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Historical groups gather to set the record straight -- and upright

July 24, 2011

BURRILLVILLE — The gravestone of Civil War soldier Stephen M. Hopkins is once again standing tall.
Hopkins, who died at age 26 from wounds received in the Battle at Fredericksburg, is buried in historical Cemetery #12 on Howard Avenue in Pascoag, but his gravestone had toppled many years ago and was broken in three pieces.
On July 16, members of the Black-stone Valley Cemetery Networking Group met with members of the Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society to do something about it.
The groups spent the entire day cleaning, resetting and repairing several gravestones in the cemetery, including Hopkins' marker.
"The top part of the broken stone was very heavy and help was needed," said Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society President Betty Mencucci, adding that Lonnie Thurber, a member of the Friends of Smithfield Cemeteries, solved that problem by volunteering to bring his tripod jack to lift the stone into place.
The work to repair the Hopkins stone actually started days before. To prepare for the job, Mencucci, her husband, Carlo, and Henry Duquette of Burrillville had to raise and level the base, which had sunk about nine inches into the ground.
"We put a mixture of pea stone and sand under it as a firm support," she said.
The Mencuccis also made repairs to broken pieces, which also had to be cleaned before reassembly.
"After attending a cemetery conservation workshop in Cumberland and then attending a two-day workshop in Maine during the Association for Gravestone Studies annual conference, we felt confident to make these repairs," Betty Mencucci said.
Last Saturday, the group used the tripod to lift the stone successfully onto its base where it now sits secure for, hopefully, another 100 years.
The inscription in the stone reads:
Lieutenant S. M. Hopkins
Died at Washington, D.C.
Dec. 26, 1862 from wounds received at the
Battle of Fredericksburg, VA
In the 26 year of his age
A member of Co. I 12th Reg
R.I. Vols
"There was great sense of pride, joy and satisfaction among the group when the Civil War soldier's monument was once again standing tall," said Mencucci. "The group worked hard in this cemetery on other gravestones trying to reverse decades of vandalism and neglect. However, the work is not complete and many more hours are required.”
Members of the Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society have spent literally hundreds of hours cleaning up and repairing damaged headstones in the town's historic cemeteries.
This past spring, after more than five hours of back-breaking labor, a group of 15 Society volunteers collected truckloads of leaves, brush and other natural debris during a large-scale cleanup of three historic cemeteries in town.
When it was all over, the long-neglected cemeteries looked better than they had in years. At one of the cemeteries, the clean-up efforts revealed a long-hidden gravestone that had been buried for years.
The work on May 7 was part of the the Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society's annual Earth Day cemetery cleanup, which was made possible this year by a grant from J. R. Vinagro Corp-oration/Patriot Disposal Co. of Johnston. The grant money allowed the society to advertise the event and purchase clippers, rakes, gloves and leaf bags.
There are more than 130 historical cemeteries within the town's boundaries that for years — in some cases hundreds of years — have been overgrown by brush, exposed to the elements and virtually forgotten. Some of the burial grounds are small, non-descript family plots with two or four unmarked and unregistered stones, partially covered by the earth in deep wooded areas on private property, while some of the bigger graveyards like Cemetery No. 14 and Cemetery No. 82 on Spring Lake Road are more readily visible although their gates are rusty and broken and the signs are barely legible or missing altogether.
On May 7, after a brief meeting at the Society's headquarters at the Bridgeton School in Pascoag, volunteers were assigned by Mencucci and Cemetery Committee Chairman Ronald Lapierre to work in teams in three separate cemeteries: Cemetery #12 on Howard Avenue; Cemetery #28 on West Ironstone Road; and Cemetery #48 near Lapham Farm Road.
The volunteers split into teams and spent five hours clearing brush, raking leaves, weed whacking, and picking up litter.
The Society, a non-profit group that has been preserving the history of Burrillville since 1970, has always had a cemetery committee that has been trying to identify and record information about Burrillville's historical cemeteries. Once a year, usually on Earth Day, the group will choose a cemetery and spend the day cleaning overgrowth and uprighting fallen stones. The group also has an adopt-a-cemetery program in which volunteers adopt a specific cemetery and spend one day a year raking leaves and clipping away brush.
"There are over 130 cemeteries in town," Mencucci said. "We are trying to find volunteers to adopt each cemetery to make sure it gets care on a regular basis.”
Two years ago, the group took on a more active role to not only preserve and maintain the cemeteries, but to update the town's historical cemetery database as well.
To do that, they started a Historical Cemetery Fund to help raise money to preserve and maintain the town's more than 120 old and neglected cemeteries.
Money from the fund, which was bolstered initially by a $1,200 Ocean State Charities Trust grant, is used to buy tools and equipment that volunteers can use for regular maintenance of the cemeteries. The money also goes for repairs to cemetery gates and replacing of signs and posts and for materials to eventually repair damaged gravestones.
The Burrillville group is also attempting to update the town's historical cemeteries database. The group is taking GPS readings of all cemeteries. This data will be used so that each cemetery has an exact location that can be found no matter how the landscape changes. The data will go to the town maps so that cemeteries can be located.
"Each cemetery is numbered and should have a sign, but many of the signs in these cemeteries are either rusty, damaged or missing," said Mencucci, adding that the Society is in the process of putting up new signs in many of the cemeteries in town.
Donations to help pay for new cemetery signs can be sent to BH&PS, Box 93, 16 Laurel Hill Ave., Pascoag, RI 02859.
Menccuci said residents who would like to help volunteer for the society's cemetery program can call 401-568-8449 or send an email to:
bmencucci@cox.net.

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