New lease on life for Cranston cemetery

Posted 5/1/24

For too long, woods reclaimed the historic cemetery behind the Rhode Island Training School (RITS) off Sockanosett Cross Road.  The graveyard has rows and rows of small, rounded headstones …

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New lease on life for Cranston cemetery


For too long, woods reclaimed the historic cemetery behind the Rhode Island Training School (RITS) off Sockanosett Cross Road.  The graveyard has rows and rows of small, rounded headstones marked only with numbers, no names.  But they were mostly hidden by a thick carpet of decaying leaves, creeping vines, and other deciduous debris.

That began to change last fall when the RITS staff, supported by community groups and volunteers, began cleaning up the cemetery which was the last resting place for indigent and interned people who lived sad lives at the former State Farm from about 1875 through 1918. The clean-up effort continued Saturday when more than 40 volunteers showed up with rakes, pruning shears, and chain saws to further clear the area. 

“This project is about respect for those buried behind the Youth Development Center,” said John Scott, Senior Community Development Training Specialist at the RITS. “We do this because we feel that those resting there are more than just a number.”

The cemetery land abuts the high chain-link fence that surrounds the Training School campus with its modern red brick buildings. The historic site is located directly behind the school’s Youth Development Center and often prompts questions from the students within the complex.  Scott said that the training school is working with T-Times Productions of Warrick to use the historic site - and the stories of those who lived and died at the State Farm so many years ago - to develop educational opportunities for today’s students at the Training School.

Theresa Moore, president of T-Time Productions, is helping to develop the curriculum and said it is a unique opportunity to explore the histories, not only of the land and property, but also the people who are buried there.  “This project is an excellent educational curriculum opportunity as it allows the students to engage in experiential learning and, at the same time, view the cemetery’s history through the various lenses of ELA, math, science, social studies and art,” Moore said.

She said that teachers and students at the training school will be able to access information T-Time has gathered from the Rhode Island State Archives and other research entities, as well as aerial drone footage of the RITS and the cemetery grounds donated by Mike Vacca from Elevate Drone Media in Cranston.

On Saturday, volunteers labored for more than four hours, and included a contingent from the Cranston Historical Cemeteries Commission. “What we’re saying with efforts like this is that the people (buried) here matter, and are going to get respect,” said John Hill, Chairman of the Commission.  “It might be a 100 years later, but that’s what we’re doing -- and that’s what I love about events like this.”

Unfortunately, the cemetery on the Training School property is not the only graveyard from the former State Farm that was forgotten for too long.  It lies not far from a larger historic cemetery which was discovered in 2006 when erosion problems from the highway caused some skeletal remains to be dislodged. 

That discovery prompted a major archaeological dig funded by the state. The remains from about 71 graves had to be unearthed and reinterred in another historic cemetery off Pontiac Avenue to allow for highway drainage improvements.

The rest of the cemetery, with approximately 3,000 graves, will remain forever buried beneath the Route 37 roadbed.

cemetery, cleanup


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