190321ind history

This out-of-place looking concrete structure was once the chimney for the engine that powered a lumberyard owned by Lorenzo Vaughn.

You know, it’s one of those things that’s always just there, you drive by it without hardly a notice, as if it were a tree trunk or an unusual yard ornament.  But if you were to stop and look at it you’d see how out of place this anachronism from the end of the 19th century really is. What indeed is a 15-foot-tall concrete and brick industrial-style chimney doing in the middle of a yard in this residential lot on the corner of Center Street and Old Baptist Road anyway?

Well, the answer to this question lies within the life story of Lorenzo Vaughn, master carpenter and jack-of-all-trades from the village of Davisville.  Born in 1847 to Lauriston & Lucretia (Allen) Vaughn, he was raised and schooled in the area and after a period of training, set out on a lifelong career as a house carpenter. Indeed, Lo Vaughn as he was known, may very well have built more homes in North Kingstown than anyone else during the 19th and early 20th century. In addition to being a builder, Lo was also a successful real estate developer, the highway supervisor for Davisville, a trustee for the Davisville district school, and for a short time, a merchant and shopkeeper. That’s where this very out-of-place chimney enters the story.

You see in 1898, Lo Vaughn decided he wanted to open up a shop that would cater to the needs of the then very agriculturally-minded community that surrounded the little mill village at Davisville. All up and down Davisville and Old Baptist Roads and Stony Lane as well, were numerous small- and medium-sized farms, many of which were poultry farms specializing in chickens and turkeys bred to end up on the dinner tables of Rhode Island. He also thought he might make out OK selling lumber as well, and being a community-minded gent above all else, he also saw the need for a meeting hall of sorts so folks in Davisville might have a place to get together. With all that in mind, Vaughn built a large three-story store building with shop space on the first two floors and “Vaughn’s Hall,” a big all-purpose meeting room on the top floor. In addition to the lumberyard out back, Lo also constructed a new-fangled state-of-the-art gas-engine-powered grist mill too, set up in a brick engine house with a tall concrete stack to keep the smoke from drifting into neighbors’ kitchen windows and such. Vaughn knew that there would be a market for this service. Not only would he be grinding plenty of flour and cornmeal for the locals, he also would be able to provide the many area poultry farmers with a place to turn their hard-shelled corn into good cracked-corn for poultry feed.  Although his idea was a good one, and his business a success, his line of farm implements were selling well, luck was not with Lo Vaughn on this undertaking.

The first blow came in 1899 when a tramp who often slept out in the back shed somehow set a fire that consumed the entire place except for the solid-built brick and concrete gristmill structure. Undeterred by this mishap, Lo rebuilt and was back in business post haste, only to be burned out again in 1901. Again the gristmill building was the only thing that survived. That was enough for Vaughn; he sold the property and refocused his energies on carpentry. Later owners, Success Paint Company and William Tefft’s Narragansett Engineering Works, used the gas engine house for other purposes until the 1930s when the lot was purchased and made into a residential parcel. Only the chimney remained at that time and it’s stayed there ever since.

I can attest that Lorenzo Vaughn has a fine gravestone commemorating his life out at the Quidnessett Cemetery.  But I’ve got to tell you he is probably best remembered through the many buildings and structures he left behind.  Fine homes and shops, solid buildings each and every one, and yes, one unusual out-of-place concrete chimney too.   

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

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