By Jennifer Mcdermott
The thousands of drivers who use a Rhode Island highway on their way to work every day probably have no idea they are passing over the graves of some people who died in the late 1800s and early 1900s at state institutions.
The location of the graves beneath the highway in Cranston, Rhode Island, was publicized in a WPRI-TV story, Monday, about a woman searching for the gravesite of her great-great-grandfather.
Maria da Graca has been looking for his grave for more than a decade. She feared at one point he might be under the highway.
Route 37 was built between 1963 and 1969 over part of the institution cemetery called State Farm Cemetery #1. There are about 1,200 gravesites containing 3,000 people. A thousand of those graves should have been moved, said Charles St. Martin, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
“It was during a time when regulations were far more lax than they are now,” he wrote in an email, Tuesday.
St. Martin said the planning was completed prior to the federal legislation passed in 1966 to preserve historic and archaeological sites, so historical or environmental surveys weren’t done. And there were no grave markers when the highway was built because the original grave markers were wooden stakes that had rotted away, he added.
Some of the grave markers had been destroyed by fire too. The cemetery was near railroad tracks and sparks from the steam engines set fires that consumed the markers, according to a description of the cemetery by the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission. The cemetery is now deteriorated and has became overgrown.