190905ind history

The site of Pleasant Street Wharf in Wickford was a hub of commercial activity from the early 19th century to the late 1950s, serving as a building yard, then later as a home port for profitable fishing and oyster farming operations.

The parcel on the west side of the tail end of Pleasant Street, designated in the historic record as the Point Lot, seems to have remained undeveloped and in Updike ownership until around the start of the 19th century when Lodowick Updike II entered into a 10-year lease agreement with shipwright Henry Vaughn and his business partners Capt. Richard Barney, merchant Stukely Himes, and trader and mariner Samuel Carter. These men were all involved as owners of the schooners Ocean, Union and Dolly and these vessels probably utilized a wharf or pier associated with the property alongside of Henry Vaughn’s boat building activities. This complex partnership was irreparably damaged around the time of the conclusion of the lease period when Samuel Carter, serving as captain of the Ocean, betrayed his partners and their investors by essentially hijacking the Ocean and its cargo.  After the dust settled, Vaughn was left as the sole entity in the agreement and at its termination purchased the Point Lot from the Updikes. Shipwright Vaughn retained ownership of the parcel until 1829 when he sold it to Jonathan Reynolds.

Jonathan Reynolds was a very successful merchant, East Indies trader and landowner in the village in the first half of the 19th century. He had full or partial ownership of the schooners Fox, Convert, Hope, and Temperance during the time frame he owned the Point Lot property, as well as a busy store in Wickford. These vessels certainly utilized this waterfront property; however, it is unclear whether sailing vessel construction continued here after Vaughn’s ownership ended.  In 1841, he transferred ownership of this property to his daughter and son-in-law Abial and Helena Sherman.  Abial Sherman was an innkeeper (The Wickford House) a stagecoach operator, an expressman (shipping) and a teamster and certainly utilized the property to move goods and freight around the north east and beyond and he most likely also leased out space here as well. In 1859 Abial and Helena sold the Point Lot property to Helena’s brother John Jonathan Reynolds. John Jonathan Reynolds by that time had assumed the businesses of his father Jonathan Reynolds and utilized this property in the same manner.  In 1869, Reynolds family ownership ended when the property was purchased by Capt. Thomas S. Baker.

Baker was a master mariner who had retired from a life at sea by the time he purchased the Point Lot property in 1869. At that time, he was operating a store on Main Street and identified himself as a grocer. He may have used the property to bring vessels in with goods to be sold at his store and most certainly rented or leased the dock space to the numerous Baker relations that were sailing sloops, schooners, and brigs out of Wickford during that period. In 1873, he sold the property to Capt. Henry Fowler and his wife Mary who was a Baker before her marriage to Capt. Henry Fowler. By 1873, Henry Fowler, like Thomas S. Baker was retired from a life at sea. He may have leased or rented the dock space on the property to one or more of his many Baker and Fowler relations who were actively plying a trade at sea, most of which by that time, were fishing the Narragansett Bay or the Grand Banks, as shipping in the region was now largely accomplished by rail. The property provided a source of income for Mary in her later years after Henry’s death in 1879. She owned the Point Lot until 1891 and died in 1892. The property was owned for one year by lumber dealer Stephen Straight and it was then sold in 1892 to trap fisherman John O. Lewis.

Lewis, eldest of the five fishing Lewis Brothers, was the head of the Lewis Brothers Fishing Company, and, with his brothers, was the owner of the first gasoline engine/sail powered fishing vessel ever seen in Wickford Harbor, a smack which they aptly named the “Lewis Brothers.” This fishing smack possessed a large live fish hold in its center that allowed them, upon emptying the numerous fish traps they had in the Narragansett Bay, to bring their catch each day, usually measured in tons, to the docks still alive and flapping. This unique vessel also enabled them to haul their catch to wherever the market was paying better, whether it be Wickford, Providence, Boston, or even New York City. The Lewis Brothers also fished the bay with both long lines and gill nets as well and even took tourists from the nearby Wickford House on fishing adventures. Lewis Brothers Fishing Company was a very profitable enterprise and operated from this location from 1892 until 1907 when they sold it to another group of local fisherman and mariners organized as Beacon Oyster Company.

The Beacon Oyster Company was organized in 1907 with Henry Irving Reynolds, Rollin Mason and William Smith, sea captains all, as its principals. Reynolds had learned the oyster farming business while in the employ, for many years, of Pettis family who ran the oyster concern just on the other side of the street. They operated it in the same fashion as the Sea Coast Oyster Company did, with many acres of seed oysters in leased beds in the Long Island Sound and then additional large leased areas within the Narragansett Bay for bringing those oysters to harvestable maturity. The operation run by the Beacon Oyster Company was so extensive that, between the oyster fleet, the packing house workers and the oyster bed guard boat staff, they were one of the village’s leading employers for decades. Like the Sea Coast Oyster Company, Beacon Oyster was adversely affected by both the Hurricane of 1938 and the construction of the Quonset/Davisville military complex and the subsequent dredging associated with it. Beacon Oyster, however, continued operation at this location utilizing only its Long Island Sound leased areas, well into the 1950s. The main building and additional outbuildings that presently exist on the site date from 1920 Beacon Oyster Company ownership and were constructed after a fire destroyed the circa 1907 original buildings. Since the closure of Beacon Oyster in 1958, the property has been operated as a small boatyard/marina called the Pleasant Street Wharf and operated by Charles Perkins, Ogden Headington, George Hains, and then for the last 40 years the Collins family.

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

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