WATERVILLE — Masons repairing the old Pine Grove Cemetery Chapel on Grove Street recently found a 106-year-old time capsule embedded in a cornerstone of the building.

Inside the little copper box was an old penny, a tiny and corroded writing pen, Morning Sentinel newspaper pages from August 1907 and a contract between the city and company that built the chapel.

“Oh, my God — I was just so excited when they found it,” said Pine Grove Cemetery Superintendent Trudy Lovely. “I love history.”

The city-owned chapel, built in 1907, originally was used for funeral services. Lovely estimates that in the 1940s or ’50s, officials stopped holding funerals there and turned it into offices for the cemetery.

Lovely worked for nearly 30 years in the chapel until three years ago, when the stone building had deteriorated to the point that it was uninhabitable.

Little did she know during the time she worked there that a time capsule was tucked into a hole inside the granite stone on the southwest corner.

Last year city councilors voted to spend $50,000 to start fixing up the chapel, whose future use is not cast in stone. Some city officials want to see it turned into a museum, meeting space and a point of reference from which visitors may learn about other historical sites in the city, including Pine Grove Cemetery. The cemetery is across the street from the chapel.

Masonry Unlimited owners Eric and Nate Timmins and their crew have been working on the chapel several weeks, removing and restoring the structural stone buttresses, which carry the roof load.

Eric Timmins said Monday at the site that the workers recently removed the cornerstone as part of their work, and when they went to put it back, they discovered the 4-by-6-inch copper box in a hollowed-out hole after cleaning mortar off the top of it.

“It was soldered closed,” he said.

They knew right away what it was, as they have removed such time capsules from cornerstones before. Typically, Eric Timmins said, they find an old beer bottle in a wall when working on buildings.

“Old masons used to drink. They used to drink right on the job, so lots of times we’ll see old beer bottles or cigarette packs with the date on them,” he said.

This was different, and they knew city officials would want to see what was in the copper box, so they contacted City Engineer Greg Brown.

Inside the time capsule

Brown retrieved the box and took it to City Hall, where the contents were laid out on a desk in a locked office.

The pages of the Morning Sentinel and the building contract were folded to fit into the box. A story in a Morning Sentinel dated Aug. 7, 1907, bears the headline “Will Construct a Mortuary Chapel; Cemetery Committee is Given Permission; Cost of the Building not to Exceed $5,000.”

The story describes a city government meeting held the evening before — Aug. 6, 1907 — at which officials approved the building of the chapel.

“The building will be of stone in Gothic design, and of one story,” the story said. “It will be used for funerals whenever needed, as in the case of bodies being brought here from other places or where there is not sufficient room for services at the homes of relatives or friends.”

Lovely explained that many years ago, when someone died, the family laid the body out on the dining room table and the funeral typically was held at the home.

The two-page building contract in the time capsule, dated Sept. 13, 1907, said the chapel builder was The Proctor & Bowie Co., and the architect was the William M. Butterfield Co.

Butterfield designed other buildings in Waterville, including the so-called Haines Building at the corner of Appleton and Main streets.

The chapel building contract is signed by then-Waterville Mayor Luther Bunker, who was mayor in 1907-08 and whose portrait hangs on the first-floor wall of City Hall, along with portraits of other former mayors.

The contract also was signed by then-Cemetery Committee members S.J. Tupper, W.E. Reid, Fred J. Arnold, Edwin Towne and Frank Redington. Lovely said those men are buried in Pine Grove Cemetery.

In 1907, the Morning Sentinel sold for 2 cents a copy, according to the front pages that were tucked inside the time capsule. The advertising section bears a drawing of a Reo Runabout car with a folding rear seat. The car was advertised for $700 by Waterville Motor Co.

One advertisement admission to a moving picture show at the City Opera House for 5 cents; another Sentinel ad says: “Wanted First Class Young Newspaperman to represent the daily paper in city of 12,000 inhabitants, take charge of local news work and look after subscriptions and administering.

None but a hustler need apply. A good chance for the right man.”

Yet another ad says: “To Let: Saddle horse, safe for lady. W.H. Pollard, Winslow.”

Cemetery a treasure trove of history

Established in 1852, the Pine Grove Cemetery consists of about 35 acres and has about 35,000 graves, including those of about 500 veterans from as far back as the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

There are 204 Civil War veterans, nine from the Revolutionary War, 135 from World War I and 136 from World War II, according to Lovely.

The cemetery contains the graves of many prominent people, including Maine governors William T. Haines and Clinton Clauson.

Descendants of Mayflower voyager John Alden are buried there, as are notables such as Asa Redington, a Revolutionary War solider whose body originally was buried in a cemetery at the corner of Park and Elm Streets. His body is believed to have been moved to Pine Grove when other soldiers’ graves were moved there many years ago.

City streets are named for Redington and other families buried in the cemetery. The stones bear the names Boutelle, Getchell, Gilman and Moor, which also are street names in Waterville.

Charles “Hod” Nelson, a Civil War veteran who died in 1915 and had a trotting park where the cemetery is located, is buried there. He owned a horse named Nelson that was a world champion.

The cemetery also is the burial site of Arthur Jeremiah Roberts, the 14th president of Colby College, who died in 1927.

City councilors in February voted to have the city take over management of the cemetery, which had been run by a board of trustees since 1943. Cemetery maps have been developed and placed  on the city’s website at www.waterville-me.gov, and street signs were erected in the cemetery to help visitors find graves.

Future chapel uses

Brown, the city engineer, said the masonry work is expected to be completed this week, and then Hotham Concrete will reinforce the chapel walls that are below ground level.

Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, has long noted the need to repair the chapel, whose east wall had collapsed before it was rebuilt recently.

“That’s how bad it was,” Stubbert, a member of the city’s facilities committee, said Monday. “Obviously, it’s more than 100 years old. The mortar had disintegrated.”

The slate roof also was ready to collapse, so columns had to be erected inside the chapel to hold it up. Stubbert said city public works employees could do some needed interior chapel work, including tearing down partitions and removing a bathroom.

“We need to open up the space again,” he said. “It’s a beautiful space.”

“My plan for the chapel is to make it a combination meeting space and museum. It could also be used for funerals. It’s an historical building. It needs to be preserved and used.”

Stubbert is descended from the Alden family, and his mother is buried in Pine Grove, he said.

Both Stubbert and City Planner Ann Beverage said many “heritage tourists” come to the city looking for their ancestors’ graves. Beverage thinks the chapel could serve as a museum and place where visitors could listen to lectures and be referred to other historic places in Waterville, including the Redington Museum on Silver Street.

“People could sit in the pews, maybe, and learn about history or about the history of the people buried in the cemetery,” she said.

Heritage tourists, she said, eat in city restaurants, stay in hotels and shop locally. She said larger cities have cemetery docents who give tours in cemeteries and charge a fee.

“There are people out there who are interested in the city of Waterville through the lives of their family members,” she said.

The chapel is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the city needs to apply for that status, she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]