Town to take possession of two historic cemeteries in North Smithfield

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The town is on track to own two new parcels of land: historic cemeteries abutting the privately-owned Union Cemetery that were long-neglected prior to work by the North Smithfield Heritage Association in recent years.

Councilors voted 4-0 to have the town take ownership of Old Aldrich Burial Grounds and the Old Town Burial Grounds on request from NSHA President Richard Keene. Councilor Douglas Osier, who serves as treasurer of the NSHA, recused himself from the vote on Monday, Dec. 5.

“It’s preserving the dignity of someone’s resting place,” Keene said. “We’re trying to maintain the dignity of a burial ground.”

Keene noted that the lots – which each consist of about one acre each – had been abandoned for decades before volunteers with his organization began cleaning them around five years ago.  

“It was a jungle back there,” Keene said. “We started cleaning it out.”

The NSHA president said volunteers have spent many hours taking out brush, clearing poison ivy and weeds, and even learned how to repair headstones.

“Vandals went in and there was serious damage to a lot of the gravestones,” Keene said.

Restoration work on the two lots is now 90 percent complete, according to Keene.

“It’s almost like a park now,” he told councilors. “People come in and walk around.”

Also known as Hotchkiss Cemetery, the Old Aldrich Burial Grounds or Rhode Island Historic Cemetery NS031 includes 120 graves, the oldest of which is from 1833 and the newest from 1980, according to rhodeislandhistoriccemeteries.org.

The site notes that by the south entrance to Union Cemetery, Old Town Burial Grounds, or NS036, holds 136 burials, with the oldest dated 1830 and the newest 1979.

The lots are among 55 historic cemeteries in town, many of which have been located by the volunteers since the project began in 2017. A group of some 60 workers have been involved in the project over the past five years, including many retirees from in and around town.

“Much work remains,” notes a call for more help on the Heritage Association’s website. “Mother Nature is a relentless adversary.”

Keene estimated that 15-20 historic cemeteries in North Smithfield remain abandoned.

One problem with the two highly visible plots located by Union, Keene said, is that old trees in both have started to lose limbs, presenting a hazard for volunteers.

“We’d like to trim the branches to make it safer,” Keene said.

“The other problem is the amount of leaves. Trying to move those things is a herculean effort,” he added. “It takes a lot of people a lot of time every year to move them. The blowers can only blow leaves so far. “

“We need a little help from the highway department,” Keene said, noting that the town’s DPW staff sometimes helps out with leaves currently, using a vacuum unit on a town dump truck.

Keene urged the council to have the town take control of the properties to provide authority for DPW employees to help with maintenance work that can’t be done by volunteers.

“People may say ‘why’s the town on private property?'” he said of the informal arrangement with DPW over the past few years.

He noted having the town take possession of the land will also help to provide a more permanent solution to the problem.

“It’s more likelihood for continuity,” Keene said. “People forget. You folks aren’t going to be here forever. Over time, it reverts back to the jungle it was five years ago.”

Councilor Paulette Hamilton asked about the town’s potential liability on the properties.

“State law provides protection from liability for volunteers who work in the cemeteries,” Keene said, noting that from town staff, the group only needs, “occasional assistance.”

“We have a great working relationship,” he said.  

DPW Director Raymond Pendergast said his staff typically uses their down time to get the needed work done in a few hours.

“Rich will call me every now and then,” Pendergast said. “I have a hard time watching volunteers over the age of 60 & 70 lifting heavy equipment. I don’t have a problem with it. He doesn’t ask much.” 

Keene noted that currently, there’s no owner of record for either of the lots.

Councilor John Beauregard questioned if residents would be in support of the action.

“I’m all for it, but what if somebody’s not?” asked Beauregard. “What if somebody in town pays taxes and they could care less about cleaning historic cemeteries. We’ll be sending our workers. I don’t know if that’s really fair.

“Some towns have taken possession of all of the historic cemeteries. They do all of the maintenance themselves,” Keene responded, noting that generally, people in North Smithfield seem to support preservation. “I don’t think what we’re asking to do is unreasonable. I don’t think there’s going to be an uprising. I think this is a pretty non-controversial issue.”

Councilors voted to take possession of the lots pending advertisement of the plan to ensure no one claims the properties.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. My goodness, you people are relentless, leave this man alone. It’s no wonder why no one wants to volunteer for anything in this town……

    • Yeah JB attacks veterans and people who already volunteer in town without remorse, such a shame that an elected “leader” would take such a route. I try to leave him alone, but then he says something that goes against everything the town stands for. For example, making people feel like they don’t belong, or pushing forward the Nike ban following the silent protests which is in their right to do so even if the town didn’t want it, or how about letting our police station crumble, or the failing roads, or the going behind the council’s back while he was voted out for a concession stand that’s barely open to allow the deforestation of the town, or just never responding to my email.

  2. Personally John, your true colors are always on display. No one has questioned your intellectual capabilities, but they do question your ability to decipher what is in the best interest of the community. Bryan has consistently questioned your ability to provide him with an answer and you have consistently stalled. I personally don’t care what Bryan has said about you, but you are suddenly very sensitive. But if I am the hypocrite, you should take a good hard look in the mirror, because you pretend to have moral and ethical behavior, but often your words paint the complete opposite picture. I have never met anyone with the complete inability to express remorse. I have had the opportunity to apologize for many things in my life and have apologized to you on occasion. Maybe you should take a lesson from that.

