Our communities are steeped in history. That our heritage lives on through centuries-old structures is part of what defines the places we call home.
These physical reminders of our rich past are, in the majority of cases, worth preserving. North Kingstown voters last week took a major step toward maintaining and revitalizing one such building, the former library and Town Hall Annex at 55 Brown St. in Wickford.
The Annex has sat vacant since 2016, when it and the old Town Hall were vacated due to code issues. Now, it is set to become the home of a new multipurpose dining, entertainment and function venue, dubbed the Old Library Theater.
An agreement is in place with a group led by Eve Clulow, a chef and preservationist in Newport, for the acquisition of the building for $100,000. Clulow and her group intend to invest $2 million in the site’s revitalization. An agreement has also been reached in principle for a preservation easement through Preserve Rhode Island.
The final tally from an April 24 referendum on the sale of the Annex showed more than 80-percent support for the project among the roughly 9 percent of the voters who turned out. While a greater level of participation would be preferable, it is difficult to argue with Clulow’s characterization of the results as a “mandate.”
We acknowledge the opposition to the project from descendants of Caleb Allen Chadsey, who upon his death in 1894 left the town $10,000 and the property at 55 Brown St. for the purpose of constructing a public library. We also acknowledge those residents who argued the town ought to bear the responsibility of maintaining and revitalizing the Annex as a public resource.
Yet, the property served the purpose Mr. Chadsey had intended for more than seven decades, until the library was relocated in the mid 1970s. It remained in public use in the decades that followed, until time took its toll and forced its closure. As has been well documented, it is far from the only historic structure in North Kingstown to fall into disrepair and face an uncertain future.
There is no guaranteeing Clulow’s project will succeed, but her background and commitment bode well. This was a rare opportunity for North Kingstown to breathe new life into a cherished asset, and we believe the community’s voters were wise to seize it.
We hope the vote will encourage local officials and entrepreneurs to explore similar opportunities. The past is worth preserving, particularly when it has the potential to be such a vital part of the present.