Lincoln family hopes to restore burial grounds

Lincoln family hopes to restore burial grounds

Bill Gagne and Kristen Gilbert are hoping to rebuild the wall their late grandfather built to protect one of Lincoln’s historic cemeteries.

LINCOLN – Situated between two homes on Great Road, it can be easy to miss Lincoln Historical Cemetery No. 79.

While nine or more people are said to be buried there, only three headstones stand on the tiny incline two houses down from the Saylesville Friends Meetinghouse.

The wall containing these burial grounds has partially succumbed to time and is beginning to buckle and crumble.

Decades ago, the late William Gagne built the wall on his own in an effort to protect the graves on his property.

“He came home on his lunch break and would work on it,” said Gagne’s grandson, William, who inherited the property. Gagne only paused construction on the wall when he was called away to serve during World War II.

“My grandfather took impeccable care of his yard,” said Kristen Gilbert, Gagne’s granddaughter. “He was all about making his surroundings beautiful, and paid attention to the little details.”

She remembers him painstakingly maintaining the cemetery, even lining the wall with rose bushes. “He always took good care of it and was respectful,” she said.

The family hopes to return the area to its former luster by repairing the wall the late Gagne built. To that end, they’ve started a GoFundMe called “Save the Graves” in an effort to raise funds and awareness.

“My brother is doing everything he can do to maintain it, but this kind of project can be very expensive,” Gilbert said. She’s hoping people may come forward with donated time, money, materials or masonry skills for the project.

Gilbert said Lincoln Historical Cemetery No. 79 is, “part of everyone’s collective history as a town and as a community. It’s important that we take care of it and respect the people who came before us.”

In the case of Lincoln 79, those people are Anna Sanderson, Mary Harris and Levina Brown Thomas.

Anna Sanderson, wife of Joseph Sanderson, died in Smithfield in 1807 at age 27. Her stone reads: “Ah, my young friends, this is my home.”

According to research by Nellie Finnerty, Joseph later remarried and named his daughter after his first wife.

The second headstone belongs to “Miss Mary” Harris, who died in 1837 at age 82. Her grandfather, minuteman Christopher Harris, helped to establish the town of Johnston when Mary was four years old.

The third visible headstone belongs to Mary’s daughter, Levina Brown Thomas, who died in childbirth in 1812 at age 33. Levina’s husband Phillip is buried in Cumberland with his second wife.

Historical records show that there were, at one time, at least nine visible stones in the lot. The identification of the six other individuals buried there for now remains a mystery.

“This cemetery is much, much larger than the three extant stones make it look,” said Ken Postle, cemetery commissioner for the Blackstone Valley Historical Society.

Postle lifted the three visible stones at Lincoln No. 79 from out of the ground after he discovered there was a cemetery there several years ago. The late Gagne, then 98 years old, gave Postle permission to try and recover some of the lost stones.

“I always tell people, the last person to touch this stone likely did so with tear-stained hands,” Postle said.

He’s hoping to try to uncover more missing graves this spring.

“It’s such an interesting little piece of history sitting here,” Gilbert said.