Nine officials of cemeteries located near Boston, Massachusetts met on December 1, 1902, at the Copley Square Hotel, Boston, for the purpose of organizing a group called the New England Cemetery Assocation
Early records show that one purpose of the association would be to encourage a larger number of cemetery officials in New England to join the American Association of Cemetery Superintendents (now called the American Cemetery Association) as well as to deal with questions of local interest. The A.A.C.S. had held its annual convention in Boston during August 1902. Most if not all the organizers belonged to A.A.C.S and they recognized the value of belonging to a trade association.
This organizing meeting adjourned to February 9, 1903, when the first Annual Meeting was held and the following officers were elected: President – Timothy McCarthy, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI; Vice President – George W. Creesy, Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, MA; Secretary Treasurer – James C. Scorgie, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA.
A Constitution and By-Laws were adopted. The Constitution stated: “The objective of the Association shall be the advancement of methods of cemetery management.” There was an entrance fee of one dollar and annual dues of one dollar.
By 1904 there were twenty-five members and by 1907 this number had increased to sixty-two. This remarkable growth in a few years indicated the need for such an organization.
For some years the annual meeting was held in February, usually in Boston. During each year three or four other meetings were held in different New England cities. One of these meetings was known as a “field day” and consisted of an inspection of one or more cemeteries or park systems. Frequently, these meetings were held in June with the first being an inspection of Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island, on June 19, 1903. At first these “field days” were one-day affairs but they gradually lengthened to our present three-day June meeting.
The methods of travel for these early June Meetings were by railroad, inter-urban trolley cars, or steamships. In 1908, the record shows that a group of 35 left Boston at 7:00 P.M. on a steamship. After a pleasant night on the water they arrived in Portland in the morning and boarded a special trolley car. This does seem to be a more civilized way of traveling than our present hectic methods.
Some of the papers that were read at the regular meetings showed the changes that were developing in cemetery work procedures. At a meeting held in 1914, one of the members read a paper entitled “Motor Trucks Applied to Cemetery Work.” This paper produced a lengthy discussion with one member saying, “On short haul the horse could do more than a truck.” After much arguing the defender of the horse admitted that the truck might be better on three-mile hauls.
By 1918 the number of active members had increased to 84, with 6 honorary members. The entrance fee and annual dues had climbed to two dollars for each. The purpose of the association had expanded to read: “The object of the Association shall be the advancement of methods of cemetery management, and the encouragement of social intercourse among its members.”
At a meeting in 1918, someone brought up the subject of power lawn mowers. The record states: “The majority seemed to think about the same question, that power lawn mowers were not practical in a cemetery.” In about ten years the majority probably had different thoughts.
In the 1920’s the schedule of meetings consisted of an Annual Meeting at Boston in October, an April meeting in Providence, Hartford, Worcester, or Springfield, and a two-day meeting in various locations in June. The June Meeting was a well-established feature by that time with 40 to 60 people attending.
On November 20, 1940 the New England Cemetery Association was duly established as a Massachusetts corporation.
Travel difficulties during World War II forced the cancellation of the June Meeting for a few years. When the June meetings were revived after the war, these meetings appeared to have lost their popularity and attendance was very poor. In 1948, in an effort to revive interest in all phases of the association’s activities, it was decided to issue bulletins on a regular basis and The New Englander started publication.
In 1951 only 16 people attended a meeting in June at Lenox, Massachusetts. Because of a lack of interest no June meeting was attempted in 1952 and 1953. A new factor had developed in New England concerning cemetery associations and it was necessary to restudy NECA’s position.
During and after World War II it had been found desirable to establish state cemetery associations. Particularly in the field of legislation, a state association could operate much more effectively than a regional one. By 1953 there were state associations in Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, the latter two being the most populous states in the region. The individual cemetery manager was now faced with too many meetings calling for his attention, especially if he also belonged to a national association.
At the Annual Meeting held on October 28, 1953, it was voted to make some drastic changes in the Constitution and By-Laws, whereby the New England Cemetery Association became, in a sense, the parent organization for cemetery associations in the region. NECA invited the state associations to become affiliated as “accredited associations.” All members of an “accredited association” automatically became members of N.E.C.A. with their dues paid by the state association. The annual dues for such members were set at $2.00. For individuals who were not members of an “accredited association” the dues were established at $4.00 per year.
Also, the regular meetings of N.E.C.A. were reduced to one meeting each year. This annual meeting became one event in the June Convention. The June meetings were resumed in 1954 and once more became a popular event with good attendance. One feature, which added to the value of the June meetings, was the development of a good exhibit and demonstration of cemetery equipment by various suppliers. Also, these meetings had ceased to be largely a sightseeing trip with only an occasional speaker, and the meetings now had strong educational programs.
The establishment of the New England Center for Continuing Education at the University of New Hampshire in Durham presented N.E.C.A. with an opportunity to greatly increase its educational work. In 1970, N.E.C.A. conducted its first seminar on cemetery management at the new center. The first seminar was well attended and the number registered has increased each year – more than sixty were present in 1976 out of a membership of 291.
From its humble beginnings in 1902 when a handful of cemeterians met in Boston, this organization has grown to its present day membership of some 250 individuals with a strong belief in their chosen profession.