Nicholas Clark's 200-year-old tombstone has worn away making it difficult to read the lettering.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Nicholas Clark's been resting on a knoll above Horrigan Road, and a stone's throw from his home, for more than 200 years.
He hasn't been alone — some four dozen of his relatives and in-laws are interred around him. But the Clark family cemetery has been little noticed since the last Clark was buried there nearly 90 years ago.
That's changed since a group of volunteers have cleaned up and restored leaning and shattered stones. And a sign now notes where the town's namesake was buried in 1803.
"We came up about 20 years ago and did some work so we kind of cleared the brush off," said Edward Denault, a former selectman who lives near the small cemetery, of what he and Joseph Bushika had first done. "I kept it cut the last 20 years myself. But then with the condition of the stones ... ."
Denault, Bushika and other volunteers began looking into restoring gravestones that had broken or tipped over in the past couple centuries. They reached out to Rober Eurbin, who as head of the Hill Side Cemetery Restoration group in North Adams has become the go-to for guidance in repairing old headstones.
The volunteers glued up and framed broken stones, righted leaning ones and searched for shattered pieces. Denault pulled out photographs taken before the restoration began showing one repaired stone had been in three pieces.
"There's still some pieces but we had enough to come up with the date and name ... we can do what we can do," he said. "There's maybe one or two that are gone forever."
Denault was showing around Town Administrator Carl McKinney and Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Levanos, on the final day of his term, on Tuesday morning.
The cemetery had been largely hidden from view in the past, out of sight and overgrown. The old wagon road lined with majestic trees was cut off from Middle Road years ago. The volunteers have cleared and cut and trimmed and found a new pathway from Horrigan Road that takes you around to the top of the hill.
The nearly 50 graves are Clarks, Dalrymples, Haskins, Clements and Cooks — and possibly a Ketchum, for whom the town was almost named.
Nicholas Clark arrived sometime in the 1760s to settle in the area with his brothers Aaron, Stephen and Silas from Cumberland, R.I., as well as Capt. Matthew Ketchum and Col. William Bullock, who had purchased a land grant. The town was incorporated in 1798.
Seth Hudson from Fort Massachusetts was the first white man to "cut down a tree" in what one historian said was called "New Seekonk." "It was designed to name the Town after Hudson, but for some unknown reason it was changed," writes John Lockwood in the 1926 "Western Massachusetts; a history, 1636-1925."
Instead, Hudson had a brook named for him and the honors for labeling the town came down to how many Clarks and Ketchums there were.
"[Clark] had one more child than Ketchum, and I didn't know infants could vote but ... it counted as a vote," McKinney laughed. So instead of Ketchumville, the town became Clarksburg. Town meeting in 2012 named the Selectmen's meeting room in Town Hall the Ketchum Memorial Meeting Room as a consolation.
Clark had seven sons and the family spread and prospered. He was a selectman and also the town's first treasurer and collector, positions that would remain in his family until the 1880s.
At the town's 150th anniversary in 1948, North Adams National Bank President Herbert B. Clark extolled the early settlers, including his ancestors. "They were men and women of conviction but they also had in their consciousness a clear recognition of the value of human rights, a quality that persists in Clarksburg today," he said, according to the North Adams Transcript.
The town's founder was buried across the road from his home on Horrigan Road, now the oldest house in the town. Denault said it has also been used for a county jail in the past and there's belief it was a way station on the Underground Railroad.
The town has owned the plot of land with the cemetery but hasn't really maintained it, McKinney said. He's been trying to reach the heirs of an abutting property for a deeded right of way into the plot.
Clark was the first buried there; the last family member was interred there in 1930. Denault said not much is known about them but a descendant, Stephen Clark of California, has been doing research and plotting out the graveyard.
Many of the older stones have worn away so much you can barely read them. Nicholas' name and date of death are faint but his five times great-grandson copied it out when it could still be faintly read a decade ago: "Nicholas Clark died Oct. 20, 1803 in the 60th year of his age."
Stephen Clark also gave a $500 donation toward the restoration and the Nelson family $200, both of which have helped pay for the sign that stands above Horrigan Road that was built by Carlyle Chesbro Sr.
"My design, Kye's making," Denault said. "It's all stainless steel and forever wood. That will be there long after I'm gone."
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