Down East 2013 ©
An entire settlement vanished when the United States Navy built its air station in east Brunswick in the 1940s. In what some regarded as a patriotic sacrifice, the inhabitants of the New Meadows neighborhood relinquished their farms to the navy and made new homes elsewhere.
But they left a few family members behind. For sixty-eight years, the fifty-odd denizens of Gatchell Cemetery slumbered in isolation, cut off from the rest of town by a dense pine forest and miles of chain-link fence, on the other side of which anti-submarine aircraft thundered as they took off and landed around the clock. Anyone who wanted to bring flowers to a loved one’s grave had to get permission from the navy.
“The cemetery was immediately adjacent to the weapons compound,” explains Bob Leclair, Brunswick Naval Air Station’s sole remaining sailor, “so whoever visited had to coordinate with the navy.”
Although the base closed in 2011 and is being redeveloped as Brunswick Landing business park, Gatchell Cemetery (aka Getchell Cemetery), now on town-owned land, is not much easier to visit, much less find. The nearest road dead-ends at the chain-link fence that still surrounds the eerily quiet former base and remains posted with intimidating Restricted Area signs. A sign pointing the way to the cemetery is obscured by the branches of a white pine tree, and the access road that runs between the fence and a dark forest is overgrown with tick-infested grass. The cemetery, a five-minute walk, is tucked in the woods, surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. Lush green ferns brush headstones that date to 1771 and bear the names of prominent New Meadows families — Getchell, Gatchell, Marriner, Farrin, among others.
Forbidding it may be, but Gatchell Cemetery has not been forgotten. Members of the Pejepscot Genealogical Society have taken over care of the long neglected graves, and they hope to see the fence surrounding Brunswick Landing opened to allow more direct access. “I’m trying to contact descendants of the people in the cemetery,” society president Brian Bouchard reports. “Ultimately my goal is to try to organize a family reunion of sorts once everything is cleaned up and we get enough interest in it. A lot of people have asked about Gatchell over the years.”
Photo: Virginia M. Wright