Finding Skolfield-Doyle Cemetery
My last post, Anna’s Boys, told the story of half-brothers John Doyle (1814-1839) and Hiram Skolfield (1822-1951), members of the seafaring and shipbuilding Skolfield family. The two men died a century and half before I came upon them, and if it weren’t for Skolfield descendants, their graves would be completely obliterated by now. In 2000, while surveying Brunswick’s burying places for the town’s impending Recreation and Open Space Plan, A Naval Air Station Brunswick Public Works official escorted Town Planner Theo Holtwijk and me to Getchell and Skolfield-Doyle Cemeteries. Both became virtually inaccessible to the public by the base expansion in the 1950s. We debarked from a Navy truck into a recently cleared patch of woods. Before me was a nearly 4-foot-long slate tombstone resting face up on the ground. When I turned around, I was startled to find myself at the edge of a drop-off overlooking the gully below. That same gully has helped me find the site several times in the intervening years. We weren’t the first to search for Skolfield-Doyle Cemetery after it was marooned from its town. Eleanor (Skolfield) Means (1905-2004) made her own journey which she described to cousin Esther (Skolfield) Schmidt (1888-1990) in a letter dated July 19, 1970. Excerpts are below:
This is an account of the trip taken last Tuesday to the old…Skolfield cemeter[y] on the land which is now the property of the Naval Air Station…Mrs. Hummer accompanied us…and an excellent guide she was. Lt. Cdr. Villemere, immaculate in his white uniform, cap and ribbons, led the way in a Navy truck…Continuing on, we passed the Navy’s Golf Course, at the end of which we were asked to leave our car and join the Commander in his truck. Then, turning left, we bounced over a rough road to a field bordered by oaks, evergreens and a very tall, partly broken, white birch at the end of the field. That is the landmark if anyone ever wants to find the place again. Mrs. Hummer was amazed at the change in the landscape – no houses anywhere to be seen – but led us half way down along the left edge of the field while I looked in vain for that clump of maples and birches you described. Not a maple in sight.
Then suddenly she called out, “Here it is”, and started uncovering a wet slate slab under the trees, which she had almost slipped upon. We pushed away the layers of oak leaves and I took down the details which were well preserved, and when the Commander lifted the stone with a shovel there was a footstone similar in shape under it. (As if someone had finally decided to honor the two men together when Hiram died). It was an enormous stone.
But although we prodded, dug, sounded and shoveled through that heavy layer of leaves and woodland soil, no other stones could be found. Just the rusted iron posts – all that was left of the fence – marking an area of approximately 20 x 25 ft. But it was on the bank of a gully. Dead branches of firs and oaks kept hampering us, and actually we could hardly stand up because of the thicket overhead. Mrs. Hummer recalls that there were some footstones there when she was a child, but none remain now. When we finall[y] emerged we were covered with twigs, scratches and mosquito bites and the Commander’s suit was no longer immaculate…
Over the course of the next 7 years, the Skolfield family prevailed upon the Navy to install signage and clear a path to cemetery. Seabees volunteered to clear out trees and brush, as well as paint the rusting iron posts that had supported a low wooden fence enclosing the site. The sailors strung rope from one post to the next and determined that the fence had been laid out in the shape of a boat, quite appropriate for the seafaring Skolfields.
Finally the large slate tombstone was raised from the ground and set in place once again. On October 27, 1977, thirteen Skolfield descendants and local Naval officials gathered to rededicate the “Early Skolfield Cemetery.” In gratitude, family members from around the country contributed to the Navy Relief Fund. Three other family members were buried in the cemetery on Thomas Skolfield’s 1742 homestead, but their tombstones are gone. A neighbor removed at least one to use as a flagstone in his yard. Once again John Doyle and Hiram Skolfield’s grave marker is flat on the ground beneath the litter of fallen leaves, awaiting the next person who seeks the Skolfields. Next Blog: Meadowbrook Baby Sources:
- Skolfield Family Papers, courtesy of Pejepscot Historical Society, Brunswick, Maine
- From the River to the Bay: A Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan for Brunswick, Maine, Town of Brunswick, Maine, October 2002