My good friend Joe Beckwith passed away last week. He was a kind and gracious man whom I have known since I was a child. He cared deeply about history and passionately about Wickford, especially his favorite place in the whole world, The Old Narragansett Church. He lived in a home on West Main Street that had been in his family for nearly 145 years but spent his last years in this neat little house with its own very unique story. We will look at it today in honor of him. I miss you already Joe.
The little cottage at 100 West Main Street is a fine example of “things aren’t always as they seem.” This cottage may look as if it was constructed to be a nice little house, but it wasn’t, it may look like as if, like so many buildings in Wickford, it’s hundreds of years old, but it isn’t and it may seem like it’s been exactly where it is now forever, but it hasn’t. So let’s examine the story behind 100 West Main St. and see what’s really going on here.
This building, originally a commercial structure, was built in 1913 by butcher and former Belleville grocery store owner Frank Sherman, who had moved here to Wickford, with his wife Effie (Stone) and two children Effie and Howard, from nearby Belleville and purchased the house immediately to the east at 96 West Main St. Sherman had operated a full-scale grocery store while in Belleville, but here in Wickford he scaled back his operation and opened up a full-service butcher shop from which he also ran a butcher’s cart which traveled through the nearby villages, offering not only freshly butchered meat for sale, but also the services that a butcher could provide in an era when folks still raised livestock at their homes for eventual consumption by their family. Additionally, in a time before large scale refrigeration and freezing was commonplace, butchers such as Sherman were skilled in the arts of smoking and brining various meat products in order to preserve them for longer periods of time. Sherman finally retired for good, after 50 years of wielding a butcher’s knife, in 1931.
A while after closing his butcher shop, Sherman remodeled the building and rented it out to photographer Charles Kendall who opened a photography studio here aided by his wife Frances. The Kendalls did portrait photography here in the building and also went out into the community, photographing everything from weddings to Christmas parties to fabric mill company picnics and employee group photographs. Numerous professionally shot photos from the 1930s and ’40s can be identified as Kendall Studio photos by the indentifying stamp found on the back of the image. One of the textile mill owners that Kendall worked for was Hamilton Web’s owner Joseph W. Greene. When Greene purchased 96 West Main St. from Effie Rulison, Sherman’s daughter, he became the Kendalls landlord as well, as this building was part of 96 West Main’s property. Kendall Photography stayed here until 1948, and after it closed up shop, Greene made dramatic changes to the old butcher shop building.
The first thing Greene did, was move the building, which had always been located on the sidewalk just as 96 West Main is today, back onto a new foundation installed immediately behind it. He then reconfigured the building’s façade from a look that was decidedly late 19th century commercial, to one that was late 18th century residential. To convincingly pull this off, Greene purchased the front door and two windows from the circa 1757 sexton’s cottage of the Wickford Baptist Church which was being demolished in April of that year and had them installed in this building. He then had the interior of the building remodeled into a small residential cottage. This cottage, along with the larger home at 96 West Main is still owned by a descendant of Greene.
So, you see a little building that appears to be a cottage, began its life as a butcher shop, and although, through some clever recycling of exterior trim parts it appears to be very old; it really just reached the century mark. And that is decidedly young for “Ye Olde Quaint & Historic” Wickford.