190912ind history

Though the Wickford Yacht Club has called the Point Wharf property home for 51 years, the history of the site can be traced back to historical records from the early 1700s when Lodowick Updike sold it to Samuel Aborn.

Last week we took a good look at the property that now houses the Pleasant Street Wharf boatyard. This week we’ll finish the story around the land at the end of Pleasant Street, with an examination of the parcel that the Wickford Yacht Club now calls home; known in the historic record as the Point Wharf parcel. The Point Wharf property first shows up in the real estate record in 1710, when a transplanted Massachusetts Bay Colony shipwright named Samuel Aborn purchased it from Lodowick Updike, along with some land on the south and east of the present day Bay and Main Streets. Aborn built a home for his family on the Point Wharf parcel as well and commenced building sailing vessels almost immediately; taking advantage of the abundance of prime lumber available on the western side of the Narragansett Bay and Wickford’s naturally protected harbor. He must have been successful, as by 1712, he purchased the adjacent parcel immediately to the south of the Point Wharf lot for expansion. Sadly no specifics are available concerning vessels constructed here by Aborn; his success however, was the spur that brought people into Wickford proper to settle and also enticed Newport shipwright Benjamin Waterhouse to open up shop here as well. The Aborn family was no longer living in Wickford by the middle of the century, having relocated north to the village of Pawtuxet; this fact is attested to by an unrelated 1754 real estate transaction that describes the lane that would become Pleasant Street as “the road leading to the place where Samuel Aborn formerly resided.” It is unclear whether boat building continued on the Aborn parcels after their relocation to Pawtuxet. In 1771, the widow Elizabeth Aborn of Pawtuxet sold the Point Wharf property back to the Updike family when she signed it over to Lodowick Updike II.

Around this time, the historic record mentions an Updike Wharf associated with the village of Wickford. This parcel may be that Updike Wharf, as it was in the family’s hands until May of 1809, when they sold it to merchant and innkeeper Benjamin Lawton Jr. and farmer and merchant Westgate Watson. The parcel was described as including a “dwelling house, wharf, and other buildings” and was referred to as “the Point house and wharf.” In February of 1810 Lawton bought out his partner Watson and became the sole owner of the property. Again, it is unclear based upon the historic record, whether sailing vessel construction was ongoing during this time specifically on this parcel. In addition to being a merchant and an innkeep, Lawton Jr. was also a vessel owner, holding ownership shares in both the schooner Abigail and the schooner Dispatch. These two substantial sailing vessels were involved in coastwise trading and most certainly utilized the Point Wharf when in the harbor. Additionally, historic records from the second half of the 19th century refer to “the old red store” being located on the Point Wharf property. This store was most likely the store of Lawton, in which he sold the goods brought in on the two vessels he shared ownership of. In April of 1825, Lawton sold the entire Point Wharf property to Capt. Christopher Phillips, who then, three years later, in April of 1828, took Capt. Constantine Llufrio as a business partner. Phillips and Llufrio, both master mariners, had been involved previously together as co-owners of the schooner General Hamilton, which they sold a few years before this. By this time, they were utilizing the more substantial schooner Elizabeth & John for coastal trading between Wickford and Baltimore where Constantine’s son was established and the schooners Counselor, Helen, Wickford, and Rosalthe, which Phillips either owned or sailed. They utilized all these vessels interchangeably between coastwise trading, foreign trading, or cod fishing depending solely upon the work that was available at the time. This arrangement went on unchanged until 1842 when, after Llufrio’s loss at sea, his heirs sold their inherited half share to John Jonathan Reynolds. In 1857 after the death of Phillips, his share was bought out by Reynolds; who eventually sold the entire parcel and business to Ruth (Hammond) Young and her son Alfred Young. They in turn resold the property to David S. Holloway and his partner Thomas S. Baker in 1863.

David Holloway, Baker, and later Christopher Holloway relocated the Holloway Acid Works from the old acid wharf located south of the Point Wharf to this larger parcel of land. This business extracted tannic acids from birch and oak bark which was used in the printing and tanning industries and as by-products, both tar/pitch which was utilized as a sealant for sailing vessels and charcoal which was sold locally. The historic record indicates that Capt. Thomas Holloway hauled drummed acid made here to the Fall River Printworks and other locations with his sailing vessel the schooner Fashion. This business died out in the 1880s and Christopher Holloway then sold the property to Stephen Farnham in 1886.

Farnham ran a seafood wholesale/retail establishment from out of the still extant old red store building constructed by Lawton many years earlier. He also began, at that time, in concert with John O. Lewis and George Hunt, an oyster packing plant for use with local native oysters. In 1888 he sold these businesses to John W. Pettis who expanded dramatically and began to actively farm oysters for packing and sale from this plant.

The very successful business plan that Pettis designed included raising seed oysters on leased areas outside of the Narragansett Bay and then growing them to maturity in the Bay. Pettis ran his company until his death in 1916 when it was taken over by his daughter Ida Earle in partnership with Walter B. Congdon. Later owners included Frank Lane and members of the Smith family. The oyster business ran under various names including Point Wharf Oyster Company and finally Sea Coast Oysters as the 1930s drew to a close.

In 1938, the combination of the Great Hurricane and the rapid construction and dredging for the Quonset Point/Davisville military base spelled an end for the oyster business in the Narragansett Bay. From the time of WWII through to 1968, the property was operated as a small boatyard owned by Lyman Mead then Henry Johnson and finally John Fales. In 1968 it was purchased by the Wickford Yacht Club, which had been meeting at the Wickford Shipyard. The Wickford Yacht Club still owns this property today and uses a portion of, albeit drastically remodeled, the old Sea Coast Oyster building.

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

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