Trees on the former Stevens Tavern property at 628 Stevens Ave. in Portland were taken down last year to make way for future grave sites at Evergreen Cemetery. The cemetery dates back to 1855. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The city is prepping property around the site of the Revolutionary War era Stevens Tavern for a future expansion of Evergreen Cemetery.

Evergreen Cemetery may run out of space in the next few years. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The two-acre property at 628 Stevens Ave., across from the former Catherine McAuley High School, has been an unused part of the Portland cemetery since 1989. With space increasingly becoming limited in other parts of the historic cemetery, it may be needed for burials. The actual site of Stevens Tavern on the property would not be disturbed.

“We have not run out of space yet, but if we don’t do anything in the next three to four years, we won’t have an adequate supply of grave spaces,” said Mike Murray, the park department’s director of cemetery and project management.

The last expansion took place in 2015 when room was made for upwards of 1,000 graves and a columbarium, a structure to hold cremated remains. The cemetery’s property covers 239 acres, but close to half of that is dedicated to walking trails managed by Portland Trails.

Preparation for expansion began last year when a swath of trees was removed at the former tavern site under the guidance of City Arborist Jeff Tarling. Many of the trees, Murray said, were diseased or damaged by storms.

This spring the tree stumps will be removed and the terrain will be leveled.

“The biggest thing we want to do after that is return it, so in a couple of years it has really established itself and we can begin to sell lots and do interments,” Murray said.

The remains of Stevens Tavern, a stop on the stagecoach route from Portland to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, will remain even after the property around it is converted into area for burials. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The site of the former Stevens Tavern has been vacant for 30 years. The remains of the tavern’s foundation will be part of the cemetery’s no burial zone, Murray said.

The foundation was part of a two-story home built in the 1760s by Isaac and Sarah Stevens, early settlers in the area. During the American Revolution, when Isaac was off at war, Sarah opened a tavern in part of the house. In the 1800s, the tavern served as a stop on a stagecoach route from Portland to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

The tavern was also a draw for horse racing fans, who were attracted to “the relatively flat plains” on areas off Stevens Avenue that would later become home to the cemetery, Deering High School and the University of New England, according to “Deering: a Social and Architectural History” by William David Barry. Horse races there, some of the first in the area, were often held in conjunction with militia musters, Barry wrote.

The city bought 53 acres from the Stevens family for Evergreen Cemetery in 1855.  Additional land was acquired between 1869 and 1883 when the city bought several homes along Stevens Avenue and tore them down.

Murray couldn’t say how many graves are in the cemetery now, but “it is safe to say there are as many people buried in Evergreen Cemetery as live in the city of Portland and perhaps even more.”

The two acres at 628 Stevens Ave., Murray said, could accommodate several hundred additional graves.

Space at two other large cemeteries in the area is not a concern, nor is space at Forest City Cemetery, a 97-acre cemetery in South Portland that is owned and operated by the city of Portland.

“We do have additional areas we can expand into, so burial space is adequate for the foreseeable future,” Murray said of that cemetery.

Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery run by the Diocese of Portland at 1461 Broadway in South Portland, has 90 acres that could be used for grave space in the future. The 45-acre Woodlawn Cemetery on Stroudwater Street in Westbrook, which dates back to 1855, also has room to expand, said overseer Arty Ledoux, the city’s public services operations manager.

“We have two new sections laid out and ready to go online that could accommodate 800 more graves,” Ledoux said.

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