The Prince Hall Cemetery on Gardner Street in Arlington is steeped in American history. The Masonic Lodge was founded by Prince Hall in Boston in 1776. In 1864, Grand Master William B. Kendall of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge deeded the Gardner Street parcel he had purchased in 1856 to his lodge’s Masonic Order.
Black Americans needed a place to bury their loved ones. The property was to be put in trust to be used exclusively as a Masonic burial ground to be known as Prince Hall Cemetery. Records indicate it was in use until about 1897 when for unknown reasons, it fell into disuse and as time passed it was forgotten.
In 1987, the Arlington Historical Society learned of the existence of the cemetery and immediately recognized its historical importance. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge located in Dorchester and the Arlington Historical Society subsequently formed an organization named the Prince Hall Mystic Arlington Cemetery Association which is responsible for its upkeep. The cemetery was restored through donations from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and by the generosity of the town of Arlington through the town’s sharing its Community Development Block Grant funds. In 1990 the cemetery was rededicated. In 1998, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Every year since the rededication, there has been a ceremony on Memorial Day. Masons from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge march into the cemetery where there is held a brief ceremony which includes a benediction, presentation of flags, remarks about the history of the cemetery, an address by the president of the Arlington Historical Society, remarks by the Grand Matron, remarks by the Grand Master, taps, and a benediction.
Before or after the ceremony in Arlington, members of the Grand Lodge proceed to the Copps Hill Burying Ground in Boston where Prince Hall is buried.
The History of the Cemetery
(as told in the Memorial Day program)
July 14, 1856 – Davis Locke, owner of Locke Farm, sold to Grand Master William B. Kendall lot 26, about 9,491 square feet of land in West Cambridge, Massachusetts.
October 13, 1864 – Past Grand Master Kendall conveyed lot 26, by deed, to the trustees of Prince Hall Grand Lodge, forever in trust for a Mason’s Burial Ground, to be called Prince Hall Cemetery.
1867 – The town became incorporated and the section of West Cambridge where the cemetery is located became a part of the Town of Arlington.
June 1857 – Interment of WIlliam W. Derby
January 1870 – Interment of Jonas W. Clark (the great, great, great, grandfather of Bro. Dennis Lloyd, Rising Sun Lodge No. 3).
(Both were members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Cemetery Association.)
Property abutting the cemetery site was developed for housing, and the cemetery was neglected and abandoned, and finally virtually “forgotten”.
1958 to present – After overtures were made to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge by developers to purchase the property, the Town of Arlington has sodded and maintened the property in its landscaped appearance.
1958 -The Arlington Historical Society contacted the Prince Hall Grand Lodge for the purpose of collaborating on the restoration of the cemetery.
1987 -The Prince Hall Mystic Arlington Cemetery Association (PHMACA) was established and incorporated. A Board of Trustees was chosen to manage the property and oversee its restoration.
1988 -The Town of Arlington granted to the PHMACA, Inc. a Community Development Block Grant of $25,350 towards the total cost of restoration.
1988-89 – Archeologist Dr. Mary Beaudry of Boston University explored the site to determine how many bodies are buried there and is conducting research that will provide the names of the deceased.
Memorial Day Addresses are given every year by the President of the Arlington Historical Society. You can find transcriptions of these speeches starting with 2004 in the links below.