190704ind history

The Narragansett Tavern House on Main Street has a rich history that dates back to the late 1700s.

This being the week during which we celebrate our independence from British rule, I thought it only makes sense to take a look at a house in North Kingstown with some actual Revolutionary “street cred”. That house is the Narragansett Tavern House on Main Street; a fine home which also just got a major sprucing up by its present owner, my long time friend Petra Laurie.  

In November of 1769, the village’s most prominent house wright, Robert Potter purchased this parcel of land from frequent business associate Samuel Bissell. He held the land for a time while working on other homes in the area, and then, in March of 1772, sold it jointly to his brother David Potter and a fellow officer in the local colonial militia Timothy Dean. Robert Potter then constructed this large double house/tavern for them in 1773. In 1775, Timothy Dean sold his half share to David Potter and relocated with his family to what would become Burrillville RI; later that same year, David Potter sold the building, by then already identified as “Ye Narragansett Tavern” to John Mowry, who most likely was the person responsible for converting the building from a double house and tavern into a full scale tavern/inn. David Potter removed himself and his family to the area that would become Richmond, RI.  House wright Robert Potter, a loyalist appears to have fled to Canada soon after the time of the Revolution.

Tradition states that Innkeeper John Mowry, who ran “Ye Narragansett Tavern” through most of the Revolutionary period, operated an establishment with a tavern/meeting room and eight sleeping rooms to let out. In an age long before widespread literacy was evident in the region, the Narragansett Tavern’s sign consisted of a “colossal bunch of grapes” carved from wood signifying both welcome and the availability of strong drink at the tavern. This tavern’s meeting room was one of the primary locations where local men signed up to fight for the nation’s independence; numerous locals of the period were noted as “mustering in” at Ye Narragansett Tavern.  At nearly the tail end of the Revolution, John Mowry sold his tavern/inn to John Greene in March of 1783.

During the period immediately following the Revolution, the Narragansett House was utilized as the local stopping point for the stagecoach run between Boston and New York and as such it entertained many notables of the time. US Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin stayed here while resurveying the Boston Post Road, a route he had established earlier while serving as the Colonial-era postmaster for the Crown.  Noted early statesman William Randolph of Virginia lodged here as well, and tipped his hand to his non-New England roots when, after a long journey from his home towards Boston during which he evidently had his fill of ham, groaned when told that the evening’s fare included a fine quahog dish “Great Heavens, not hog again!”  Ownership during this period, Wickford’s golden days as one of southern New England’s busiest and most prominent ports, continued in the hands of Eli Bailey and his relation Daniel Bailey from 1790 to 1805, and then Beriah Eldred, who ran it in concert with his brother Robert’s establishment, the Wickford House across the street, until 1820 and then Samuel Carr Jr. from 1820 to 1839. In 1839, Samuel and Mercy Carr sold Ye Narragansett Tavern to Stanton Congdon.

Stanton W. Congdon renamed the place “The Exchange Hotel” and also operated a butcher shop, slaughter house, and livery stable out of the large barn/stable behind the building, as well as a coach service between the train station at Wickford Junction and the village. His son, Henry Stanton Congdon, who worked for as a conductor on the Newport & Wickford train after his father’s coach was replaced by that line, inherited it upon Stanton’s death. He in turn left the Narragansett House to his daughter Maria Congdon, who sold it after 96 years of continuous Congdon ownership to prominent architect and local landlord L. Rodman Nichols, in 1935.

Nichols, who lived just outside of Wickford, rented the Narragansett House out for decades until it was sold by his estate in 1958 to Lugene Kettner. Later owners include members of the Ward, Huntington, Lovett, Livingston, Chase, Moore, Simmons, Sampson, Andros, Dodson, and Laurie families.

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

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