191017ind History

The Kettle Hole holds a special place in Swamptown lore and though the land surrounding it is owned privately, it remains a place of intrigue for history buffs in the area.

This week’s column takes us back to home base – Swamptown. The Kettle Hole is an almost legendary place in Swamptown lore. Created by the great glaciers many eons ago, tradition has it that it is bottomless. The pond is supplied by three springs from which water roils and boils up at a constant rate. The fishing, too, has been described in legendary terms. Tales of giant pickerel and perch abound. One fact that no one has ever disagreed upon is the incredibly natural beauty of the places. It is a tranquil spot, disturbed only by the sounds of nature. Unfortunately for all who wish to experience this place (although it has been good for the Kettle Hole) all the land surrounding this natural Eden in Swamptown is now in private hands and the pond is all but invisible from nearby Col. Rodman Highway and West Allenton Road.

Inexorably tied to the Kettle Hole in fact and legend is the name of Charles Henry Rose and his grist mill. Rose was born in Swamptown on Nov. 7, 1826, to Charles Rose and Lydia Congdon. After a distinguished career as a nurse during the Civil War, he purchased the Kettle Hole property and opened a grist mill in the existing building which had formerly been a small cotton mill. Rose’s specialty was grinding the locally grown corn into johnnycake meal and, although well-known as a miller, his local fame grew out of his eccentric personality and quick wit. He was known as a poet and a philosopher and he always had time to entertain his customers with Swamptown legend and lore. Doris (Campbell) Moon, a descendant of the Campbell/Northup family, who were Rose’s closest neighbors, remembers her father reciting the following Rose ditty taught to him as a boy by Rose himself:

Tobacco is a filthy weed

From which the devil sows his seed

It fills your pockets – scents your clothes

And makes a chimney of your nose.

Rose died in March of 1901 on the job milling corn as always; he lived his life, as the old saying goes “nose to the grindstone”, and died that way as well. He is buried in the Congdon family cemetery on Congdon Hill Road next to his parents. The grist mill was run for a time afterwards by others, but without the presence of Rose it inevitably closed. Eventually the property was purchased by the Rodman family and loaned out to the RI Boy Scouts to be used as their state camp grounds—the predecessor to Yawgoog Scout Camp. This phase of the Kettle Hole’s existence soon ended as well and the property eventually was sold by the Rodman family and fell into private hands where it remains to this day.

Oh, by the way, the official word on the Kettle Hole is that it is not really bottomless; as a matter of fact, they say, it is not even that extraordinarily deep. But, you know, I choose to believe the legends – sometimes they are just a lot more palatable than the official truth.

Postscript: Many thanks to the late Mrs. Doris Moon and Mrs. Esther Vale for their assistance in preparing this column; Good friends that I will never forget.  

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

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