Historical Tomb Collapsing

On a recent Saturday morning the Holliston Historical Commission visited South Cemetery, across from Hopping Brook Industrial Park, to evaluate conditions at the collapsing tomb of Captain Jacob Miller of the Revolutionary Army. The exterior wall had obviously been cemented over, but the bulging brick is clearly visible and so is a gaping hole.

Left photo courtesy of James Keast, all other photos by Historical Commission member Mary Greendale

Below, Town Facilities Manager James Keast, a member of the Commission, inserted a camera probe into the hole while Ben Clarkson attempted to light the space. It was impossible to see on-site, but the pictures provided a decent view when seen on the computer screen in Keast’s office.

There appears to be a deteriorated coffin, with the top shaped as old coffins were, which has rotted from the bottom and teeters above a pile of detritus. Keast said that he believes the vibrations of heavy traffic over many years caused the collapse, much like the collapse of Balancing Rock in 2020.

It was impossible to tell if there are any remains buried under the crumbled mess. Commission Chair Frank Chamberlain is waiting to hear from the MA Historical Commission about appropriate excavation and handling of any remains. In the meantime, Keast has arranged for plywood and braces to be installed to hold the front wall of the tomb in place until a permanent solution is found. That work will be done on November 8th.

Historical Commission members Sara Zarelli and Carol Kosicki were on hand too.

At the request of the Select Board, Keast has launched an effort to preserve the headstones and gravesites in the five different town-owned cemeteries that date back to the Town’s earliest days. He is not a stranger to detective work in them. He used radar mapping to survey the front lawn area at Town Hall when he was trying to identify a location for a new septic system last year. The radar revealed gravesites under the green following in perfect lines with the headstones and graves in the adjacent Central Burying Ground. There were as many as 11 graves. As a result, that area was ruled out for a septic system.

This result was probably predictable because when Town Hall was being renovated in 2002, an unsuspecting backhoe operator was stunned when he unearthed bones. Work halted and the State Police treated it as a crime scene until they could determine that it was not a recent death. After tests, the bones were labeled as old and sent to the state archives for full evaluation. Apparently, archivists want to ensure that the bones were not Native American. If they were, the remains would be returned to the tribe.

About a year later, the bones were returned to Holliston, and then-Administrator Paul LeBeau purchased a small wooden box and interred the remains at the edge of the Central Burying Ground. The speculation was that the bones may have been buried hastily during the 1753 Great Sickness when 25% of the population died from a flu-like disease.

As for Jacob Miller, the deceased, he was a sergeant at the age of 28 and served under Col. Ephraim Williams in 1758. By 1775, he was a captain in Col. Ephraim Doolittle’s regiment stationed at Winter Hill (part of Somerville MA) that housed a fort during the Revolutionary War. The next year he was commissioned Major in Col. Whitney’s regiment. “The presence of Dublin men in the commands of Captains Bullard and Miller is readily explained by the fact that many of the early settlers of Dublin went from Sherborn and Holliston, the towns to which those officers respectively belonged.” [1]

[1] “A List of the Revolutionary Soldiers, of Dublin, N.H.”, written by Samuel Carroll Derby, Columbus, Ohio, 1901, p. 28.

Today, Miller’s homestead still stands on Gorwin Drive in the Brentwood neighborhood at the base of what is/was termed Miller Hill. Of course, the land is no longer dotted with livestock and crops but with houses.

Mary Greendale


  1. Claire Bresnahan on October 31, 2022 at 8:49 am

    What a great History lesson…I plan to share with my grandkids!
    Claire b

  2. Mark Ahronian on November 2, 2022 at 6:37 am

    How fascinating!! Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. Pat Gipps on November 10, 2022 at 9:35 am

    Thank you for the article, it is very interesting. I have been involved with some research for descendants of the Towne Family Association (Salem Witches) and there are a few dozen or so descendants buried here in Holliston Cemeteries. As well as more Veterans from around that era. Capt. Benjamin Albert Bridges, Pvt. Henry P Holbrook, Sgt. Henry Ware, Lt. Josph Johnson and Pvt Thomas Jefferson Ware to name a few.

    It is very sad that the cemeteries in Holliston are in such disrepair, showing a lack of respect for the history of this town.

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