Resident preserving town cemeteries

Bedford’s cemeteries have indeed found a friend in John Wood, the founder and present chairman of the Friends of the Town of Bedford Cemeteries and a current cemetery trustee.

Formed in 2008 to help the town restore its four cemeteries, the friends are dedicated to preserving and maintaining these valuable historical resources. Bedford residents can find a plethora of information about the cemeteries and the notable personages who occupy them at www.bedfordcemeteries.org.

Wood recently took the time to answer our questions about what a cemetery trustee does, the town’s historic graves and the importance of Bedford’s cemeteries.

Here’s part of the conversation:

Q: How did you become interested in cemeteries?

A: After I retired, I became involved with the Southern New Hampshire University Continuum group. They decided to take on an outreach program of restoring the Valley Cemetery in Manchester, located next to the Verizon Arena. I was made chairman of that group and in 2001 formed a 501(c)(3) called the Friends of the Valley Cemetery and became chairman until my term expired in 2007. In that period of time, we raised more than $1.4 million for restoration of the cemetery.

Q: What is the role of a cemetery trustee?

A: I was appointed Bedford Cemetery Trustee by the town council in 2008. As a trustee, you are responsible for selling burial lots and the overall cemetery management, including tree cutting, grass mowing, and gate and fence maintenance.

Q: What are a few of the more historically significant gravestones in Bedford?

A: There are many historic gravestones in Bedford. Located at the Old Bedford Cemetery on Back River Road is the gravestone of John Goffe, who in 1750 was selected to present the petition for the incorporation of the town of Bedford to Gov. Benning Wentworth. In 2010, the friends hired a monument conservation specialist to restore his gravestone, which had broken into several pieces. Also at this cemetery is the gravestone of the Rev. John Houston, Bedford’s first minister. Stories about these people are published in a bimonthly newsletter distributed by the friends, which can be picked up at the Bedford library.

Q: Is gravestone rubbing permitted in the Bedford cemeteries?

A: State law prohibits gravestone rubbing, as it could damage the stones.

Q: Why is it important to preserve Bedford’s cemeteries?

A: Bedford cemeteries are the final resting place for men and women who were important to the founding of the town of Bedford and New Hampshire. Buried at the Bedford Center Cemetery is Isaac Riddle (1762-1830), who built a boat in Bedford Center and, with a yoke of 40 oxen, moved it to the Merrimack River and loaded it for a trip to Boston. When it arrived, it was hailed with cheers, the firing of cannons and the following announcement in the Boston Centinel: “Arrived from Bedford, New Hampshire, Canal-Boat, Isaac Riddle, Captain via Merrimac River and Middlesex Canal.”

Q: Not all New England towns make such an effort to preserve their cemeteries and educate the community about their value. What makes Bedford so diligent in this respect?

A: Starting with grade school, young Bedford children learn about the importance of founding people who are buried in Bedford. Ann Orr was born in Bedford in 1872 and at the age of 19 began to teach and taught for 45 consecutive years. She taught such people as Horace Greeley, who became a renowned newspaper editor for the New York Tribune.

Q: Are the Friends of the Town of Bedford Cemeteries currently working on any restoration projects?

A: The friends have contracted for 10 gravestones to be restored at the Old Bedford Cemetery in the spring. Also, groups of trained volunteers will cleaning gravestones.

Q: I hear you’re involved with the Bedford Strawberry Festival. Could you tell me more about that event and your involvement with it?

A: The friends will sponsor this year the fourth annual Strawberry Festival on Saturday, June 2. Also, the Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire will exhibit. Lori Radke, Bedford town clerk, will be present to register dogs.

Q: Are you involved with any other organizations in the community?

A: I am a director of the Bedford Public Library Foundation and past president of the Bedford Rotary Club.