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Quincy Planning Department creates historic tours online

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  December 30, 2011 11:02 AM

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Quincy Planning Department employee Mary Smith said it was a daily occurrence. While eating her lunch and reading a book in Hancock Cemetery on her lunch break, a quiet moment of solitude amid the city’s history, someone would come up to her and ask her where things were.

Tourists, the elderly, even just passersby – everyone seemed curious about the significance of the city’s departed lying in the ground next to City Hall.

“I didn’t know, really. I sort of knew they were all there, but didn’t know specifically,” Smith recalled. “But I would say, ‘Get a map from the National Park Center or go up to the historical society,’ … but they didn’t have them.

"So I started carrying the map around with me and I would give it to people. I realized that this info wasn’t available and people were frustrated and a lot of times people would go get the map and wouldn’t come back.”

The frustration of visitors, and the constant interruption of Smith, sparked an idea – one to put the ever-elusive map in an accessible place online.

Although tourism is not an expressed purpose under the purview of the Planning Department, Smith took it upon herself to create the layout of Hancock Cemetery in Google Maps, a simple website that points out significant stone markers in the cemetery and links to a little blurb describing it.

“There have been loads of people looking at it…it was really for self-preservation, but it was easy and fun,” Smith said.

Although the website is being launched during the colder months, when visitors to the cemetery aren’t as frequent, the idea has already taken off.

Hosted on the Thomas Crane Public Library website, as well as the National Parks Department and Chamber of Commerce websites, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People who have looked at it have said, ‘I had no idea that it was originally a cow pasture, or that the fence was that old,’…they look at it a different way. So do I - I didn’t know all the things about that cemetery that were in that brochure,” Smith said.

The website detailing the cemetery’s layout is only a portion of the city’s plan to keep the history of the land alive.

The city has hired a Boston landscape architectural firm to go through the cemetery and identify every marker and monument on the property. The firm will also make notes about the cemetery’s condition, on potential repairs, and on how the city can improve the historical accuracy of the land.

“That report may be coming out sometime in the spring. The hope is there would be another phase where this work could be done,” Smith said. “The cemetery is a huge part of this redevelopment. The interest in downtown Quincy, Adams Green, the rehab of city hall, the church is being re-done…there is a lot going on and the cemetery certainly can't be left out…

“It’s a process, and it was stared in late fall of this year, so that’s ongoing and something we’re interested in keeping up,” Smith said.

Smith and coworkers in the Planning Department have also designed a “Quincy Walking Tour” in a similar format to the cemetery overview.

Available online, the numbers along Hancock Street and beyond point out notable historic aspects of the city, including the library, City Hall, United First Parish Church, and even the Adams National Historical Site.

Despite all the recent tourist-focused activities, Smith said the Planning Department is really just trying to aid the city’s residents.

“The Planning Department isn’t really into doing tourism, but we’re happy to coordinate with anyone who wants to,” Smith said.

Although both sites are up and running, Smith said colleagues and she have been constantly adding to both sites as more information becomes available. It’s one of the main bonuses of having the data online.

“The great thing is you can constantly edit it…and update it. It’s great and it doesn’t cost anything,” she said. “What could be better?”

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