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Ancient Runestone to be Displayed in Updike Park

The jury is still out on who made the stone and when it originated, but like most runestones, it dates to the Viking age and was probably carved by Norse travelers between the 4th and 12th century.

Ancient Runestone to be Displayed in Updike Park
A five ton stone will put Wickford on the map.

The Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to sign an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Management to display a runestone that has been the subject of immense local and international interest in Updike Park.

The jury is still out on who made the stone and when it originated, but like most runestones, it dates to the Viking age and was probably carved by Norse travelers between the 4th and 12th century.

About 12 years ago, it was discovered by a diver in waters off Pojac Point in North Kingstown and soon became a source of curiosity, attracting divers and boaters hoping to catch a glimpse of the stone. It also irritated a local landowner, who paid a barge to haul it out into the bay and sink it in an "illegal act," said Town Historian Tim Cranston.

Cranston said the stone was standing until the Hurricanes of 1938 and 1954 eroded all the land around it. Once the DEM found out about the illegal removal of the stone, they ordered the property owner to hire the barge crew to find it and bring it back, Cranston said.

Since then, it has been in storage at the University of Rhode Island's Bay Campus in Narragansett, attracting historians and researchers from universities in Denmark and Iceland as the DEM developed a plan to put the stone in Goddard Park in Warwick.

But Cranston said he spoke with the DEM's Larry Mouradjian and told him that the stone is a North Kingstown artifact, and thus belongs in North Kingstown. In addition, being located in Goddard Park is an open invitation for vandalism — something DEM officials agreed would happen sooner or later. 

The new plan to put the stone in Updike Park "is an opportunity to put Wickford on the map and bring Wickford back to life," Cranston said, noting production crews from The History Channel, which already produced a documentary about the runestone after it had been hauled out to sea and was still missing, promised to come back for a followup.

Meanwhile, officials from a national Masonic organization has pledged to pay for decorative fencing since "they have connections to the Knights Templar," Cranston said, and there's no question that people from around the world will come to North Kingstown to see the nearly seven-foot tall, five-ton stone in person.

"This is a really important artifact for a lot of folks," Cranston said. "This is the kind of publicity that money can't buy."

The DEM has promised to haul the stone right to Updike Park, where town workers will have to dig a hole and help plop it in place. Aside from that, there won't be much cost or trouble for the town, Cranston said.

The stone will go towards the back of Updike Park.

"There's almost no expense to the town but a lot of possible benefit to the community," Cranston said.

The council thanked Cranston for all his hard work on the issue before their unanimous vote.

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