Established as a cemetery for the Episcopal parish organized in Downtown Providence in 1829, this is now the only parish-specific cemetery in the city. Designed only a few years after Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, the pre-eminent exemplar of the American garden cemetery, Grace Church shows no evidence of its influence; indeed, the very decision to acquire a small, flat tract of land is much more within the burial-ground tradition, despite the use of the more euphonious designation of “cemetery.” Funerary sculpture, too, is relatively unremarkable. But the welcome breath of open space in a dense residential neighborhood is appealing, especially as faced with the charming Gothic Revival gate lodge, built around 1860 and handsomely restored as its headquarters in the 1980s by the Elmwood Foundation, the neighborhood organization central in much of the neighborhood’s resurgence in the late twentieth century (Tour 8).
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
Located at the junction of Broad Street and Elmwood Avenue, Grace Church Cemetery has served as a gateway to South Providence for over 150 years. Grace Episcopal Church originally purchased 4 acres for use as a burial ground at the intersection in 1834, which eventually expanded to a 9-acre triangular parcel by 1843. Among the 8,500 burials are Nehemiah R. Knight (1780 – 1854), Rhode Island Governor and Senator, Senator Albert Collins Greene (1791 – 1863), and Episcopal Bishop John P. K. Henshaw (1792 – 1852). Around 1860, the Cemetery caretaker’s cottage was constructed in the Gothic Revival style promoted by A.J. Downing in The Architecture of Country Houses.
The Cemetery is part of the Trinity Square Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cottage was restored a second time in 2008 in collaboration with the Providence Revolving Fund, and underwent extensive structural repairs after a car collided with the building’s foundation in 2010.
Although Grace Church Cemetery is an active burial ground, the number of interments has fallen in recent decades, greatly reducing funds available to maintain the property. Seasonal clean ups have been organized by Grace Church and the community, and, over the past year, Grace Church, Stop Wasting Abandoned Property (SWAP), and local stakeholders have met regularly to address security concerns and re-activate the Cemetery grounds. Thanks to SWAP’s leadership, the perimeter fence was replaced in 2017.
As of February, 2019, efforts are underway to restore hundreds of grave markers that have been toppled over the years.