190613ind History

While it might not be the biggest building in Wickford, the property at 2 Main St. has a rich history dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.

The tiny shop at 2 Main Street is a prime example of how often the smallest and most inconspicuous of buildings can possess the most interesting of histories. The little shop at the intersection of Main and West Main seen here in the accompanying photos would be known to most long time residents as either Elsie Kilguss’s Art Studio or the Christian Science Reading Room and rightly so, as these two tenants occupied the tiny building for nearly forty years. But prior to the middle 1960s this diminutive member of “Ye Olde Quaint & Historic’s” commercial district had another story.

2 Main Street was constructed at the turn of the century by local real estate mogul Mary Shippee who at that time also owned the building’s immediate neighbor, the Avis Block which she named after her Aunt Avis Ann (Smith) Spink Brown. Shippee, always the savvy businesswoman in a decidedly male world, already had a tenant lined up for her newest addition. Soon after it was constructed, the Wickford Branch of the U.S. Postal Service moved in and set up shop. This was the first building in the village solely designed to be a post office; prior to this a village resident would pick up his mail in a nearby store where the post office was an actual part of the store and the store owner served as postmaster. This set up served many other nearby villages for decades to come, but by 1900, Wickford was a big enough place to support a stand-alone Post Office. However, just a decade later, this building too, was deemed too small to support the village’s needs and the post office moved across the street to the nearby Gregory Building.

From that timeframe, until the 1930s, businesses came and went at the little post office building. Finally in the middle of that decade, Mary Shippee found another tenant that would stay. As a matter of fact, that tenant, Charles Adams, eventually purchased the shop from her for his little restaurant “Wickford Lunch.” Like its competition the Wickford Diner, the Wickford Lunch was a place where the “average Joe” went to get a cup o’ java, or a man-sized breakfast or a hearty burger for lunch. Regular folks met there and talked about everyday things over a plate of simple but excellent fare. I expect they also came to chat with the proprietor Charlie Adams as well, a man who loved his place of business so much that he elected to ride out the Hurricane of ’38 there; a mistake in hindsight, as he ended up being the village’s only casualty when the chimney fell in on him during that great storm. Luckily for his family, remembered daughter Tillie (Adams) Beckwith, Charley’s mistake was not fatal, and he was pulled out in time and hauled up West Main St to his “Quality Hill” home where, patched up by “Doc” Manning, he recuperated just long enough to be able to get back down to his Luncheonette and get it back up and running posthaste. The Wickford Lunch outlasted the ‘38 storm and continued to operate for decades after that.

That brings the little building to the end of the 1950s, when, except for a short-lived time when it was Barry Goldwater’s local election headquarters and a short stint as the home of state Republican honcho Brad Gorham’s private law practice, the place was occupied by the aforementioned Christian Science Reading Room and the Kilguss Art Studio. For nearly a decade after that, it was the home of Blue Hydrangea, an eclectic gift shop. Now it is ready to begin a new phase in its service to the village, a phase that hearkens back to Wickford Lunch just a bit, as it opens up as Alma, a smoothie bar and eatery operated by the Olerio family.

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

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