NARRAGANSETT — The sounds of construction must have been deafening in Narragansett in the 1880s, what with the building of The Towers and the Narragansett Casino, multiple major homes, as well as the ornate water tower at the Earles Court development, which was started in 1886.
While a portion of that water tower remains in the center of Earles Court Road, much of its top half was presumably destroyed by storms, said Sallie W. Latimer, a local historian who lives nearby, and says there are few people – if any – who recall seeing it fully intact.
She’d like to change all that.
Latimer hopes to see the former water tower refurbished to its original 1880s glory, and hopes to reintroduce it to the general public, especially those who have little knowledge of its existence and history.
So on Oct. 14, the Columbus Day holiday, she has planned something of a celebration at the water tower, located off Gibson Avenue, to talk about its past, and generate interest in its refurbished future, by way of fundraising and grants.
“I would like to see it happen in the next two years,” said Latimer, who has met with town officials, most notably, members of the Historic District Commission and Michael DeLuca, director of the Department of Community Development. She also has met with architect David Presbrey who has drawn up preliminary architectural plans.
Several months ago, Latimer presented a resolution to the Narragansett Town Council, which was approved, seeking “conceptual support to pursue outside funding to design and reconstruct a wooden observation tower similar in design to the original for public use as an observation deck.”
The Town Council recommendation “gives her the opportunity to see what she can do to generate interest in it,” DeLuca said.
But he emphasized, “we have to walk before we run,” and no town funding is involved at this point.
Though the water tower no longer serves its original intention — to supply water to a colony of large summer homes surrounding it — it remains a landmark, though abbreviated, with weeds popping out of its top where there once was “a wooden superstructure consisting of a water tank surrounded by a balcony decorated with a carving of a giant griffin,” as it is described in the R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission’s Historic and Architectural Resources of Narragansett.
“It’s so unique. It’s outstanding,” Latimer said.
She has a batch of historic photos to prove it. Two are included in her book, “Narragansett in Vintage Postcards,” published by Arcadia Publishing. Photos show it lording over the Earles Court Cottages and Kentara Green, and though some of the vintage structures in the photos are gone, some remain, as do stone pillars. A 1912 fire did considerable damage to that area, and she documented that in her book, too.
The town owns what remains of the water tower, she said, having acquired it from a private landowner in 1999. She sees it as one more town landmark to cherish and care for as it once was.
According to DeLuca, the water tower “was one of the first public water systems in the town,” and it served for several years.
“It’s in pretty good shape,” he said, but any type of long-term restoration would require a foundation analysis to make certain it could hold the additional weight. “Right now it is open to the elements.”
He’d like to see it covered in the first phase, but added, “It’s a long-term project.”
In “Buildings of Rhode Island,” published in 2004, it is noted that New York lawyer Edward Earle envisioned a road with pillared entrances at either end, along with a double row of Queen Anne houses with “a fantastic water tower on an oval island at the midpoint of the road.”
When the water tower was completed, it included a shingled castle-like structure “to shroud the water tank.”
“Everyone drives by and wonders what it is,” Latimer said.
She hopes residents will come forward who might have additional information about what happened to it, and the vanished ornamental griffin, said to be copper in some historical sources.
“It looks unfinished the way it is now,” said Patti Gardiner, a resident of the area who met with Latimer recently to discuss the project, along with Jim Transue, also a resident who agrees the tower’s history is becoming a mystery as time passes.
Latimer hopes local residents and town officials will gather for an aerial photo if weather conditions are good. She has arranged for Don Bousquet and Son Aerial Photography to take an overhead shot during the event, hopefully, standing in formation of the numerals 125 to recognize the town’s anniversary. Latimer asked attendees wear either red, white or blue. She hopes the photo will eventually be for sale as a fundraiser.
She has invited several town officials to attend. Town council member Matthew Mannix praised Latimer for taking on the project, noting: “It is wonderful to see individual citizens step forward and be involved in that effort.”
The event will be held Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Earles Court Road water tower, off Gibson Avenue.