Up until the end of his days in September of 1956, Allie Wilcox was a bright calico patch sewed firmly on to the slightly conservative fabric of the community of Wickford. No one would ever accuse Allie Wilcox of fading into the background. Through the power of his personality, the quality of his character, and yes, the depths of his eccentricities, Allie Wilcox was a man who stood out.
When I was a boy, this portrait of a beautiful lady was hanging over the fireplace in the library on Brown Street in “Ye Olde Quaint and Historic.” I had no idea who she was and just accepted her as part and parcel of the wonderful experience of sitting down in a warm room on a cold winter day passing the hours away while thumbing through an intriguing magazine or two or reading a great book. I’m sure if I had asked, the librarian would have been pleased to tell me all about her; all about this remarkable woman named Frances Burge Griswold.
In most cases, the most noteworthy events associated with any of the myriad historic homes in Wickford occurred centuries ago. And, although it’s true that the fine home at 151 West Main Street, our subject today, built more than 150 years ago, has a long association with the locally prominent Holloway family, it’s really not these ship and house wrights for whom this house is remembered.
If you have not seen the moving film “12 Years a Slave,” well, I don’t know what to say — you see, all of North Kingstown, heck all of South County, ought to sit up and take notice. For you see, the very roots of this stunning historical drama about a free black man in the mid-1800’s, Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Antebellum Louisiana, are firmly set in the soil of our fair town.
This being February and Black History Month, its only right that we take another look at this, the extended family of a group of colonial era slaves from the George Rome estate (now known as Rome Point). In the past, we’ve examined the life and tragic death of Cato Roome, the story of Cato’s brother in slavery, Pero, who was a long time fixture in both the villages of Wickford and then Lafayette, and the Civil War legacy of brothers James and John Roome and their experiences in the 14th RI colored Heavy Artillery. This time around we are again going to travel back to the time of the great war between the states and look at the remarkable life of George Roome, his wife Betsey, and the heroic unit he served with, the 54th Massachusetts.
The name of North Kingstown’s own Captain Daniel Fones surely ought to be spoken in the same breath with those of Thomas Tew, William Kidd, and Blackbeard. His skills as a sailor, his savvy as a maritime tactician, and his bravery at the helm was just as legendary as they in their day. Fones’ abilities were well-known and he was just as feared by the French and Spanish as the other three gentlemen mentioned.
I have no idea exactly when during the mid-1700s that Newport Philips entered this world but I do know the “where” and the “what” of his beginnings. What he was, from the instance of his birth, was a slave, and where he endured that servitude was on the enormous Philips Farm centered around their manor house “Mowbra Castle.”
Boy, the mild weather this winter has got me to thinking, thinking about the stories I’ve read about the winter of 1887-1888. Looking back on it, it’s almost as if Mother Nature herself was intent on playing a cruel trick on the inhabitants of New England that winter.
We have taken a look, piecemeal, in a number of past columns at the events that brought about the construction of the massive fabric mill along the banks of the Shewatuck River in Lafayette. I am excited to be able to announce that that a new series of educational signage has been recently installed there, which details the mill and the village’s history across the centuries. So, in light of that, I thought we might take a look at the story of the mill in hopes that it would spur all of you to stop by at 650 Ten Rod Road and take some time to enjoy the new history trail there.
It is apparent to anyone passing through Wickford, that “The Place” pizza shop building has been given a well-deserved facelift. With that in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at the story behind this utilitarian little building and remarkable family that occupied it for many years.
Well, here we are again, with our 22nd attempt to tally up the most endangered historic sites in our fair town for the new year. In the previous years we have seen our share of successes promoting and preserving these special places, and sadly our share of failures too.
As a younger man, I had always wondered why the Old Narragansett Church had been located, for nearly one hundred years, way out in the proverbial boondocks on Shermantown Road. This nagging question led me into an exploration of the history of Route 1 as it winds its way through our fair town.
Christmas in Wickford is a special time; indeed, a magical time. Folks hustling to and fro, from the warmth of one familiar shop to the next, the sting of winter’s chill upon your cheeks and the sounds of the season in your ears. Friends and neighbors passing each other on the streets and walkways, exchange “how-do-you-do’s,” and loved ones embrace as they meet in a village lit up with both holiday lights and the warm glow of good cheer. This scene has played itself out with minimal variation year up on year, decade after decade, for literally centuries now.
The recent death of Russell Greene has got me thinking about the history of the Greene’s Flowers Building and the 108-year-old business that was sited there for all those years. Russell Greene was a swamp Yankee through and through, and although he loved to play the part of a cantankerous old curmudgeon, he was one of the kindest men I have ever known.
Back in the northeast corner of the Smith’s Castle property lays the mass grave of 40 men who died as a result, directly or indirectly, of the Great Swamp Fight of December 19, 1675. This grave stands as a silent sentinel testifying to one of the darkest hours of Colonial history; you see the Great Swamp Fight’s impressive sounding moniker is a misnomer; it should rightly be called the Great Swamp Massacre.
Back in the 18th century, a bootscraper was a necessity. You see, even in the most advanced and settled communities, muddy streets were a fact of life. Spring thaws and heavy rainfalls would turn even the best of gravel roads into a soupy quagmire. Add this to the fact that horses do what horses do no matter where they are and you’ve got a mess of mud. One thing, though, has not changed over the centuries. No matter how humble the dwelling, wives and mothers did not then, or now, want mud tracked into their clean home.
In a letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris in 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” In his advocacy for people to wake up and leverage the day, Franklin joked there should be a tax on window shutters, candles should be rationed, and canons should be fired at sunrise.
People often ask me, what’s my secret to a long and healthy li…
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”. This is because it is synthesized in our skin in response to sunlight. The beauty of Vitamin D is that it’s free — a great model for “all things in moderation” too.