Standing tall: Massive, historic cemetery monuments restored

A free gravestone conservation workshop will take place in Pascoag Cemetery Saturday.

BURRILLVILLE – A project four years in the making was finally completed this week as three 14-foot-tall monuments in the Sayles-Cook Cemetery were re-erected, creating a majestic scene in a wooded area next to Overlook Nursing and Rehab Center. 

The achievement was a longtime goal for gravestone restorationists Betty and Carlo Mencucci. The couple discovered the broken structures more than four years ago, part of a small graveyard overlooking the Pascoag River that holds plots belonging to members of the Sayles family.

Two of the roughly 150-year-old spires had been toppled for decades and were laying in pieces on the ground. A third was leaning badly and ready to fall.

The stones were marked with the names Hardin, Daniel and Pitts Sayles, owners of the Granite Mills that once stood where CVS and Dunkin Donuts are now.

“It belonged to the rich mill owners in Pascoag, and it passed through generations of Sayles,” Betty said of the property.  

Heavy pieces of this of this bit of town history were scattered about the forgotten, forested landscape.  

“It was a very picturesque place,” Betty said.  “And nobody was taking care of it.”

But erecting the massive spires would be no easy task. At the time, there was no way to access small cemetery except by foot, and the base alone of one monument weighed some 4,500 pounds

The Mencuccis would not only have to find someone with the type of equipment needed for such large-scale projects, they would have to create a way to get tools to the small patch of forest. 

The couple first cleaned up the area, just one step in a much larger effort they’ve made over the past several years to document and restore some 125 graveyards in Burrillville. Their work has included membership with the Association of Graveyard Studies, an international group that holds workshops and conferences on subjects such as cemetery restoration.

The restorationists worked with town officials to build a small dirt road to access the cemetery, which now runs off the back of a field behind the Overlook Nursing Home parking lot.

“That took years,” Betty said. 

Several large trees were growing against the monuments which would need to be removed, another task tackled by the determined volunteers. 

The Mencuccis were recognized for such efforts to restore cemeteries in Burrillville in 2016 by AGS with an Oakley Award. And it was through that organization that they met Joe Ferrannini, a professional conservator out of Hoosicks Falls, NY, who owned a large gantry that could be used to do the work.   

Ferrannini, the vice president of AGS and owner of Gravestone Matters, spent last week in Burrillville working 12-hours a day to restore the stones. 

“He was great,” said Betty. “It is a slow tedious process to make sure the heavy piece on the bottom is level, and then we had to lift each piece and position it accurately.”

Carlo and Betty worked with Serranini all week on the arduous job, using the giant gantry for the heavy lifting and sealing each piece into place. 

And while the work has created an impressive sight for any who happen upon the small plot, Betty says their work on the cemetery is still not done.

“Everything has just been a long time in coming,” she said.  “It was a big, big accomplishment.”

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