Volunteers uncover NP history at cemetery

Volunteers uncover NP history at cemetery

Volunteers pose for a group shot midway through the first modern cleanup of Peach Hill Cemetery on Peach Hill Avenue off Smith Street last Saturday. At right is D’Nina Kemper, with her son Caleb, who purchased the home in front of the cemetery last October and said she was so happy to see people improving it. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)
Peach Hill Cemetery contains headstones of town’s founding families

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Several of the neighbors along Peach Hill Avenue seemed to have little idea that a cemetery full of history was here long before any of their homes were built.

Now, thanks to a local group of volunteers, the cemetery between Peach Hill Avenue and Allens Avenue, not far off Smith Street, has been restored enough to be noticed from the street, the start, say this group of preservationists, of what they hope will be a long-term effort by the town and its residents to maintain this final resting place for the families that helped establish it.

Olneys, Allens, Dyes, Watermans and Whipples are all names found in this cemetery, one of several neglected historic burial grounds in North Providence, where development of neighbors has encroached – and even crossed – the borders of where people were once buried.

There are 54 known recorded inscriptions here, said Ken Postle, cemetery coordinator for the Blackstone Valley Historical Society and organizer of numerous restoration efforts in the area. The way it’s set up is kind of sort of like a zoo, he said, with the “cages” being individual family plots with a walking path down the middle.

Capt. Samuel Olney, who died in 1813 after founding the North Providence Rangers, is the Revolutionary War soldier buried here. His group was designed to protect the town after the war.

Postle and other volunteers last Saturday said this is the first step in making this cemetery something other than a forgotten burial grounds between two rows of houses. He said it will be up to the town to continue maintaining it and also coming up with a solution to gravestones that are in danger of falling down the steep hill on the Allens Avenue side of the cemetery. Developers dynamited the hill back in the day to put in homes, he said, and back in the 1970s, neighbors complained about gravestones sliding into their backyards.

Nicole Loranger, who lives a half-mile from the cemetery and who was able to photograph 31 of 54 inscriptions in the burial grounds over the weekend, said there’s so much history contained here.

“If we can make it visible, then the town of North Providence can keep it clean at least,” she said as she helped build piles of brush for the town’s DPW to take away later in the day. “These are the founders of our town.”

Postle said DPW Director Bernie Salvatore and Mayor Charles Lombardi were great to work with in organizing this initial restoration effort.

Postle alternates between excited and somber tones as he makes new discoveries within each cemetery. His voice fell to a hush when he came across the flattened grave marker of 1-year-old Ellen Dye, one of many burials that are so tough to come across, he said. Three other Dye infants, as well as 10-year-old Mary Dye, are also buried here.

As with many historic cemeteries, graves here face to the east, a sign of hope in the Christian resurrection.

There’s still so much work to do here, Postle said, but cemetery volunteers have so many irons in the fire elsewhere, including with new discoveries in Lincoln, and may not be able to invest significant time here in the near future.


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The last burial here was of Henry Olney in 1925, said Postle. He said slaves were buried in an unmarked section of the cemetery.

Postle said it’s so important to work well with neighbors when accessing a cemetery that’s sat for so many years obscured by brush. D’Nina Kemper, who bought a home in front of the cemetery at 38 Peach Hill Ave. last October, said she was thrilled to see volunteers cleaning out the overgrowth. She said she was told about the cemetery when she bought the house, and was nervous that she might be asked at some point to clean it up because it borders her property.

Postle called last Saturday’s effort “simply amazing” but “only the beginning” of the work needed here, saying he anticipates volunteers coming back in the future to restore more gravestones. He said it was so satisfying for the 11 volunteers to be able to open up the cemetery to neighbors for the first time in decades. The cemetery had been neglected for so long that a tree had grown right out of its gate.

Other known surnames in the cemetery include Bloom, Collins, Cushing, Dawley, Gilbert, Greene, Harvey, Hawkins, MacDonald, Needham, Simmons, and Wait.

Cemetery preservation advocate Ken Postle reads the inscription on Revolutionary War Capt. Samuel Olney’s tombstone in the Peach Hill Cemetery last Saturday. The stone, resting next to one for former Providence Phoenix Editor William Olney, is at the edge of a hill going down to neighboring yards on Allens Avenue.
Volunteers clean up a section of the Peach Hill Cemetery in North Providence last Saturday. Working behind a stone marking the burial of Rhobey Olney, wife of William Olney, are, from left, Abigail Pimental, Zachary Cote, and Gregory Infussi.

Comments

Rhode Island Historical Cemetery is looking for photos of historical headstones to add to there data base. If you contact them they will send you the instructions on how to do so. Rhode Island is one of the handful of states that has a historical cemetery society. It is a way to make sure there is documentation of the people and their headstones. Everyone deserves to be remembered.
Great job you did by cleaning up the cemetery and restoring the dignity to these people's resting place.