Main Street Wakefield

Wakefield’s Main Street, 1904, South County History Center collection.

Preserve Wakefield and the South County History Center will be offering guided historical walking tours of downtown Wakefield on Sept. 14. The tours, entitled “Walk Through History: Wakefield’s Main Street,” are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, and will focus on the village’s development, from its roots as a small mill village through its growth into South Kingstown’s main commercial district.

Sites to be discussed include the former Kenyon’s Department Store, the Wakefield Branch Company (now Arnold Lumber) and the Bell Block. Tour attendees also will have the opportunity to view 1948 footage of downtown Wakefield recently acquired by the South County History Center.

There will be two tours offered at 6:30 p.m., and those tours will be repeated at 7:15 p.m. Each tour will depart from the Wakefield Comfort Station at 305 Main St. and will last approximately 35 minutes. Tours will be led by Preserve Wakefield’s W. Murray Gates IV and the South County History Center’s Executive Director Erica Luke, and each tour will cover approximately a half-mile distance round trip.

In case of inclement weather, the tours will be postponed until Sept. 21, at 6:30 p.m. Visit either Preserve Wakefield or the South County History Center’s website for updates.

The center also will hold a fall lecture series, “Eternal Rest: Death, Mourning and Memories,” which will include four installments:

  • “Unfortunate Ends,” Sept. 16, 2 p.m., Old Washington County Jail: Local historian Bob Geake will discuss the evolution of the obituary in local papers and reveal how those death notices reflected the day-to-day dangers that people faced in early Rhode Island, as well as the eccentric and unusual obituaries that found their way to print.
  • “Gone But Not Forgotten: Death & Mourning in the Victorian Era,” Sept. 30, 2 p.m., Old Washington County Jail: Kathy Hartley, president of the Friends of Hearthside in Lincoln, will lead a look-back to the Victorian Era for answers to many questions about death costumes and rituals.
  • Ground-penetrating radar demonstration & gravestone iconography, Oct. 21, 1-3 p.m., Tower Hill Cemetery, SE Corner of Route 1 and Torrey Road: Technological advances, including ground-penetrating radar, are making it possible for archaeologists to learn about important sites without disturbing the ground. Salve Regina University’s Dr. Jon Marcoux will conduct a demonstration with cutting-edge equipment, and History Center representatives will be on hand to discuss the cemetery’s headstones and Tower Hill’s history.
    The program is held in partnership with Kingstown Congregational Church, and parking will be avaialble at All Outdoors, 4060 Tower HIll Road, South Kingstown. In case of inclement weather, the demonstration will be postponed until Oct. 22, from 1-3 p.m. Attendees can visit the site anytime before 1-3 p.m.
  • “What Lies Beneath: A Look Below Rhode Island’s Historical Burial Grounds,” Oct 24, 6:30 p.m., Kingston Free Library, Potter Hall: Jay Waller, senior archaeologist at the Public Archaeology Laboratory, will discuss the unseen world lying beneath the slate and marble gravestones of historic burying places. Drawing from archaeological projects in Rhode Island, he will discuss 19th century burial practices and provide examples of common artifacts recovered from historic graves. He also will highlight a recent project in which archaeologists, with private land owner support, identified and relocated interments from a formerly “lost” histrionic burial ground.

    This four-part lecture series is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.

Other upcoming events include:

  • On Sept. 23, the center also will open the second installment of its “Lost & Found: Selections from the Allen Collection” exhibit, featuring prints from glass plate negatives found in a Wakefield home. The first installment is currently on display and features homes, and the second installment will highlight businesses; a third installment will open Nov. 11 and feature families.
  • The center also will resume its Lanterns & Legends tours on Oct. 20, 21, 27 and 28. Tour-goers will learn about some of South County’s creepiest history, including brazen murders, gruesome executions and supposed vampires. The tour also highlights grim artifacts from the center’s collection that are not usually on display. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for center members and students, and must be purchased prior to the event. Attendees also may purchase a lantern for $7.
  • “From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiments in the American Revolution,” Dec. 2, 3 p.m, the Old Washington County Jail. Local historian Bob Geake and Tomaquag Museum director Loren Spears will share the story, documented in their recent book, of the 1st Rhode Island Regiments in the American Revolutionary War, a regiment composed of indentured servants, Narragansett people and formerly enslaved people.
    This program will be offered as part of the “Holiday in Kingston Village,” a community-wide event. On the same day, from 10 a.m.- 2:30 p.m., the center will offer free tours of the jail each half-hour.

For more information on the center and its upcoming events, visit, or call 783-1328.

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