HOPKINTON – When Allison Palombo and Christopher Mongeau purchased the Greek Revival located at 6 Maple Street in Hope Valley last December, the ceilings were falling down. There was water damage to the floors, broken windows, smoke and fire damage to the woodwork and piles of dusty debris to step over.
“I’ve always just kind of known I’d buy a house like this,” Palombo laughed. A lover of history, she and her husband have taken great pains to renovate the home while honoring its original character and saving everything they can.
The half-acre of land was a jungle of overgrown grass, garbage and aged farm implements. Stately maples shaded the grounds but some were beginning to grow up under the roof so the couple had one taken down and Palombo began to clear away the brush beneath it.
“When I first saw the stone, I thought it was garden marker,” she said. Making her way to the back of the property, she pointed to an ornately carved piece of slate in the slow process of being devoured between two centuries-old trees.
Beautifully carved with a six-pointed flower circled by the words, “Diadema and Lucretia, daughters of Thomas Carew,” the stone baffled Palombo.
“It was definitely a shock,” she said. “Those two trees have to be about two-hundred years old. The stone is totally embedded in them on both sides.”
Palombo contacted the RI Cemetery Commission to report what she had found. “We did determine there are no bodies here,” she said. “It belongs on the grave of two girls in Norwich and had to have been stolen about a hundred years ago.”
The grave of Thomas Carew and his wife Abigail Huntington stands in Old Norwichtown Cemetery. Thomas died in 1761 while Abigail died in 1777. Both of their daughters died of diphtheria; Diadema on Nov. 24, 1736 at the age of three, and Lucretia just five days later at the age of ten months. The Carew family hailed from Barbados in the Caribbean.
The questions of how, when and why the stone traveled from a cemetery in Conn. to a backyard in Hope Valley remain unanswered. The two-and-a-half end gable structure built in 1869 is listed on the register of historic places as the Orrin Bullock house. Tax records of 1873 show the owner to be 70-year-old Dr. Andrew D. Bullock. A physician and surgeon with an office on Westminster Street in Providence, Andrew was a native of Mass. who lived with his wife Love Frances (Robinson) and their son George.
George went on to become a Hope Valley doctor, remaining at the house and studying under Dr. John Kenyon before moving to Mass. in 1887.
“Were going to try and get this stone home where it belongs in Norwich,” Palombo said. “But we’re not sure how to pull it out without damaging it. It has to be very carefully done.”
The stone is already broken in half and cracked down one side.
“Plus we don’t even know how far it goes down,” she added. “It descends into the ground. We need someone who knows what they’re doing.”
After investing so much money into the house, the cost of safely removing this gravestone is a concern. It is hoped that someone with a good heart and capability might come forward and make it possible to get the Carew girls’ memorial freed from the trees and back where it belongs across state lines.
Palombo’s father had walked the property shortly after they purchased it, and before much of the rubbish in the yard was cleared away by hired men. She said he told her he thought he had seen pieces of other gravestones strewn upon the ground at that time.
Throughout history, it hasn’t been uncommon for landscape businesses to sell erroneously carved or dislocated gravestones for walkways, walls and other projects. But as far as this particular stone goes, a family plot in Norwich has been missing it for at least a century.
Soon, a woodworker is coming to recreate the home’s original molding. Antique radiators have been installed, ancient doorknobs polished and aged window panes scrubbed clean. Historically, the couple is bringing everything full circle. But the job won’t be complete until the gravestone peeking out from between the maples in the backyard is once again marking the burial place of two little girls.