Conservation Commission, BVHS to rescue town’s graveyards

Conservation Commission, BVHS to rescue town’s graveyards

Attempting to locate missing historical cemetery lots, Ken Postle of Pawtucket has been sifting through notes and transcriptions that date back to the 1800s. He and John Houghton, vice president of the Blackstone Valley Historical Society, relayed their concerns about the preservation of these areas to the Lincoln Conservation Commission last week. (Breeze photo by Brittany Ballantyne)

LINCOLN – The Lincoln Conservation Commission voted last week to give $600 to Blackstone Valley Historical Society for future purchases to be used in the restoration of historical cemeteries.

Member Jared Bethel said this money should be used only for Lincoln’s graveyards.

Ken Postle of Pawtucket, who went before Lincoln Town Council last month to promote the protection of historical cemeteries, has been recovering lost graveyards and finding headstones – many that he finds in backyards in Lincoln, among other Rhode Island communities.

Postle met with the Conservation Commission last week, where he and Blackstone Valley Historical Society Vice President John Houghton relayed their concerns about the protection of these areas.

Postle, who volunteers his time trying to recover and restore historical cemeteries, has been focusing on finding the many graveyards that are listed as “unknown” by the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission to ensure they are protected from excavation and development in years down the road.

Lincoln has 82 known cemeteries that are mapped, and Postle is on a mission to find the lots that remain missing and also keep a watchful eye on known cemeteries.

Postle’s work in Albion on Saturday, Dec. 12, was typical of his efforts in Lincoln. On an easement between 29 and 31 Briarwood Road, only two inscribed headstones had been visible to landowners. But after poking and prodding around for 30 minutes, Postle unearthed Quaker stones and a headstone base. He said he will return to the site to continue his research.

State law requires a 25-foot buffer zone around cemeteries, though the law does have exceptions, so this new discovery means the previous buffer zone is now expanded.

Still on Postle’s list of cemeteries to find are unknown lots near the Quaker Meeting House in the Saylesville district and a site near Crookfall Brook, among others.

In his attempts to locate these lots, Postle has been sifting through notes from the 1970s and 1990s, and other transcriptions that date back to the 1800s. Postle said it’s not an easy task, but it’s one he’s trying to tackle in order to save the dignity, and stories, of these cemeteries and the people buried within them.

At the Conservation Commission meeting, Houghton told the board “something had to change in the town of Lincoln.”

Houghton said he doesn’t think the town has been negligent in following state laws that protect cemeteries with the buffer zone, but said these laws give a lot of leeway in terms of what towns and developers can do within a buffer zone.

He spoke of the discussion of a possible ordinance change after the last Lincoln Town Council meeting, where Town Administrator Joseph Almond said the council could decide to require some form of a dig outside of known cemetery grounds to ensure no stones were within that buffer zone before submitting proposals to build.

Almond had suggested Houghton speak with the Conservation Commission, and Houghton and Postle both advocated for the commission to take ownership and act as “cemetery conservators,” to give residents a place to share concerns about development near a cemetery or information on where lost headstones or graveyards might be.

“Somebody has to look out for these cemeteries,” Houghton urged, speaking of former development projects like Lincoln Meadows Drive, where excavation was done legally right up to the known cemetery wall after the project was approved years ago by the then-engineer in 2006.

Houghton told the commission members there should be a specific committee that has oversight of these cemetery lots to sustain the areas and all the work he and Postle have done decades from now, when new members are on board, and thought the conservation commission to be the right fit.

He said he wanted to see a group take a role in the development process with the town engineer and Planning Board. Bethel noted that the conservation commission is an all-volunteer group with a small budget, adding that the group has worked on cleanup efforts in cemeteries in town and hoped homeowners in Lincoln took care of cemeteries in their yards. Houghton and Postle said most Lincoln residents have been helpful and cooperative when they travel to these sites to work, but there have been a few who don’t want to see a cemetery in their backyard whatsoever.

Postle, who’s been volunteering in cemeteries since 2011, sent a list of supplies he uses to Bethel to show exactly where any donated funds would go.

Bethel said he was glad BVHS has teamed up with Postle, and forming a committee to specifically protect these cemeteries all boils down to dedicated volunteers who can pursue the work. The commission, he said, will accept donations for Postle’s work. The commission members all voted in favor of a motion to contact Almond about the conservator role proposal.

Comments

Thank you once again for a great article! We currently have worked or are working in 35 out of the 82 known Historical cemeteries scattered throughout Lincoln, besides the yards in Pawtucket and Cumberland. We hope to be able to recover all of the cemeteries, so that family and other visitors can benefit from the incredible history that is interred and displayed there. We are still looking for the elusive Grandfather's Fall cemetery that is said to be located along Crookfall Brook and we have been receiving numerous tips about others that are not listed in the public records. We are looking to recover damage done by bulldozers in Albion. As volunteers working with BVHS, we welcome help and of course donations. If you like history and care about preserving our past and these monuments to our ancestors, give us a looksee at either the River Road Face Book page or contact BVHS. Thank you for caring!