Critical Restoration Need! The Scots’ Charitable Society Lot Fence

January 4, 2024

In the 1800s, Mount Auburn housed hundreds of iron fences, most of which have since been removed due to changing tastes at the turn of the 20th century. Of the 62 remaining iron fences at the cemetery, the Scots’ Charitable Society Lot Fence is perhaps the most significant.

At the intersection of Walnut and Fir Avenues, the Scots’ Charitable Society Lot Fence is one of the more ornate cast iron fences at Mount Auburn. Purchased in 1841 by the Scots’ Charitable Society for its members, this lot memorializes over 200 people of Scottish descent. The large fence designed by architect Theodore Voelkers is adorned with symbols of the heritage of the people buried in the lot, including the image of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, as well as thistles, battle axes, rampant lions, and crests.

What makes the lot unique is that there are no headstones or grave markers. Instead, the cast iron fence itself is the memorial. Many working-class people could not afford the costs associated with burial, so the Scots’ Charitable Society lot was a resource for members in need. The burials, ranging from 1841 to 1990, reflect a panorama of human stories that highlight the perseverance of the immigrant story in America.

Thanks to a matching grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2022 and the generosity of our donors, we were able to engage Foster Architects to complete a condition inspection and assessment of the fence which revealed the great extent of restoration work required to restore this piece of funerary art to its former glory. Now, Mount Auburn needs your help to finish this vital work.

The Work Ahead

The granite bases holding up the almost two century old ironwork are irreparable and require replacement. Repairs from previous decades, which encased the granite in concrete, have unfortunately only hastened their disintegration. In order to replace the bases, the fence will need to be dismantled and removed to a cast iron restoration shop.  While removed, the damaged corner posts will be repaired, and replacement pieces will be cast as necessary. Lead paint will be stripped from the entire fence, and the fence will be repainted prior to being shipped and reassembled on site atop new granite bases.

All of this work will be carefully done while respecting the final resting places of over 200 people of Scottish descent buried within the lot. The restoration of the fence honors the risks they took and the difficulties they faced as working-class residents—mostly farmers and  tradespeople—of a highly stratified Boston society, often battling diseases like tuberculosis that ravaged the population. Restoring the fence also underlines the generosity of their countrymen who founded the Scots Charitable Society, the oldest charitable organization in the Western hemisphere, founded to support Scottish immigrants in poverty and ultimately to provide a dignified final resting place at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Be a Champion for the Scots’ Charitable Society Lot Fence!

Mount Auburn’s preservation team prioritizes and takes on numerous projects a year, but larger restoration projects such as the Scots’ Charitable Society Lot Fence require advanced specialization and contracting outside of our regular preservation funding. With your support in addition to anticipated grant funding, we will finally be able to ensure the fence stands tall for generations to come. Donate by clicking here today!

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