By JOHN HOWELL
It was July when the mayor, accompanied by Councilmen Steve McAllister and Anthony Sinapi and a delegation of interested parties, last visited the historic cemetery where Civil War General George Sears Greene is buried.
Solomon recalled the occasion Tuesday calling it like an episode out of “The Twilight Zone.” He was on his way out of City Hall when he stopped to talk with a couple that looked somewhat disoriented. Judy and Al Taylor, who live in Alberta, Canada, were returning from a cruise to Miami and stopped in Warwick to see if they could learn more about Judy’s ancestors, the Greenes.
The mayor asked the couple to join him as he surveyed work on enhancing access to the cemetery, which is perched on a knoll off Tanner Street and overlooking Apponaug. Solomon looked over drawings for the site and climbed the granite stairs leading to the cemetery. The Taylors tagged along, delighted to see the stone marker for the general and the surrounding graves of family members.
On the visit Tuesday, the $223,000 project showed signs of remarkable progress. There’s a small, paved parking lot at the base of the hill. The series of stairs linked by a crushed stone path leads to the cemetery, which is partially enclosed by wrought iron fencing. Along the way at sight-views are the granite bases for interpretative signage to be installed soon.
The signage will give some of the history of the Greene family and point out visible landmarks, including City Hall and the saw tooth building that was once part of the Apponaug Mill and is being renovated by AAA Northeast as offices. With the leaves gone, the site also offers a view of the Apponaug Circulator and accompanying fenced-off drainage retention basins.
That troubles Megan DiPrete, chief of planning and development for the Department of Environmental Management, who has worked with the city on the project. When the circulator was conceived with the extension of Veterans Memorial Drive west to intersect with Centerville and Toll Gate roads, it was thought it would open swaths of land for passive recreational use. The land ended up being used for retention basins and a spillway should Hardig Brook flood.
DiPrete finds solace in planner Lucas Murray’s vision to link the cemetery to a path through an adjoining 11 acres that the Department of Transportation acquired when it bought the land for the circulator project. Murray is hopeful DOT will give the land to the city.
He also sees the opportunity of making the cemetery part of a walking tour of the village that would attract people to Apponaug. He suggests there might even be the place for a visitors’ center. The tour could include the Greene Memorial House AAA acquired along with the mill building. The future of the red house next to the saw tooth building on Centerville Road is uncertain at this point. AAA would like to move it and has offered to give it to the city.
There’s no shortage of history with General George Sears Greene as one of several noteworthy members of the family.
According to an account published when the Beacon reported the project, General Greene was born “just steps” from City Hall in Apponaug Village on May 6, 1801. He would go on to graduate second in his class at West Point. He was married with three children by the age of 27, but tragically would lose all four of those family members within just 16 months. In 1837, Greene married again and had six children, five of which would live long lives.
After becoming a successful civil engineer in New York, Greene re-enlisted in the Army at the age of 60 in 1861, where he accepted the command of the 60th New York Infantry and was named a colonel, shortly thereafter being promoted to brigadier general. He played a pivotal role in both the Battle of Antietam, where he held off an attack from General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and the Battle of Gettysburg, where he famously held enemy forces from advancing up Culp’s Hill utilizing a strong fortification of breastworks while his forces were outnumbered 3,964 to 1,424.
Following the end of the Civil War, Greene went back to oversee civil engineering projects in New York, Washington D.C., and Detroit, and even did work on the sewer systems in Providence. He was elected president of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1877, an organization he helped found in 1852. He died at 98 years old on Jan. 28, 1899, at which point he was interred on the hill located on his property in Apponaug.
The stone marking his grave, a boulder from Culp’s Hill, shows markings where a brass plaque was once mounted. The plaque, along with a replica of Greene’s sword, was pulled from the stone by thieves to sell for scrap metal. Its significance was recognized in the junkyard where it was found, and the city was notified. Both the sword and plaque are in a display case in City Hall.
That’s not all vandals have done. While the city recreation department cleaned the cemetery and the path leading to it, broken headstones mar the scene.
“It’s so far removed,” lamented Pegee Malcolm, head of the city’s historic cemeteries commission, of the site’s seclusion. She noted on one visit to the area commission members found a sleeping bag and peanut butter and crackers, evidence of someone living there.
About $100,000 in funding comes from the DEM, with the balance being made up by Community Development Block Grant funds earmarked for Apponaug and approved for the project. The Apponaug Village Association has also contributed to the project.