I could not help but notice, as I drive down Ten Rod Road each day, that the lovely old Advent Street Church has recently received a new paint job, courtesy of its present owners, the McKay family. The McKay’s purchased the building; no let me rephrase that, they saved the building, more than two decades ago, when they purchased it and began to use it as warehouse space.
Sure, it would have been cheaper and easier to build a non-descript metal warehouse building, but that’s not the way this wonderful clan operates. They are invested in the village of Lafayette and they made this choice specifically to save the old church. Well, that got me thinking about this class of truly public buildings that also still serve North Kingstown’s needs in other ways. So this week we’ll tarry for a spell and examine the tales of church buildings that live on with a whole new purpose.
Let’s begin our journey through this topic down south in Saunderstown where the familiar and signature outline of the Saunderstown Post Office can surely be identified as a former church if you think about it a bit. Indeed this building was constructed in 1902 and given the impressive moniker “The Saunderstown Chapel of the South Ferry Baptist Church”. This structure really represented a population shift away from area around the picturesque South Ferry Church to the area around the growing village of Saunderstown. Church members living in that village, led by members of the Gould and Kelly clans, eventually won out and the South Ferry congregation moved full time to this future post office in 1907, closing the old church with its landmark spire. Eventually, even the parsonage was moved north up Boston Neck Road and still exists in Saunderstown today. The congregation at the Saunderstown Chapel worshipped here until the end of the 1940s when the church closed. It lay empty until 1962 when the US Post Office moved in.
Speaking of spires, up in Lafayette, the spire of the grand Lafayette Advent Christian Church building in that village, whose construction was largely funded by the Rodman family back in 1883, rises from the roof of a building which now has a completely different function. This church, which was constructed with a capacity to serve 330 congregants, is far too large and the present congregation now worships nearby at the Hornbeam Chapel. This big church building was saved from certain demolition by the aforementioned McKay family.
Additionally, three of these structures have been converted into single family homes. One is up on Fletcher Road; once the home of the Baptist Church of Quidnessett Neck, an authorized offshoot of the Allenton Baptist Church and the predecessor to the Quidnessett Baptist Church on Post Road, it’s now a fine little home with an intriguing past. A few miles west out in Slocum sits another home that once served as a church that was an offshoot of the same Baptist Church in Allenton. Built in1887 and used as a church by the Slocumville Baptist Church congregation and then the NK Seventh Day Adventists until 1960, it is now a family home. Finally, just south of Wickford, off a long country driveway on a small section of the Old Boston Neck Road, sits the circa 1800 former Wickford Quaker Meetinghouse, now converted into an inconspicuous little cottage. This church building once stood at the corner of Fowler and Friend Streets and served the Quaker community of the region from 1800 to 1850.
Our journey ends here in Wickford village with the last two entries on this interesting tally. The first near the intersection of Main and West Main began its days as the home of the Wickford Methodist Episcopal congregation, when it was built back in 1885. This congregation, which was deemed quite “vocally demonstrative” by the staid Baptists and Episcopalians of the day due to their love of loud hymn singing and impromptu personal testimonials, worshipped here until the 1920’s. After that the building served the village as overflow classroom space for the town’s school system, the location of the Town’s first ambulance service and then finally, the wonderful retail/office space that it is today. Lastly we need to take a gander at the building on the corner of Boone and Phillip Streets. Constructed in 1899 to house the Union Gospel Mission a congregation focused on temperance and the “evils of drink”, it later served as the home of North Kingstown’s Christian Science congregation for decades. For nearly 50 years now, this former church building has housed a dental practice and, as such, is probably a place where an awful lot of silent prayers are whispered to the heavens to this very day.