Volunteers uncover ‘lost’ cemetery off Elder Ballou Road

Volunteers uncover ‘lost’ cemetery off Elder Ballou Road

Greg Duhamel, organizer of the cemetery cleanup, watches as his son Aiden Bergeron centers a gravesite marker in the Cook family cemetery in Woonsocket last Saturday afternoon. Pictured inset is a 1900 Indian head penny that was discovered near the stairs of the Cook homestead foundation, a few hundred feet away from the burial ground. The group plans to donate any finds to the Blackstone Valley Historical Society for display. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

WOONSOCKET – Silas Cook, born two decades after the American Revolution, was 58 years old when he died and was buried with his family in a small cemetery off Elder Ballou Road.

Isabel Cook, an Aldrich who married into the Cook family, lived to the age of 78 before she was buried alongside her husband’s family.

Edwin Cook, the infant son of Zebina and Abigail Cook, was only 1 year old when he, too, was laid to rest in the family plot.

These stories and others might have been lost to time if a dedicated group of local residents hadn’t rediscovered them. For the past several months, a group of volunteers led by city resident Greg Duhamel has spent their Saturdays literally uncovering the Cook Lot, a little-known historic cemetery located in the woods behind what’s now Bissonnette Field on Elder Ballou Road.

Duhamel, a member of the Blackstone Valley Historical Society and cemetery conservation ambassador for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, said he stumbled across the cemetery by accident while doing research on the Ballou and Cook families.

“I was directed to an 1838 map of East Woonsocket. This is before it became Woonsocket. The area was once known as Cumberland and Mendon,” he explained.

“On that map, there was a cemetery further down from Elder Ballou that I’d never seen or heard of,” he said.

The cemetery, as it turned out, was one of the historic burial places of the Cook family. Though more people are familiar with the Ballou legacy and the nearby cemetery named for them, the Cooks were one of the original families that came to Rhode Island in the 1600s at the time of William Blackstone and Roger Williams. The meetinghouse for which the road is named, Duhamel explained, was actually called “Elder Cook Meetinghouse” before it was renamed for the Ballou family.

“This was probably most likely the first family to settle in what later became Woonsocket,” he said.

Many thought the Cook Lot, recorded as a cemetery in historical records, was entirely lost. In 1976, vandals destroyed many of the headstones, according to Duhamel. Around the same time, the Ferland Corporation of Pawtucket was developing the surrounding neighborhood into single-family homes, leading many to believe the cemetery was built over with the development of nearby Arland Court.

A quick trip to the cemetery revealed that wasn’t the case.

“If development kept pushing down toward Elder Ballou, it would’ve been lost,” said Duhamel.

After several months of work, volunteers have uncovered three inscribed gravestones along with the fragments of several others. They’ve also discovered at least 30 fieldstones, a rudimentary grave marker used by Quakers in the 1600s and 1700s, and the foundation of a house Duhamel believes belonged was part of the Cook family homestead.

“It’s been overlooked for many, many years,” he said.

Many of the stones were partially buried when the group discovered them, requiring them to clear out brush on the overgrown lot. Duhamel said they’ve had the support of the neighbors on Arland Court, most of whom didn’t realize there was a historic cemetery just beyond their backyards.

They’ve also had the support of Judy Jencks Ray, a Cook family descendent who was able to locate the cemetery burial list in the Daughters of the American Revolution archives in Washington, D.C. to help with the group’s research.

For now, said Duhamel, they plan to focus their efforts on restoring the Cook Lot. Prior to the pandemic, the group was working in the Bernon Cemetery, a large historic cemetery off Logee Street, but the restricted groups sizes and limited volunteers during COVID-19 makes the smaller Cook Lot a better fit.

“Next year, will be looking for more volunteers,” he said.

Volunteer Johnelle Bergeron finds another grave marker buried beneath the soil.
A grave marker designates where Silas Cook, who died in 1855, is buried.
Greg Duhamel takes a moment to rest.

Comments

Thank you so very much to Lauren Clem and Bob Emerson for the beautifully written article and wonderful photos! We appreciate you guys at the Valley Breeze very much for your interest in publishing our cemetery stories! Blackstone Valley Historical Society and Group! Thanks You!

HISTORICAL CEMETERY #: WO013 COOK LOT WOONSOCKET RI

Location: 600 ft north of ELDER BALLOU MTG HSE ROAD

24 burials with 0 inscriptions

Greg, It's great that you and your group are doing this cemetery work that some of us with the Amercian-

50 ft x 100 ft in very poor condition enclosed with a stone wall; sign ???

Tax Assessors Map #: Plat #: 57b Lot #: 4

NOTE: Approximately 600' from road across a baseball field. All stones missing or

broken, sign missing. Pieces of broken gravestones found scattered approximately

100' from site of cemetery. Several very old building foundations and granite fence

posts in the area. Twenty-four grave sites confirmed; there are probably many more.

Tax Assessor's file # 48, acct. # 33-00600.

This cemetery has been recorded and checked.

Greg, it's great that you and your group have been doing this cemetery work that some of the members of the American-French Genealogical Society did back in the early 1990's. I have attached a copy of the survey that was done by Paul Delisle and Roger Beaudry back then.
Keep up the good work!!

Alice Riel