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Historic family cemetery on Wingover Farm will be registered with state

The Newport Daily News logo The Newport Daily News 1/31/2020 By Marcia Pobzeznik, Newport Daily News, R.I.
a gravestone in front of a statue: One of the two stones that have legible inscriptions is a slate stone marking the grave of Joseph Simmons who died in 1748 at the age of 21. [JIM SPEARS PHOTO] © JIM SPEARS PHOTO/Observer-Dispatch/Newport Daily News, R.I./TNS One of the two stones that have legible inscriptions is a slate stone marking the grave of Joseph Simmons who died in 1748 at the age of 21. [JIM SPEARS PHOTO]

TIVERTON — A historical cemetery on Wingover Farm will be registered with the state by the town's Historical Cemeteries Commission whose members plan to clean it up before construction of a 15-acre solar array installation begins, possibly in the next few months. Once that happens, the owner and developer of the property, Ameresco, plans to put a timber fence around it and take over maintenance of the centuries-old burial ground.

The cemetery, dating back to 1748 – according to the oldest, legible slate gravestone of Joseph Simmons - contains at least 41 grave markers arranged in 11 rows, but the co-chairmen of the commission, Jim Spears and Bob Martin, suspect more may be found after a large fallen tree and boulder pile nearby are removed. Four members of the commission mapped out the cemetery during a visit there in December which was authorized by Ameresco.

a man standing next to a tree: Bob Martin, a co-chairman of the Historical Cemeteries Commission, scans the old burial ground and the jungle of vines that have to be cut back. [JIM SPEARS PHOTO] © JIM SPEARS PHOTO/Observer-Dispatch/Newport Daily News, R.I./TNS Bob Martin, a co-chairman of the Historical Cemeteries Commission, scans the old burial ground and the jungle of vines that have to be cut back. [JIM SPEARS PHOTO]

There are 90 known historical cemeteries in Tiverton; most have a number and are marked by a sign from the state.

This will be the first historical cemetery the town's commission will register with the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historical Cemeteries, Spears said.

Spears said the commission learned of the existence of the cemetery a few years ago when the farm on Crandall Road in the south end of town was put up for sale.

Joseph Simmons' stone "is one of the best slate stones I've ever seen from the era," Spears said of the stone that was carved by the John Stevens Shop, a noted Newport stone carver. The only other marker with lettering is a memorial stone for Abigail Hart. The rest of the grave markers are field stones with no indication of who is buried there.

The 72-acre Wingover Farm was home to at least five generations of Harts, according to Susan Anderson, a cemetery commission member and chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission. The farmhouse on the property – which is still occupied- dates back to pre-Revolutionary War time, around 1730. Land records show Peleg Simmons owned the property in 1748. He was the father of Joseph Simmons who died at the age of 21 in 1778, according to the inscription on his gravestone.

Historic preservationists are trying to come up with a plan to save the farmhouse, which the developer has offered to the town for free if they move it.

"Forty one stones is a pretty good size cemetery for that era," Spears said. But the cemetery is so overgrown that in the summer "you can't tell there's a cemetery there."

The commission offered to maintain the cemetery and asked the developer to allow them to go in a few times each season to cut back weeds, vines and briars, and drive a car up the farm road so they don't have to carry equipment a long way, but Joel Lindsey, director of development for Ameresco, said they would do it because they will be having the grass cut between the rows of solar panels a few times a year.

Martin asked if they could state in the plan that will be recorded with the town for the solar array that Ameresco would maintain the cemetery.

The timber fence that will be erected around the cemetery will be 50 by 100 feet. The area where the burials were found measures 50-by-50, according to a report by the commission.

The report states that the commission will register the cemetery as the "Simmons/Hart Cemetery."

mpobzeznik@newportri.com

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