Six years ago, a deep fascination with his family’s genealogy led Larry Hunter to visit multiple cemeteries across New England, where he observed deplorable conditions of the grounds and stones. “I’d shake my head and say things like, this is awful and disrespectful, and someone should do something about it.” So he set out to be part of the solution. He began volunteering for Find a Grave, an online service that documents headstones worldwide, through which he visited even more cemeteries. Soon he was learning restoration skills and putting those skills to work.
Larry first became aware of the Westerly Land Trust three and a half years ago when he drove past Quaker Burial Ground on Old Post Road and saw a group doing maintenance work. His interest piqued, he connected with longtime members Dick Holliday and Dave Prigmore to find out more about the organization. They promptly invited him to join WLT’s volunteer group, CCC. After a year of stewarding the land, Larry and his colleague Michael Carroll, both Board members for Rediscovering History, Inc, proposed a plan to restore the Barber Lot in WLT’s Winnapaug Farm Preserve. They were given the go-ahead in July 2021, and worked diligently to repair and restore Thankful Barber’s headstone (below), which was broken in three pieces. In the process, they discovered and repaired Sally Barber’s headstone, which was broken and sunken in the ground. The team searched the area for Nathan Barber, Sr.’s stone, but only located small fragments. They were able to find Mary, Nathan, Jr, and Nancy Barber’s footstones and clean their headstones over a series of sessions. The project was completed in August 2022.
Larry has continued his work on the other four historic cemeteries on Westerly Land Trust properties. He has also led the charge in restoring the Babcock cemetery on Watch Hill Road in which six Revolutionary War soldiers are buried. “Historic cemeteries have archaeological, scientific and valuable genealogical value, and often are of great artistic, cultural and religious significance,” Larry said. Through this hobby, he feels connected to the history of this region and his ancestors.
Westerly is home to more than 80 historic cemeteries, and there are more than 3,200 in Rhode Island. In March 2022, Larry’s knowledge and abilities were recognized at the state level by Governor McKee, and he was named one of 13 commissioners on the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historical Cemeteries (RIACHC). “The role of RIACHC is to study the location, condition, and inventory of historical cemeteries in Rhode Island,” Larry said. “We also have to be a watchdog to ensure RI General Laws are enforced.” Larry has become a true leader in his field. He hosts seminars about cemetery history and restoration and has led several related tours on WLT land.
After retiring from a 40-plus-year career in the aerospace industry, Larry moved with his wife Karen to Westerly from Connecticut permanently. When they aren’t at the beach or stewarding the land, Larry and Karen can be found traveling the country, watching college basketball games. The Westerly Land Trust is grateful for Larry’s time and expertise spent preserving these historic treasures and educating our community about the people who came before us.
Below: Larry and his team worked to restore the Barber cemetery at Winnapaug Farm Preserve.