191121ind History

A look at the property at 56 Brown St. in Wickford.

This house was constructed in 1822 for landowner and farmer William Brown. Brown had purchased the lot the year previous from Hannah (Boone) Franklin. William was the eldest son of sea captain and Privateer Reynolds Brown, captain of the RI privateer Hiram and his wife Nancy (Guilford) Brown. Reynolds Brown had died at sea during the War of 1812 and William’s inheritance from the successful state-sanctioned pirate may have funded the construction of this home. William Brown moved in with his wife Mary (Eldred) immediately after its construction. William Brown identified himself as a farmer, and, although he owned numerous and various land parcels in town across the years, it has not been possible to identify exactly where and to what extent he was involved in farming.

In 1846, his wife Mary died without ever bearing him any children. He remained a widower until nearly two decades later when he married the wealthy landowner, investor, and landlord Avis Ann (Smith) Spink, the widow of Capt. Oliver Spink. This marriage created the most powerful and wealthy local couple in their time-frame, and William and Avis Ann together owned vast swathes of valuable real estate in and around the village. Brown Street, one of Wickford’s principal roads, was named in honor of William Brown.

William Brown was also quite close to his sister Waity Ann (Brown) Hull, wife of lighthouse keeper and carpenter John Hull and, upon John Hull’s retirement from lighthouse duty at the Poplar Point Light, assisted them financially, in building a new home just around the corner on Elam Street. In William Brown’s lengthy will, written in 1865, he leaves substantial financial sums to sister Waity Ann Hull, then wife, Avis Ann, and nephew and namesake William Brown Hull. As he and Avis Ann were divorced before his death in June of 1873, it is unclear whether she received any proceeds from his estate. His brother-in-law John Hull as executor was instructed to insure that William rest eternal next to his beloved first wife Mary. William Brown, in this same will, left this house, which he lived in for 51 years, jointly to his two nieces, Adelia (Hull) Straight and Ella (Hull) Lucas.

Adelia, who was married to local lumber dealer Charles Straight, who owned and operated the lumberyard on the other side of Brown Street, and Ella, married to Railroad mail agent Joseph Lucas, who worked regularly on the Boston to New York train, had the house reconfigured into a side-by-side two family home and they both moved in after Brown’s 1873 death.

After Waity Ann’s death in 1880, John Hull moved into daughter Ella’s half of the house as well. John Hull lived out the remainder of his life there, passing on in 1889. The Straights also moved out around that time, resettling in the Fall River area although they retained ownership of their half of the house and rented it out. In 1906, Ella Lucas lost her half share of the house at tax sale. It was purchased by North Kingstown Town Clerk Thomas J. Peirce, who also purchased the other half share from the Straights. In 1907, Thomas J. Peirce sold the entire house to popular local barber Robert Newberry and his wife Jennie (Burdick).

Robert Newberry, who described Wickford as “the dearest spot on all the earth”, was a Scottish immigrant who worked as a barber in the village beginning around 1883. While living in the house, he and Jennie, tried taking advantage of the many tourists who came to Wickford on the Newport & Wickford train and the Sea View electric trolley, and opened the house as the “Colonial Inn” renting rooms and serving meals.

This venture was apparently not successful as, in 1914; they sold it to Dr. Patrick J. Manning who had been boarding at the Wickford House.

Dr. Manning served the community of Wickford for more than four decades, most of that time from this house. He was also the town medical examiner as well. The World War II veteran was also heavily involved in the local American Legion group and was extremely active in the Boy Scouts organization in North Kingstown. He and his wife Ann lived in the house until 1951 when they sold it to local dentist Stanley Van Wagner.

Dr. Van Wagner, as Dr. Manning had before him, lived in the house and had his office here as well. Besides his private practice, Stanley Van Wagner was the school department dentist and a longstanding member of the North Kingstown School committee serving on that body from 1959 until 1974. He also was a leading member of the local Masons and served as a treasurer of the Masons, DeMolay and Rainbow Girls in town concurrently for many years. Additionally he served as a vestryman for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. For many years, he rented out the office space on the southern half of the building to ophthalmologist Dr. Paul Parent and in 1982 Dr. Parent purchased the house from the estate of Stanley van Wagner who had died earlier that year. Thirty-seven years later, Dr. Paul Parent and family, still owns the building and runs his practice from it.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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