  3. John Beauregard I really hope you become more active on social media because the comments you post reveal your true character.

        • Things you have done: Taken screen shots of my responses, caused racism to exist in what should be a zero tolerance administration with the current administrator, and fellow member O’Hara who supported it, let the town administrator still be in charge during an investigation of sexual harassment against him even though you have the power outlined in the charter to place him on leave/force a resignation in what should be a zero tolerance administration, let the police department building be almost condemned and quite possibly forcing more taxes on the residents of the town if a new building is erected, let the roads continue to fail with wheel rot, potholes, and no construction on them by reducing their budget, let an entire committee resign, let the committees be short by 30+ people due to racist comments and your bully tactics with your pit bulls, you and your pitbulls attack fellow residents of this town for disagreeing with you on how you spend our tax money.
          Things you haven’t done: Sent me an email or even apologize for anything you have done, answered some simple questions that I have asked, taken credit for when something goes wrong (somehow it’s always the residents at fault)
          I know I could post more, but you’re only allowed so much before the comment won’t post.

        • I and everyone are still waiting on answers to my military questions for Mr B……if he is calling a resident low IQ as to a branch of service, we need to see his qualifications and service record. My my, very telling when MR B cannot answer my military questions, but questions someone else who did serve! So while you are making a log of the beauts you put out, hopefully there is a separate log you are keeping Mr B, of your countless evasiveness. This is a time to brag after all!

          • Simple questions with simple answers, yet he chooses not to. Maybe he’s quiet because he knows he screwed up and can’t dig out of this hole he put himself in? Or maybe we already know the answer to them, and he doesn’t want to say anything out of embarrassment?

        • Something just came to mind…..you Mr B…brag you helped pass the recent veteran deduction increase…..yet….you mock the IQ of a local veteran! That he joined a military branch and got in with low IQ. Isn’t that interesting!
          Anyone else catch that?!

          • What I think JB was pointing to was the low intellect of BM as a human. Nothing to do with him (BM) as a veteran or his service…

            I think all thank him for his service, including JB. No questions there.

            That doesn’t mean, perhaps, his statements and questions and rants and rambles may question the level of “intellectual quotient”

            Do you, yourself, not have anything better to do than go back through online keyboard wars ??

            • Doesn’t one go with the other? Am I two people? Are you two people? Is there some sort of infinite universes of people? I wonder if Hank Green or Neil deGrasse Tyson could answer that for me, do they know? If there is an infinite amount of universes, would I still be waiting on an email from the former council president in all of them?

            • You mean like you are doing right now? Lol.
              Mr B did attack the IQ and thus the military branch entry standards, as per his getting into the Air Guard….reread and digest it. Let me quote “ you are proof that even ppl with an extremely low IQ can join the Air Guard”. This from a man who bragged he helps veterans…..it is called hypocrisy.

  4. Get a burning permit and do a controlled burn of the area to remove the leaves, sticks and branches.
    Heck, I bet the fire department would enjoy a controlled burn as a training measure. Go talk to them. Burning is a great way to clean a forest floor if done properly.

      • John Beauregard, Disagreeing with someone is one thing, and we disagree on just about everything, but to insult someone that serves the country, come on. I don’t think it is a comment you would like to look back on next election cycle. Bryan deserves an apology.

        • Spare my your hypocrisy Mary. Have you seen the things he has said about me in your friends hate filled page? Where was your outrage then? He fits right in over there.

          • Nothing as malicious as that, that’s for sure. Have I called you out on certain topics that you don’t answer? Yes. Have I called you out on certain hate speech that you have said/done? Yes. Have I called you out on the inaction done by you and the council to the town and only serve the self interest projects you want? Yes. I see you have time to respond to others on here, but not email me, any idea when that may be?
            What he doesn’t know, is that the air force takes the highest enlisted asvab scorers, showing that higher IQ personnel join that branch. But what do I know? I’m just a resident who doesn’t belong (his words), and now has extremely low IQ (his words). I wonder what else he’ll make up about me now?
            Sounds like he’s becoming unhinged and unable to associate fact from fiction, do you need to seek medical attention? I know the holiday season is tough on certain people, are you okay?

        • Mr B, what branch did you serve on if I may ask? And what was your test score? And what was your MOS? How many yrs did you serve? And what rank did you discharge at? Honorable? Please share your history.
          This widow is curious…..

          • Did a town council member, former council president just use the excuse of “But he started it”? Which of course is a lie in on itself, but since when did that matter to him. Maybe he needs to resign and take a break for his mental health, which seems to be deteriorating currently. I do worry about his health, it seems to be a lot of stress from the election as of recently.

      • And what about those that died for you and me in service to their country Mr B? Do you want their IQ too? That was a low blow comment you gave that not only hit on BM, but hit on every single military person, dead or alive.
        It takes a big man to apologize……and earns more respect then.

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