Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mass Historical Commission on BC's Expansion: Watch Out for Unmarked Graves

The Massachusetts Historical Commission has submitted a letter to the Boston Redevelopment Authority related to Boston College's proposed expansion into the former St. John's Seminary land raising questions about whether unmarked graves of Sulpician Fathers may still be present on the land. The letter also raises the possibility that other archaeological sites associated with Native Americans and two historical estates are present.

The possibility of unmarked human graves on the site may complicate BC's proposed expansion into the former seminary grounds (referred to by BC as their new "Brighton Campus") because "unmarked human burials are protected under the Massachusetts Unmarked Burial Law," according to the letter.

The letter of January 18, 2008, was written by Brona Simon, Executive Director and State Historic Preservation Office of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and addressed to John Palmieri, Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. It was written in response to Boston College's Institutional Master Plan Notification Form, which was filed with the BRA on December 5, 2007.

Copies of the letter were brought to the January 29, 2008 meeting of the BC Task Force by Brighton resident Mark Alford.

Possible Unmarked Graves of Sulpician Fathers

The Sulpicians are a Roman Catholic diocesan order which traces its spiritual history back to 17th century France. The historic Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris is well known in recent years due to its role in the book and movie, The Da Vinci Code. The Society of St. Sulpice in the U.S. has a mailing address in Maryland.

Historical records referenced in the letter state that the graves of Sulpician Fathers were originally located near Cardinal O'Connell's Mausoleum and Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the St. John's Seminary grounds. The graves may have been disinterred in 1928 and reburied in the Evergreen Cemetery, located across Commonwealth Avenue from the seminary grounds, or in Maryland. The MHC letter reads:
However, the records are not clear whether any or all of the graves were in fact removed, or if they were removed in whole or in part. There have ben instances in other locations in the state where historical accounts state that graves were disinterred and relocated elsewhere, but, in fact, that had not been the case (e.g., Saint Joseph's Cemetery in Roxbury). Since this area has never been systematically tested by archaeologists it is impossible to know whether human burials or other significant archaeological remains may exist within the project area.
One long-time Brighton resident I contacted indicated that he remembers as a child seeing grave stone markers in the general vicinity on the seminary grounds. I am aware of no such markers at present, however.

BC officials have previously stated on several occasions that the remains of Cardinal O'Connell have been removed from the site. That removal was presumably sometime after BC agreed to buy the land in 2004. [EDIT: One person has since informed me that Cardinal O'Connell's remains have not yet been removed, but that the Archdiocese will do so at some time in the future.] The MHC letter raises no questions about the removal of Cardinal O'Connell's remains.

Possible Other Archaeological Deposits

The letter also states that the seminary grounds are "likely to contain archaeological sites associated with the Native American occupation of the area" as well as "archaeological deposits associated with the 18th and 19th century Hildreth Farm Estate and Stanwood Estate. The website of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society provides a short summary of the estates:
During the early 19th century, a farm called the Hildreth estate was located atop the hill just to the east of Lake Street. Jacob Stanwood, a wealthy Boston merchant acquired the Hildreth estate in 1864.

Jacob Stanwood was a wealthy Boston merchant, who was the brother-in-law of Maine Governor and United States presidential candidate James G. Blaine. The 1875 Brighton Atlas shows the estate of the Jacob Stanwood heirs with a large main house and five stables situated at the center of the tract bordered by South, Lake, Glenmont and Foster Streets.

Potential Impact on BC's Expansion Into Brighton

The letter appears to raise the possibility that BC might be required to undertake extensive archaeological excavation at the site as part of their proposed expansion onto the land.

According to the letter, "to date, the property has not been subjected to an archaeological survey... MHC requests that an intensive (locational) archaeological survey (950 CMR 70) be conducted at the former Chancery-St. John's Seminary property and Evergreen Cemetery... to locate and identify any historic or archaeological resources or unmarked graves that may be affected by the poposed projects."

In December 2007, BC announced their filing of a proposed, 10-year Institutional Master Plan Notification Form that includes $800 million in construction costs and a similar expenditure over ten years in increased annual budgets. In the master plan, BC proposed to construct undergraduate dormitories, baseball and softball stadia, an underground recreation facility, art museum, auditorium, fine arts department building, and a 500-car parking garage on the Brighton Campus. The parking garage and one of the fine arts/auditorium buildings are the proposed new buildings closest to Cardinal O'Connell's Mausoleum.

Massachusetts Law is referenced at the end of the letter, indicating the possibility that these issues related to archeological remains may need to be resolved "should any state agency funding, license, or permit be required" for the projects proposed in the IMPNF.

I can think of one kind of state agency funding that might be sought by BC as part of their proposed expansion: issuance of tax-exempt state bonds, issued by MassDevelopment (the state's finance and development agency), to raise cash for construction costs. BC won approval of a $177 million tax-exempt bond in August 2007 which they used, in part, to pay for the $65 million to complete the purchase of the seminary grounds.

If the MHC requires, through application of the Massachusetts Unmarked Burial Law, significant archaeological excavation in portions of the former seminary grounds, then this could pose potentially time-consuming delays in the new building construction in BC's proposed institutional master plan.

While St. Elizabeth's Medical Center has begun construction of their new emergency room at the corner of Washington Street and Cambridge Street in Brighton, construction of a new access road was held up last year while archaeological excavation proceeded on the site.

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