211111ind Cranston

This property located at 25 Boston Neck Road in North Kingstown was once used to house the priests of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Wickford. Today, it is owned and maintained by William and Joyce Fennell.

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. All across the country, the vast majority of parishes in many Christian denominations were grappling with the problem of attracting and retaining quality spiritual leaders. The largest problem with retaining good priests, especially in denominations where they were allowed to marry and raise a family, was that of adequate housing. In the past, parish priests were either placed in whatever nearby rental property could be found or, in some cases, were expected to live within the household of whatever generous local parishioner who might offered up free or reduced cost room and board.  By the middle of the 19th century however, if an affluent parish such as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Wickford, desired to attract and retain an excellent spiritual leader, a man with presence and education, a firebrand sermonizer with extraordinary organizational and managerial skills, a motivational priest with every desired aspect and acumen, well then you had to offer them stable and adequate housing. With this in mind, in February of 1855 a vestry committee consisting of textile mill owner Syria Vaughn, jewelry manufacturer James Eldred, and local merchants Allen Mason Thomas and Horatio Nelson Reynolds were charged with the tall order of raising funds, securing land, and causing a parsonage to be constructed adequate to the task of enticing a high quality rector to commit to leading the parish through the years ahead. The necessary fundraising was accomplished by securing a pledge commitment of $1,668.63 from 29 of the most affluent and prominent members of the parish.  The necessary land for the parsonage was donated by committee member James Eldred, who at that time, lived across the road from the proposed site, in his grand home “The Oaklands”. Committeeman Syria Vaughn, who was the president of the textile firm, Hamilton Web, contributed the labor and materials necessary to dig and construct the cellar and well on the property. The building itself was constructed, at a reduced cost, by parishioner and fellow vestryman Benoni P. Bates, who was a prominent local house carpenter at that time.  The parsonage was finished in record time and in August of 1855; Reverend Alonzo B. Flanders and his family took up residence there. In 1869, the building was expanded with the addition of a tower like structure on the north side.  For the next 80 years, up until the year 1935 when this parsonage was replaced by the Rectory on Gold Street immediately adjacent to the Main Street church itself, the priests of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Wickford lived here. In addition to Rev. Flanders and his family, the following priests and their families resided in the Boston Neck Road Parsonage;  James A. Sanderson, Daniel Goodwin, George J. Magill, William W. Ayres, Albert J. Thompson, Samuel Borden-Smith, Frederick B. Cole, Richard R. Graham, H. Newman Lawrence, and Herbert J. Piper.  After Reverend Herbert Piper relocated from this home to the Gold Street Rectory, this place served as an income producing rental property. In 1939, the vestry of St. Paul’s voted to sell it to their long term tenant, Melvin T. Holbrook.

Melvin Holbrook Sr. was born in Massachusetts and educated at the prestigious secondary school Phillips Andover Academy and then followed with four years at Yale from which he graduated in 1899 with a degree in education. He taught at a number of Massachusetts high schools before being appointed the Principal of West Warwick High School in 1915. In 1922, he was recruited for an executive position by the textile giant B.B. & R Knight, the predecessor to Fruit of the Loom, and left education to pursue a career in the textile industry. He worked there until 1935, when he “retired” to a home in Wickford and a new part time career as an automobile salesman at the Gil Motor Company in Arctic. Upon purchasing the former parsonage he had it converted into a two family home and moved in with wife Catherine (Crowe) and their daughter Dorothy and son Frederick, sharing the other apartment with his adult son Melvin Jr. and his family. Besides being a parent, Catherine was a busy person in her own right.  Extremely active in the Girl’s Friendly Society at the local and state level, she was for several years the State and National chairwoman of the Holiday House Committee and was for many years the head house mother at the RI Holiday House in the Plum Beach section of Saunderstown. Their son Melvin Jr., was also an exceptional person, who like his father, attended Phillips Andover Academy.  Lauded as an aviation pioneer in RI, he ran a flight school in the early 1930’s as well as an early charter airline that flew passengers from the airport at Hillsgrove in Warwick to places like Block Island and Long Island. He was also among a core of officers in the 152nd Observation Squadron of the RI National Guard which were called to service very early in WWII. By the War’s end he held the rank of Colonel and after the hostilities was assigned as the personal pilot for the US Ambassador to Great Britain, John Hay Whitney.  His wife Hope (Lindberg) and his daughters Melynnie and Bonnie lived here while Melvin Jr. served the nation. Upon Melvin Sr.’s death in 1941, the house became the shared property of Catherine and her son Melvin Jr.  When Melvin Jr died suddenly in 1958 his half share ownership became Hope’s and soon after Catherine sold her half share to her widowed daughter-in-law and moved to nearby South Road in Exeter. Hope Holbrook finally sold the former parsonage building in 1969 to the Brooks family. Later owners include Willy Copel and Ralph and Carl Dworman. It is now owned and maintained by William and Joyce Fennell.

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

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