Providence’s beautiful garden cemetery, Swan Point still inspires and is accessible to “leisure uses” that it was designed for – although not so many as there once were! Security guards constantly buzz about to make certain you don’t get TOO leisurely! No blading, biking, animals, no faster pace than a “brisk walk”, beverages and food items are frowned upon. It’s no longer the place to bring the family and dog to have a picnic or a jog through – but still magnificent nevertheless.
Swan Point was founded by Thomas Hartshorn in 1846, arising from the “vivid intellectual community composed predominately of Providence’s emerging middle class in the mid-nineteenth century”, according to Swan Point’s “A Historical Walking Tour”.
On my visit today the clouds dimmed the beautiful foliage that exists throughout the entire cemetery, but luckily the rain held off for the journey. To get to Swan Point, you venture down Blackstone Boulevard, it’s trolley tracks still running down the center, though no longer in use.
Once within the cemetery, it’s best to grab a map from the office, because it’s easy to get lost down the long winding paths. Of of Providence’s best and brightest lie buried here, and a look in every direction grants view of huge monuments with elegant and finely crafted sculptures. Since most American museums were not invented until the late 1800s, places like Swan Point are an excellent means by which you can view American art and sculpture.
There’s the original receiving tomb for the cemetery which was designed by Brown University grad Thomas Tefft.
There’s the John Rogers Vinton sarcophagus which was designed as a publicity push for the cemetery. Swan Point was looking for a way to bring in potential customers, so they offered a free burial to a war victim – and John Vinton fit the bill, having just recently passed away in the Mexican American War at the Battle of Vera Cruz. Note the cannonball which killed him sitting atop the monument.
There’s the Colonel John Stanton Slocum Stone, a soldier who died in the Civil War at Bull Run. His granite monument is carved with his uniform and military accoutrements draped in mourning over the stone.
Victorian art at its finest when it comes to the representations of the innocence of youth:
As Swan Point was expanding, they literally bought the road which used to pass through Providence to Pawtucket and up to Boston, and had it moved to where Blackstone Boulevard currently is today. “Old Road” now runs through the middle of the cemetery, one of the very few straight paths.
“Its secret lies in understanding and continually reinventing the delicate relationship between the natural and the created. Perhaps more than any other garden cemetery, Swan Point presents a comfortable amplitude for any visitor’s experience. The land undulates easily, seemingly spontaneously, and delightfully. The variety of specimen trees and shrubbery, both planted and native to the landscape makes this a tree lover’s dream.”
The Seekonk River was once a magnificent view from the cemetery, but now modern environmental regulations issue that any vegetation growth along watersides must remain there, in order to help prevent erosion, so the river is no longer as viewable. Still a pretty sight, however.
Overall, a pretty place to wander. The cemetery is still in use, a funeral procession was coming in as I was leaving the gates. “From its inception, Swan Point Cemetery has been a place for both the living and the dead. It is one of those rare places where both have always comfortably inhabited the same space.”