harold S. Burrill Jr. succeeded him as superintendent; Steve Burrill stepped into his father’s superintendent shoes in 1992.
Mount Hope Cemetery has expanded during the last 180 years. Lying within the triangle formed by State Street and Mount Hope Avenue, the Eastern Division was used from the 1900s to the 1970s; in 1972, the cemetery corporation opened the Northern Division across Mt. Hope Avenue.
“We own one mile from the Penobscot River back” along the Bangor-Veazie municipal boundary, Stephen Burrill said. Of the 266-acre cemetery, 45 percent has been developed; 55 percent remains undeveloped.
And Mount Hope appears deceptively larger. Not far behind the superintendent’s cottage, no fence delineates the property line dividing Mount Hope Cemetery from the Municipal Cemetery at Mount Hope, a 30-acre cemetery belonging to the city of Bangor. This municipal cemetery stretches along both sides of Mt. Hope Avenue.
Today, operating Mount Hope Cemetery Corp. “is all based on revenue, trying to manage your dollars,” Burrill said. “If you don’t run this like a business, you’re going to be in trouble.” He presents an annual budget to the Mount Hope Executive Committee for review and approval.
Mount Hope earns revenue from several sources:
• Burials (the cemetery handles about 125 a year).
• Lot sales. “Every cemetery lot that is sold for a set price, 50 percent of that price goes into a perpetual care fund,” Burrill noted. The pooled perpetual care funds are invested; “we get a monthly income from that endowment fund,” he said.
• Installing monument foundations.
• Planting shrubs or trees to honor particular people. This usually occurs in the fairly open Northern Division; the original cemetery and its abutting Eastern Division represent an urban landscaper’s delight, so many shade trees and shrubs adorn the grounds.
• Cremations. The corporation operates a crematorium adjacent to the superintendent’s cottage.
Mount Hope Cemetery has five full-time employees and usually hires eight seasonal workers. “There are 10 people to do all the outside work,” Burrill said.
“Someone is here all the time. Because we take care of this place, people want to buy lots here,” he said. “Mount Hope Cemetery is well taken care of, well-maintained.”