200402ind History

This home located at 35 Boston Neck Road in North Kingstown was originally constructed for Dr. S. Oscar Myers in 1883 and though he only lived in it for six years, it remains a familiar sight for those traveling past the Hussey Bridge.

This week we are going to stop for a while and examine the story behind one of the four fine Victorian era homes on the west side of Boston Neck Road just past the landmark Hussey Bridge. This house was constructed by house carpenter Lorenzo Vaughn for Dr. S. Oscar (his preferred name) Myers and his wife Jessie (Blair) Meyers on land he purchased from Henry A. and Anna Babbitt. Dr. Myers, who was born in Barnerville, NY in 1847, had earned his medical degree at Union University in Albany New York and after practicing for a short while in Bay Ridge, Long Island, moved his practice to Wickford in 1878, living and working out of a home on Brown Street. Once here, he became very active in local affairs, serving as the town’s superintendent of school for a time, winning election to the position of North Kingstown town treasurer, and serving as a vestryman at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Throughout all these different positions, he also served as North Kingstown’s medical examiner as well. In February of 1880 the Myers had a daughter who they named Jessie and in November of 1882 another daughter who they named Florence. Myers had the house constructed with the idea that it should also serve as his doctor’s office and moved in with his wife Jessie and children in late 1883. For reasons yet unknown, in 1889, the highly respected and well liked local physician decided to relocate his practice to Mount Vernon, New York and sold the house and moved there with Jessie and his girls. Shortly after settling in Mt. Vernon, they had another child, a son they named Oscar Blair Myers. The Myers sold this house to J. Warren Greene and his wife Julia (Sherman) Greene.

Well known Brooklyn, NY lawyer J. Warren Greene’s familial roots run deep through Rhode Island history and he purchased the Myers house primarily as a summer home so he and his family could escape the summer heat of New York City. He learned of this house’s availability through his brother James A. Greene who was already living in Wickford at that time while owning and operating the textile firm Hamilton Web Company. James Greene and Oscar Myers were well acquainted with each other as they served together as vestrymen of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and were, along with mill owner William Gregory, driving forces behind the construction of the adjacent St Paul’s Guild Hall. Warren Greene, who was educated at Yale and Columbia Law, was at that time, a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Arnold & Greene, comptroller of the South Brooklyn Savings Bank, and a director at Home Life and Niagara Fire Insurance Companies. Additionally he had also served for a time as the Secretary of the Board for Hamilton Web. He summered here with his wife Julia, his sons Joseph Warren Jr., Herbert, and James and daughter Julia.

In 1895, Warren’s wife Julia passed away, and six years later in 1901 he sold the house to the widow Emily Hall Durfee, who was the mother of his nephew’s, and namesake’s wife, Mrs Joseph W. Greene. J. Warren Greene died in 1917 and was well remembered and mourned both in the New York City area and here in Wickford.

Emily (Hall) Durfee was the widow of Providence banker Albert G. Durfee who was connected for many years with the City National Bank of Providence. He had resigned from his career prior to his death in January of 1889, which occurred, according to family tradition, as a result of injuries suffered during a burglary. Sometime after her husband’s demise, she took her two daughters Alice and Louise, abroad for a year or more and when they returned, they settled into their home on Hope Street in the capitol city.

In 1893, her daughter Alice married the aforementioned Joseph W. Greene. Alice met her future husband while summering at the Thomas house on Main Street as her aunt was married to Philander J. Thomas of that family. After her other daughter Louise married C. W. Hershey in 1901 and relocated to San Diego, California, she sold the big Hope Street home and used the proceeds to purchase two homes, this one in Wickford which she named East Hope and one in California which she named West Hope. Although she retained ownership of both homes throughout the remainder of her life, she in essence gifted each house to her daughters and sons-in-law, with the caveat that she would be allowed to spend the summer six months of the year with her daughter Alice in Wickford and the winter six months of the year with her daughter Louise in California.

To facilitate this living arrangement here in Wickford, Emily Durfee had an addition built onto the back of the house in the year she purchased it. For more than two decades she lived her life in this manner; six summer months on the East Coast in East Hope and six winter months on the West Coast in West Hope. She passed away in August of 1923 here in Wickford in her 84th year. Upon her death, the house was left to her daughter Alice Hall Durfee Greene and her husband Joseph W. Greene.

Since graduating from Brooklyn Polytechnical Institute in 1883, Joseph W. Greene had spent his entire career working at the Hamilton Web Company, the business established by his father James Anthony Greene and his former business partner Syria Vaughn. By 1900, he was treasurer of the company and by 1921 he became the president of this prosperous narrow weave textile manufacturing firm. Additionally, he was also very active in the community, serving as a vestryman and warden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, founder and president of the Wickford Village Improvement Association, a driving force behind the acquisition and restoration of Gilbert Stuart’s Birthplace, a past master of the local Masonic Lodge, a director of the nearby Annaquatucket Golf Course, and a Washington Academy trustee among other things.

As his obituary in 1941 noted, “there were very few civic movements in the community with which he was not connected.” His wife Alice too, was very active at St. Paul’s Church, and was also busy on the North Kingstown School Committee, the NK Free Library and at Gilbert Stuart’s Birthplace. At the outbreak of WWI she established, through the Red Cross, a surgical bandage unit of volunteers which prepared bandaging material for the war use. She was later very active with the establishment and growth of South County Hospital. Alice and Joseph Greene raised three children in this house, a son Joseph Warren Greene Jr. and two daughters, one, Sara, who married Henry Beckwith and the other Alice Durfee Greene who never married. Upon Alice’s death in 1944, the house became the property of her namesake daughter Alice Durfee Greene.

Alice D. Greene shared many of her mother’s interests and was active with the Red Cross, Gilbert Stuart’s Birthplace, and St Paul’s Church. Additionally she was a member of the Providence Art Club. Upon her death in 1979, the house became the property of her nephew Henry L. P. Beckwith. Henry Beckwith is not only a retired academic, a world renowned heraldry expert, and one of the premier H. P. Lovecraft scholars; he is also a distant cousin, a fellow Wickford historian, and a dear friend. He and his wife Alice, continue a tradition of Greene family ownership of this house that now spans 131 years and counting.

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

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