The entrance to Swan Point Cemetery.

The aesthetics of death.

585 Blackstone Boulevard, Providence
(401) 272-1314
swanpointcemetery.com

For the Love of Cemeteries

We here at Quahog.org love boneyards. They're quiet, they're chock full of dead people, they contain innumerable tangible links with history and some of them are quite beautiful. They also creep a lot of people out, which is a big bonus. One of the very best corpse repositories in the state (and in our humble opinion, the country), is Swan Point Cemetery in Providence.

Swan Point Cemetery

Founded in 1846, Swan Point Cemetery was the result of a movement toward parklike rural burial grounds in the mid-nineteenth century. The movement grew out of industrial expansion, health concerns connected with overcrowded urban graveyards, and a growing romanticization of nature, death, and the dead.

The mid-nineteenth century was an era of fast-growing industrialization. As people increasingly followed work from farms to factories, cities became larger, more crowded and polluted. Rural garden cemeteries were designed as a place for city dwellers to escape from the urban dreariness. Traditional municipal graveyards, like the North Burial Ground, and private church burial grounds were easier to maintain, but not very stimulating. Garden cemeteries offered rolling hills, benches, meticulously manicured lawns and shrubbery, secluded grottoes, elaborate gravestones and monuments, and plenty of fresh air. Garden cemeteries weren't just for the dead, but for the living as well.

Swan Point's original sixty acres were designed by Niles Bierragaard Schubarth. Today, having grown to 200 acres, Swan Point's landscaped grounds still offer a beautiful and tranquil setting for walkers, joggers, enthusiasts of Victorian-era funerary sculpture, amateur botanists, and mouldering corpses alike.

Notable Stiffs

Swan Point is jam-packed with prominent Rhode Island citizens of the past. It's the final resting place of no less than twenty-three Rhode Island governors, including Ambrose Everett Burnside (1866-'69) and Thomas Wilson Dorr (1842), Rhode Island's "Rebel" Governor. The other governors we know of are:

For those of you whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of politics, perhaps a few pop culture icons would be more worth your while. Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft lies beneath the soil of Swan Point, as does Walter Scott, the man credited with inventing the diner. Or you may decide to visit John Rogers Vinton, a veteran of the Mexican War, whose gravestone is topped by the very cannon ball that killed him.

And lest you think that one requires a Y chromosome to rest beneath Swan Point's verdant landscape, human rights activist Elizabeth Buffum Chace sleeps there, as do impressionist painter Mabel May Woodward and Rhode Island School of Design founders Sarah Elizabeth Doyle and Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf.

In 2003 an addition was built onto the cemetery office and a computer kiosk was installed in the entryway. You can use it to locate any of the people above, as well as any others who are buried at Swan Point. The kiosk will even print out a map directing you to the proper spot.

Swan Point Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places 1977.

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow plenty of time for strolling and gawking

Hours: daily 8am-7pm during daylight savings time (summer); 8am-5pm during standard time (winter)

Remember, this is a cemetery. Please be respectful.

Finding it: from the north: Take exit 27 off Route 95; turn east onto East Street and go two blocks to a fork; bear left at the fork; go 0.8 miles and turn left onto Blackstone Boulevard; Swan Point is the second left across the Boulevard.

From the south: Take exit 3 off Route 195; turn right onto Gano Street; go north on Gano to Waterman Street; turn right on Waterman; at the second light, turn left on Butler Avenue; Butler turns into Blackstone Boulevard; Swan Point is 1.7 miles on the right.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to excavations or amorous cane toads. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited October 8, 2015

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