210701ind History

This property located at 168 Beach Street in North Kingstown was constructed in 1898 and has had a variety of owners in its time.

Just this past week, my dear friend and one of my partners in eking out the details of the history of our fair town has retired. Karen-Lu LaPolice worked for the North Kingstown Planning Department for decades and, after that, with a private company here in town. She possesses a near photographic memory, a clever sense of humor and heart as big as all outdoors. The Henry L. Tiffany Cottage, located at 168 Beach Street in North Kingstown, is important to her.

This gambrel-roofed cottage was constructed in 1898 by Providence/New Bedford based textile magnate Henry L. Tiffany. Henry Tiffany, a relation to the New York City jewelry Tiffany’s, was an executive with the New England Cotton Yarn Company, located in Providence, and the founder and President of the Kilburn Mill, a textile mill that was, in its heyday one of New Bedford’s largest employers. In 1894, Henry and his wife Elizabeth (Tiffany) had purchased the old Poplar Point Lighthouse and had converted it into their summer getaway. Henry Tiffany, an avid yachtsman with a penchant for Herreshoff constructed sailing yachts, appreciated the old Lighthouses location right on the water, only a short sail away from the busy social scene in Newport.  Tiffany built this small cottage and the one adjacent to it initially as either caretaker/servant housing for the nearby Poplar Point property, or as investment properties to help financially support his summer home here.  According to census data, by 1900, Tiffany had rented this house to Ralph Leonard, who was a fireman on a local rail line, and his extended family which consisted of his wife Annie, their children Almira and Florence, Ralph’s 13 year old brother-in-law Charles Williams, and his grandmother Mary Willis. In late 1907, Henry Tiffany sold this income producing rental house to Henry Napoleon Rice. A year later he sold the lighthouse property as well.

Henry and Ella (Stanton) Rice moved in with two of their daughters, Amy and Saraphina. Henry was a local carpenter, who had worked for a number of years in the village, and his adult daughters also worked locally, Amy as one of the very first telephone operators in Wickford and Saraphina as an accountant for one of the oyster companies on nearby Pleasant Street. Sadly, within nine years, both Henry and Ella had passed away, and the house became the property of Amy Rice. Amy, who had worked as an operator initially in the bottom floor of one of the nearby tenement houses at the intersection of Updike and Beach Streets, now worked as the chief operator in the newly constructed phone company building on Phillips Street.  She  lived then with her sister Saraphina, who had married one of the boat captains, Joseph Baker.     

In 1921, Joseph and Saraphina Baker moved into their own home in Wickford and Amy, who never married, sold this home and moved in with her other sister Minnie Sherman, who was the Exeter postmistress, and her family. She sold the house to Ella Steere.

Ella was the widow of Pawtucket based textile magnate Oscar Steere, a man who certainly had been acquainted with Henry Tiffany. The Steeres too, had summered just outside of Wickford, but had eventually settled here full time. Ella bought this house as an investment property, but didn’t own it for very long. Upon her death in 1923 she left the house to her daughter Minnie.  Minnie Samuels held on to it as well as an investment property renting it out as her mother had before her. When she died suddenly in 1940, at the age of 52, the house was left to her second husband Joseph Samuels, who then moved into it with their son Allen. Joseph Samuels worked as a life insurance agent for Metropolitan Life and by the time of his wife’s unforeseen death was managing a branch office for Metropolitan. They had had Allen late in life and he suffered from Down’s syndrome. Allen was a gentle soul and was well liked by all in the village of Wickford. Father and son continued to live in this little cottage until late October 1959 when tragedy struck and Joseph Samuels was hit by a car and killed as he crossed Boston Neck Road at its intersection with Beach Street.  Allen moved to Florida to live with relatives and the house was sold out of Joseph’s estate by Norman Middleton, Minnie’s son by her first husband.

The house was purchased Malcolm Jenne in 1960, who owned it and lived in it with family which included the ever-effervescent Karen-Lu (Jenne) LaPolice, until 1973. It has been owned since then by the MacLean family.

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

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