Painted wrought iron fence of the Old St. Mary’s Cemetery on George Street,
Brush up on your history, help paint the St. Mary’s fence this Saturday
By ETHAN SHOREY
The history contained within its wrought iron exterior is something to treasure, say the keepers of the Old St. Mary’s Cemetery on George Street, and what better way to honor the past than to maintain the present.
Tom Rogers and Dennis Keough have been volunteering their time for the past two years to maintain the historic cemetery across from the Irish Social Club, but they say the condition of the cemetery’s fence has been a major barrier to improving the overall look of the cemetery.
Rogers, Keough and other Friends of the Old St. Mary’s Cemetery have been prepping the wrought iron fence for weeks by sanding down the rust and laying down a coat of primer. They are planning a paint-a-thon event for this Saturday, Sept. 22, when they’re asking volunteers to help apply a shiny black overcoat to the fence.
The St. Mary’s fence, which hasn’t been redone in decades, should look great for at least the next 30 years, according to Rogers.
“We’re doing it right,” he said.
There are a total of 666 wrought iron posts running along George Street. Another section of fence brings the total number of rails that need painting to 1,429, according to Rogers.
Brush and roller painting is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday and last “as long as it takes” to get the job done, according to Rogers and Keough.
In addition to helping with a fresh look, volunteer painters are getting sponsors and raising funds to go into the pot to buy a new lawn tractor, a machine that will allow Rogers and others to continue caring for the three acres of cemetery property bordered by Grace Street, George Street, Delaney Street and Pine Street.
The historic cemetery, where Irish patriots like James McNally Wilson and John Gordon are buried, had fallen into a state of disrepair when Rogers and Keough decided to get involved.
“Their heritage is important to us as Irish Americans,” said Keough. “We’re taking care of the place to the best of our ability and age.”
After their fence project is complete, Keough and Rogers plan to petition city officials to dedicate the median strip on George Street to Pawtucket industrialist David Wilkinson, the man who made the St. Mary’s Church, school and cemetery a reality.
Wilkinson had been assured by his Catholic workers that they would settle permanently in Pawtucket if they had a church in which to worship, according to the church website.
“On Aug. 27, 1828, David Wilkinson, joined by his wife Martha, deeded a parcel of land on George Street, which became the site for one of the first Catholic churches built in Rhode Island,” it states.
Numerous donors are helping to make the fence restoration at St. Mary’s Cemetery a reality, including the Sherwin-Williams Paint Store on Newport Avenue, which donated thousands of dollars worth of materials, and Excellent Coffee Co., which will provide goodies on the day of the event.