Hope Cemetery in Barre, Vermont: An Unusual Local Attraction
While grabbing a bite to eat in the small central-Vermont town of Barre some 25 years ago, a waitress told my husband and me about an unusual local attraction -- the Hope Cemetery.
Now, I normally don't consider cemeteries a tourist attraction. But as we soon found out, a cemetery.
We only had time for a quick look at the cemetery that day. But I recently revisited Barre (pronounced like the name 'Barry'), and came away even more impressed. The cemetery, as well as the town itself, is a veritable outdoor gallery of sculptures, tucked in the heart of the granite-quarrying center of America.
The granite industry around here started taking off in the late 1800s. And as word of the area's immense mother lode of granite spread, skilled master artisans migrated here, many of them descended from generations of sculptors. Today, Barre is home to the largest community of stone carvers in America!
Taken for 'Granite'
I learned that pieces of Barre are scattered across America; workers here have produced an estimated one-third of the millions of monuments and mausoleums dotting the country.
Hope Cemetery, located on State Route 14 on the north end of town, best reflects this amazing artisanship. When anyone connected to the quarrying or finishing operations here dies, artisans create a special monument for them.
The astonishing memorials include a wide range of subjects that often reflect the occupation or hobby of the deceased. I marveled at a car on a pedestal... an airplane... a figure of a man smoking a pipe, with the smoke forming an image of his wife... a stuffed armchair... and a couple in pajamas in their double-bed. They're truly awe-inspiring.
While smaller in scale, Elmwood Cemetery on the south end of town, on U.S. Highway 302, is also very impressive.
This bustling town of 9,500 folks is a nice place to browse around, too. Everyone I met was very friendly and helpful.
Three notable statues stand in town: One in front of the Vermont Historical Society building on Washington Street commemorates the Scottish poet Robert Burns... another in Dente Park on Main Street pays homage to the town's community of Italian artisans... and a third in front of City Hall on Main Street honors servicemen and women who served in World War I.
You can also see how granite is quarried at the Rock of Ages Quarry, located about 5 miles southeast of town in Graniteville. It's one of many area working quarries that supply huge slabs of granite to finishing sheds scattered along Highway 302 as you head northwest to Montpelier, the state capital.
The quarry closed just minutes before I got there late on a Friday afternoon, so I couldn't tour the facilities. But I was told it's a fascinating place to visit.
I also heard that the Barre Granite Museum is slated to open in 2004 in a former factory building where granite monuments were manufactured. If it's even half as interesting as the rest of Barre, I can't wait to visit again!
Before You Visit
Barre is in central Vermont, about 7 miles southeast of Montpelier, the state capital. To learn more, call the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce at 1-802/229-5711.
For more information about Hope Cemetery, visit the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce Website and click on "Attractions and History", then "Hope Cemetery".
Tours of the Rock of Ages Quarry run every 45 minutes from 9:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday from June through mid-October; the company adds Saturday tours at the same times from mid-September to mid-October. Tours start at the Rock of Ages Visitors Center (773 Graniteville Road), where a bus takes visitors to the quarry.
Rock of Ages also offers self-guided factory tours where you can watch stone craftsmen at work. The plant is just behind the Visitors Center; hours are 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For details about both tours, call the Visitors Center at 1-802/476-3119.
More to See
Montpelier, the smallest capital in America, is a charming historic town. From July through mid-October, free tours of the magnificent state capitol, the first building made from Barre granite, are available every half hour from 10 a.m.
Green Mount Cemetery, located a few blocks west of the capitol on Hill Street, is also filled with unique memorial monuments. To learn more call the city's Planning and Development Department at 1-802-223-9506.