Old Center Cemetery -- Chase's Hill
Meetinghouse Hill Road
originally published in the Bicentennial Book
(Some of this was written by a grandson of Nathaniel Wells)
My grandfather, Rev. Nathaniel Wells, a second pastor of the Congregational Church on Chase's Hill was buried in the Old Center Cemetery in the very spot over which stood the pulpit in which Rev. Wells preached for twenty-nine years.
Richard Jenness, descendant of Richard Jenness of Rye, N.H. inherited nearly a thousand acres of land, some of which was in Deerfield. In 1767, one year after Deerfield was incorporated, the present South Road was laid out running through the center of the Jenness Estate. Richard came to Deerfield as one of the managers of the "Old Red Store". Richard married Betsey Berry of Greenland in 1770 and in 1785, Richard and his brother Thomas built large and handsome residences on the South Road about half a mile apart. It was here that they reared large and interesting families. They tell me that the "Old Red Store" was on the land where Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mathews and family now live. The building where Thomas lived was destroyed by fire. This building was nearly opposite the South Road Cemetery. The Jennesses had many and varied occupations: the making of potash, saltpeter, and linseed oil, the raising of hops, vegetables and grains; therefore a store was needed. The Old Red Store was the center of attraction, it was a trading post, where the young and beautiful, the bearded and learned, met to discuss the main topics of the day. It was a place to exchange the many sundries too numerous to mention.
This old burying ground, with a long list of notables buried therein, has of late years aroused the interest of the townspeople and former residents, and very great improvements have been made.
One of the principal workers in this labor of love was Mr. Thomas McKie, a well known lawyer of Boston. He married Edith Chase, one of the daughters of Alvah B. and Sarah Cross Chase who lived in the next house to the Cemetery. They were the parents of two sons, James McKie and Donald McKie, both married, of Boston.
On the top of a high hill, known as Chase's Hill, Old Center, Deerfield, N.H. in 1772, was erected the First Congregational Church built in that town, and for almost seventy-five years the townspeople came there each Sunday to attend divine worship. During this entire period, it is to be noted that only two ministers served the peopleóRev. Timothy Upham and Rev. Nathaniel Wells.
About 1840, it was decided to remove the church to Deerfield Center, and later the building was taken down. The legend is that after the church was moved, certain members made known their wish to be buried where they had attended religious services, even to have the location as near as possible to the location of the pews they had so long occupied. The plan was followed, and the two clergymen, Rev. Timothy Upham whose term of service was from 1772 to 1811, and Rev. Nathaniel Wells, who was the second incumbent were both interred near the location of the pulpit. If you go there, you will see the fine monuments erected to their and their loved ones memory.
A great many of the first burials were by re-interment from small family lots, and the early growth was very rapid.
In 1923 there was a revival of interest in the cemetery, and the Lot Owners responded very splendidly. A Corporation was formed, known as the "Old Center Cemetery, Inc." A fine type of rustic stone wall along the entire front was built, under the supervision of Irving Brown of Hampton. By having, at hand, a supply of weathered stone, it was made a particularly attractive structure. Ralph Adams Cram had this to say about the gateway to our cemetery and I quote, "In all the graveyards in Rockingham County which I have visited, the Gateway to the Hilltop Cemetery on Chase's Hill stands at the top."
Two bronze tablets have been placed in the piers to the cemetery. One to the memory of Rev. Timothhy Upham, our first pastor, and Rev. Nathaniel Wells, our second pastor; the other was to commemorate the bravery of Major John Simpson at Bunker Hill.
Many of the near residents, and many from far away places, have tried long and untiringly to have the cemetery kept in good condition. They are to be commended for their efforts.
People today with their palatial edifices, lighted by electricity, heated furnaces, can not realize what church worship meant a century and a half ago, when churches were unheated except for a heavy oak plank about two feet square, heated almost to the burning point, on which the minister stood while preaching, and footstones, soapstones, and flatirons for the congregation. It was during Father Wells' ministry that a stove was put in the Congregational Church on the hill.
OLD CENTER CEMETERY PLAQUE
To commemorate the site of the first Congregational Church.
Doorstep is in gateway identical.
Ministers and term of service.
1772 Rev. T. Upham 1811
1812 Rev. N. Wells 1841