Ross Weaver leads intrepid band of Sutton cemetery ambassadors
Leaning gravestones, and others that needed cleaning or repair, are among those that Ross Weaver and his fellow ambassadors have restored in the Sutton Center Cemetery, which dates to the early 1700s.
By ROD LEE
Two nights before Halloween, Ross Weaver, Brian Stevenson, John Belculfine, Dave Pizzi and others involved with restoration work done in the Sutton Center Cemetery behind the Gen. Rufus Putnam Hall on Uxbridge St. could be found at the site, eager to show off the results of their labors as part of a tour by flashlight open to the public from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
They had every reason to be proud of what has been accomplished in stabilizing gravestones that were leaning or otherwise falling into disrepair at the Sutton Center Cemetery and several of the other approximately thirty cemeteries located in town.
Mr. Weaver said the project was initiated with a Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor-sponsored presentation by Carlo and Betty Mencucci of Burrillville, Rhode Island, which was followed by a workday at the Sutton Center Cemetery with hands-on instruction from the couple on cleaning, resetting and repairing gravestones.
The Sutton project was launched in the fall of 2019, around the same time the Corridor created the Cemetery Conservation Ambassadors as a component of its Volunteers in Parks program. The Corridor’s VIP program is run in collaboration with the National Park Service and has involved cleaning of the river basin, providing docents at historic sites and facilities, and maintaining walking and bicycle paths.
“Almost 1900 hours of volunteer time has been recorded” on the cemetery work in town so far, Mr. Weaver said.
Gravestones, twenty-one of which belong to Revolutionary War veterans buried in Sutton Center Cemetery, were given long-overdue attention by a group that included Boy Scouts, over a period of three years.
No one has been buried in the Sutton Center Cemetery since 1937; also, Mr. Weaver points out, “there are certainly more buried here than we know about.”
Mr. Weaver credited the town’s Cemetery Commission, the Sutton Historical Society and the Dudley Gendron American Legion Post for the encouragement and assistance they have provided to the project.
“The King family plot,” and gravestones bearing the names of prominent members of the community who even have roads in town named after them, like Harback—“all of the Harback family except for wife Ruth,” for instance—are among those buried in the Sutton Center Cemetery. Mr. Weaver noted that “33% percent of these gravestones were severely leaning.” In some instances the lettering on the gravestones was “mostly indistinguishable.”
A walk-through of Sutton Center Cemetery just before the tour began revealed interesting information about some of the people buried there. Abigail Moore, for example, “was married three times, all pastors.” Eight members of the Harback family died in a thirteen-year period. A crypt contains the remains of the Rev. David Hall, a Harvard grad who served as minister of the Congregational Church for sixty years.
Of the more than four hundred “humanly placed” stones in the Sutton Center Cemetery, 384 were cleaned, 273 were plumed, others required cosmetic work, and 68 needed restoration and resetting.
In a number of cases, ambassadors had “reinforcement pieces” placed behind the original headstone. In other cases, slate replaced marble “because it holds up better,” he said.
For his own leadership role in the project, Mr. Weaver was presented with the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor’s 2021 John H. Chaffee Heritage Award. In joining those saluting Mr. Weaver, James Smith, Sutton’s town manager, said “Ross has become Sutton’s unsung hero in our rural world of cemetery conservation…collectively [Mr. Weaver and his fellow volunteers] have made amazing progress in local historical cemetery conservation. He has worked tirelessly to preserve our cemeteries while promoting (our) cultural heritage.”
In all, 340 memorials in the Sutton Center Cemetery have been uploaded to Find-a-Grave and are accessible to anyone with Internet access. A QR code sign, funded with a grant from the Sutton Cultural Council, is located between the Gen. Rufus Putnam Museum and Town Hall. This QR code directs visitors to a self-guided tour of the cemetery along with other historic sites in town.
There are 482 head and foot stones, and one crypt, in the cemetery.
The volunteers’ efforts to restore gravestones in the Sutton Center Cemetery were noticed by Suzanne Buchanan, the Corridor’s volunteer coordinator, and Ms. Buchanan included Mr. Weaver on a panel to discuss the Cemetery Conservation Ambassadors program and how volunteers could work together and share resources.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.