Well, here we are again, with our 21st attempt to tally up the most endangered historic sites in our fair town for the twelve months ahead. In the previous years we have seen our share of successes promoting and preserving these special places, and sadly our share of failures too. 2021 was largely a “holding pattern” year, too be sure, with a decision for the Wickford Elementary school building finally made but no action yet and the inexorably slow-motion path forward for the Brown Street Library building causing a collective sense of anxiety in the extended community of those who care about historic places.
There’s no denying it, I drink way too much coffee. Iced coffee, hot coffee, I like them both and consume far too much of it at home, at work, and when I’m on the road. Hey. I’m old, I have a veritable laundry list of bad habits that I’ve given up over the years and heck, I’m hanging on to coffee. As often as the opportunity arises, I like to assuage my guilt by reading various web tidbits regarding the positive benefits of coffee consumption, probably all written by coffee industry lobbyists and insiders, and all of course, pertaining to “moderate” coffee drinkers. I try to delude myself, usually unsuccessfully, into actually believing that a pot and a half of coffee a day is “moderate”; but like I said, moderate or not, I’m not giving up my coffee.
Most folks don’t realize it, but New England, a region with nearly 400 years of history dating back to the early 17th century colonial period, has only been celebrating Christmas as we know it for about 150 years. You see, our Puritan forefathers; the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation and those of that ilk, viewed Christmas as an abomination, as abhorrent “residual Papist idolatry”.
A little over 115 years ago, on June 25th 1904, at a time long before environmental impact studies and building permit requirements, the rail wars of South County officially began.
Goings on at Schartner’s Farm, which straddles the line between Exeter and North Kingstown out on the South County Trail, have been in the news these days. A massive new greenhouse complex has got some folks up in arms. Tim Schartner, of Schartner Farm, recently had a well-written letter to the editor in this paper with just a mention of his family’s remarkable story. That story deserves a more complete telling; so here we go.
With all the changes going on at North Kingstown’s venerable Town Hall, it got me to thinking about an interesting episode which occurred there just about 121 years ago, back when our seat of local government was barely a decade old. Back in January of 1900, the Amazing Professor Brindamour, a popular vaudevillian, magician, and escape artist was performing for a week in the old Odd Fellows Hall on Phillips Street (now the long closed Olde Theatre Store building).
Throughout the 22 years that we have been journeying through time here in our fair town, I have had many occasions to mention the three principle Chief Sachems of North Kingstown’s original citizens, the Narragansett people, during the time of first contact.
Out in Elm Grove Cemetery, in lot 18, the family plot of the John Eldred clan, stands a round-topped marble stone commemorating the short life and sudden death of 18-year-old George Eldred of Wickford. The wording on the stone gives a hint of the level of grief and loss felt by his family. Across the top is written, “George we miss thee at home” and along the bottom, under the epitaph that describes his death, is the following verse. “Stop passenger and drop one bitter tear o’er the lamented form that moulders here”. Between these two solemn verses we can find that young George was the “Fireman on the engine of the ill-fated Stonington Steamboat Train”. Yes, George was the young man who stoked the fires of that engine as it sped towards its date with destiny, towards Wood River Junction, towards the Wreck at the Richmond Switch.
After the resignation of their rectors Reverend Daniel Henshaw in March of 1853 and his replacement Reverend James Carpenter less than a year later, the vestry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church realized they needed to take action if they wished to retain a quality priest for any length of time. Indeed, this parish was not alone in grappling with this problem.
This building was constructed around 1836 for merchant Horatio Nelson Reynolds, and was at that time located on the southwest corner of West Main and Bridge (now Brown) streets. Horatio Reynolds had opened a general store in a building located just to the south of this in 1833 and success prompted him to follow that store with a grocery store. He additionally built a storehouse (still extant and now incorporated into the Tavern by the Sea restaurant) in this same timeframe for use by both businesses.
The front peak-roofed portion of this complex two-story, cross gabled house with a three story mansard roofed addition with its dramatic tower on the eastern end was constructed in 1833 for Packetmaster Vincent Gardiner Jr and his wife Mary (Reynolds) by Wickford house carpenter Benoni Bates.
As the Town of North Kingstown’s historic cemetery preservation official, over the years I’ve seen things that have propelled my emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other. A recent phone call from the NK Police Department regarding a 19th century era footstone found leaning up against the outside wall of a local tavern made me angry, as I can only see it as a sign of ignorance and disrespect by some misguided reveler.
Pawtuxet, Rhode Island -born house carpenter Joseph Horton built the fine home located at 65 Boston Neck Road in North Kingstown on land he purchased from the owner of the house just to the west, Thomas Peirce, in 1892. He moved in with his wife Laura, a member of the prominent and successful Baker family, and their two children Mary and William after living elsewhere in the village of Wickford for more than three decades.
Politics at the national level, have certainly gotten a bit ugly, haven’t they? It’s easy to feel like this is something new, like this is the first-time things have ever been this bad. What are you thinking, this is Rhode Island, of course things have been this bad before! Here is a story to prove just that.
A recent slick glossy piece of ugliness in my mailbox has gotten me a bit riled up this week. I’m not really one to stray into the wasteland that is 21st century American politics, and I don’t know diddly about CRT or DEI, but I do know something about non-profit organizations with an on-line presence, because I have one.
Awhile back, we took a journey back to the time immediately after the Second World War and examined the story of the brigantine “Black Pearl” the last tall ship built here in Wickford. To recap, the 73 ft long Black Pearl was constructed at Perkins & Vaughan Shipyard, now Wickford Shipyard, by Lincoln Vaughan for use as his family sailing yacht.
Why would any logical person choose to face severe medical complications of COVID if they could be avoided? Most of us have weighed the issues and decided to follow vaccine recommendations. But some flatly refuse. Why?
Southern New England has been a hotbed of unusual bird sightings in the last couple years, with oddities showing up far off course from where they should be. Strangely enough, a handful of different species have turned up in our area when they should be 5,000 miles away in Siberia.
Remember the movie, “Network”? Howard Beale, the TV news anchor, encouraged viewers to go their windows and yell out, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” How many parents feel that way about school closings?