Swan Point is Rhode Island’s first and finest garden cemetery. As noted above in the entry for North Burial Ground, concern about the condition of the local burying grounds precipitated action to ameliorate them in the 1840s. While one group petitioned for and achieved improvements to North Burial Ground, another group, led by Thomas C. Hartshorn (1800-1854), established Swan Point, named for the southernmost promontory on the property’s Seekonk River-side setting.
From the beginning, Swan Point was a place for both the living and the dead, and their gentle coexistence is very much related to the mid-nineteenth-century Transcendental Movement. The original sixty acres, now the southeast quadrant of the cemetery, occupy the most rolling terrain within the now-two-hundred-acre cemetery’s precincts. In addition to picturesque topography, Swan Point is home to a wide variety of specimen trees and shrubs and a fine collection of funerary sculpture. The cemetery and the grounds of Butler Hospital immediately south (345 Blackstone Boulevard) constitute one of the largest urban greenspaces on the eastern flyway, and both are prime spots for bird-watching during migratory seasons. The limitations of this guidebook preclude extensive discussion of individual monuments. For that, the reader should consult the cemetery’s guidebook, “An Historical Walking Tour,” available at the office just inside the main gate. For visitors’ convenience, this tour follows the same route as that guide.
Enter through the main gates, installed in 1900 after the completion of Blackstone Boulevard, onto Holly Avenue. To the north, just beyond, is the office (1906, Stone, Carpenter & Willson; 1934 and 1947, John Hutchins Cady; 2002, Haynes/de Boer Associates), built and expanded in the picturesque rural-medieval-English mode. Continue east along Holly Avenue to the prominent Barnaby obelisk, at the intersection of Junction Avenue. Turn right, then continue south to the intersection of Prospect Avenue, the location of the circular Sprague lot, dominated at center by a marble monument in the form of the Choragic Monument to Lysicrates and featuring a sweet marble monument with juvenile gisants. Jog right, then left, to the Old Road, and continue to the Hope Memorial Garden, dominated by a large triangular sculpture by Richard Fishman. Turn left onto Forest Avenue, then right on South Avenue to loop around to the Lippett monument at the intersection of Ridge Way. Continue east on South Avenue, passing, to the right, monuments for George Corliss (45 Prospect Street) and Edward Bohuszewicz. Turn left onto Forest Avenue to see white-marble-monument-filled Grosvenor lot and Joseph R. Brown’s (Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Co) brownstone pyramid on the left and Civil War-casualty Colonel John S. Slocum’s militariana-laden granite sarcophagus on the right. Continue on Forest, then left on Cedar Avenue for the Thomas A. Tefft-designed receiving tomb (1847), above which is the brownstone sarcophagus of John Rogers Vinton. Turn back to Forest, then continue along Mountain Ash Avenue, through the elliptical-plan First Unitarian Society Grounds; just beyond Monument Way is Pastor’s Rest, dominated by a large circular-plan monument. Continue north on Oak Avenue to the Rock pond, near the cemetery’s center; immediately east of the pond is Governor William Sprague’s enormous and self-aggrandizing tomb, modeled after the Roman tomb of Emperor Hadrian. Follow Pond Avenue northeast to the intersection of Spruce and Hemlock Avenues, where General Ambrose Burnside’s (314 Benefit Street) ledger stone is on the right. Nearby on Maple and Spruce Avenues are the graves of Sara Elizabeth Doyle (1830-1922) and Elizabeth Buffum Chace (1806 -1899); both were ardent advocates for women’s suffrage and education, and Chace was one of the region’s leading abolitionists. Continue on Cyprus to its intersection with Riverside Avenue. Up several steps is the handsome Modernist landscape design for the Aldrich family, one of the best in the cemetery, organized around the graves of Senator Nelson Aldrich (1841-1915;[110 Benevolent Street]) and Abby Pierce Aldrich (1845-1917); most of the stones here are by Newport’s John Stevens Shop. Down the hill on Riverside is the tomb of Marsden J. Perry (1850-1935;[2 George Street] and [33 & 52 Power Street]), a political ally of Aldrich made very rich through his political connections; appropriately, Aldrich and Perry are as thick as thieves in death as in life. Return back toward the entrance following Riverside Avenue, past the bronze angel for the Lownes family by Viennese-born sculptor Isidore Kent and the marble exedra carved by Frank Foster Tingley for the Goff family. Turn left on Mount Moriah to pass by the Pawtucket-based textile-manufacturing Sayles family’s circular lot, dominated by Michelangelesque sculpture by German-born Henry Baerer.
— 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture