I am sure I’m not alone in my enjoyment of walks through historic cemeteries. One of the more significant – and beautiful – is the Juniper Hill garden cemetery in Bristol, RI, which, in 1998, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Recently I joined a walking tour of this lovely property, and heard about the industrialists, governors, senators, and slave traders who are buried there. There are also some sweet and touching gravestones for “ordinary” people, such as this one for a little girl named Harriet, who was barely two years old when she died in 1864.
The cemetery was formally founded in 1869, and its plantings reflect the “back to nature” movement of the time. This was a return to embracing natural landscapes and planting trees, which followed the rampant cutting and “taming” of the landscape.
Arborist and cemetery caretaker, Chris Fletcher, pointed out a venerable native red maple, (acer rubrum) which he explained pre-dated the advent of the lawnmower, and was probably injured repeatedly by scythes and by grazing animals. It has re-sprouted nonetheless and is a beautiful specimen indeed.
Other notable trees include an immense fern leaved beech, (fagus sylvatica) one of my very favorite specimen trees, and one that requires plenty of room to reach its glorious potential. This one is well over 100 years old.
Several gravestones rest under the canopy, quietly collecting the falling leaves.
I also stopped to admire a huge tulip poplar, (Liriodendron tulipifera) nearly leafless now.
Happily, this Rhode Island treasure is open to walkers, tree-lovers, and even dog-walkers, provided dogs are leashed. It’s an interesting and peaceful convergence of the living and the dead.
For more information, contact the Bristol Historical Society.