Explore a piece of Providence history while taking in the beautiful autumn foliage at North Burial Ground. Providence’s first public cemetery dates all the way back to 1700, holding over three centuries of artistic headstones, memorials and tombs that make for a beautiful glimpse into the past. A visit to North Burial Ground offers a fascinating experience for history, art, genealogy and nature enthusiasts alike.
Before the establishment of North Burial Ground, colonists buried their dead in scattered family graveyards on individual farms. Providence had no state churches and therefore no adjacent public burial grounds because Rhode Island’s religious and government institutions were kept so distinct. In June of 1700, however, the Providence Town Meeting designated an initial 45-acre plot of land for a town burial ground. The first interment occurred in 1711 with the burial of prominent resident Samuel Whipple. In 1785, many family graves were relocated to North Burial Ground to make way for improvements to the East Side’s Benefit Street. Over the centuries, this area continued to grow into the 110-acre cemetery, located between North Main Street and Branch Avenue, that is still in use today, with around over 200 burials a year held there. In 1977, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
North Burial Ground is the final resting place of many notable Rhode Island figures, from Rhode Island governors and mayors to Civil War and Revolutionary War leaders to other prominent Providence locals. The graves of John and Nicholas Brown, of Brown University fame, Charles Dow, co-founder Dow Jones & Company and founder of the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Hopkins, colonial governor and signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and Sarah Helen Whitman, poet and romantic interest of Edgar Allen Poe, are just a few of the significant Rhode Islanders buried there. Pick up a map of the famous graves and memorials at the North Burial Ground office for a self-guided walking tour of the important sites. Or simply wander through on your own and get lost in this vast historical landmark, browsing the wide variety of tombstones, memorials and monuments. The design, layout and display of Gothic, Baroque, Beaux-Arts and Federal architectural features throughout the graveyard make it an enjoyable and interesting walking experience overall.
Rhode Island College also recently started the North Burial Ground Project, a mission to make North Burial Ground an educational and economic asset for Providence, the Blackstone Valley region, Rhode Island and the nation as a whole. They’ve set up a series of online tours to appeal to a number of different individuals and organization, like the Women’s Tour and the Civil War Tour. The Women’s Tour highlights the variety of females buried there, from the 17th century colonists to 20th century immigrants, including mothers, writers, scholars, philanthropists, crusaders, homemakers, leaders, inventors and
The Civil War Tour shows and details the lives and stories of the many Civil War veterans who are buried there. The project also seeks to make the burial ground a place for Rhode Island College students and faculty of many fields to use for experimental education projects. Visit their website to learn more about the project and the history of North Burial Ground, browse the different online tours and learn how you can get involved in this important community project.
Be sure to take a stroll or spend a day at North Burial Ground this fall for a picturesque and educational experience. And what better time to mean- der among ancient gravestones than with Halloween around the corner?
The North Burial Ground is open to the public seven days a week from 8:30am-4:00pm. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm. 5 Branch Avenue, Providence. 331-0177.