Well, here we are again, with our nineteenth 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. 2019 was a “holding pattern” year, to be sure, with another round of options for the Wickford Elementary school building under consideration and a 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. But on a positive note, we do finally have some well thought out, common sense protective zoning in place on Brown Street in Wickford. Well, there’s no telling what this year will bring; so, with no further ado, here are the places in North Kingstown that we all need to think up about.
Our number “5” spot on this list belongs to a town building, the North Kingstown Town Hall on Boston Neck Road. Now don’t get me wrong, this building is not in any immediate danger, the heat and power are still on and the building is weather tight. But you see this building, is still lacking the one thing it truly needs, the one thing that separates useful buildings from “white elephants”; a clearly defined purpose. That is exactly what the Town Hall needs right now and let’s hopes that comes soon!
Jumping into the number “4” spot on our list is a complex of historic sites in our community really; a complex with some complex problems. What I am talking about are our town’s numerous lakes and ponds. You see, the thing that makes them historic is also the thing that places them at risk. This can all be summed up by one intriguing statement. Every one of our fair town’s many lakes and ponds are manmade and all of them were at one time tied to some sort of 18th or 19th century industry. On top of that, I, a former high school biology teacher, can tell you that nature wants to take those manmade ponds back to what they once were, a wetlands complex with a stream or river running through it. So, the collective citizenry of North Kingstown must decide what we want for them and decide soon, because the eutrophication of these ponds and lakes is underway and unrelenting. Some are really already too far gone; Sand Hill Pond on Post Road and the Annaquatucket Reservoir next to the High School are gone, Hamilton Mill Pond on Boston Neck, Saw Mill Pond in Davisville and Rodman Mill Pond on Lafayette Road are on their way out. Give it another decade or two and you can kiss Secret Lake and Belleville Pond goodbye as well. If we want to save some of these beautiful recreational features, we need to act; dredging permits take a lot of time and dredging can be costly.
Coming in at #3 on this list of unfortunates is a building that is no stranger to the tally. The Wickford Elementary School has been on and off “life support” for two decades and is now teetering right on the precipice of success or failure in my estimation. This is the year folks. I don’t know about you, but do not want to be standing there silently as the wrecking ball swings away. Lets finally get this right North Kingstown.
Sewer lines are both a blessing and a curse when it comes to historic structures. In some cases, the availability of sewers can aid in the thoughtful reuse of an old building, but more often than not sewers are the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” and ends up hastening demolition and a 21st century replacement. This problem is facing all the fine, and in some cases, sadly not so fine, 19th century buildings on Post Road. Yes, I know that there are some of you out there who could care less if the Pagoda Inn building, the former Red Rooster Tavern Building, the neat little “Once in A Blue Moon” building, or the Wickford Veterinary building and others on Post Road are torn down in the name of progress. But you know those structures speak volumes about the long, long past represented by the ancient Ben Franklin-planned Boston Post Road and the farmers, tavern owners, and shopkeepers that once lined it from its beginning in Boston all the way to its terminus in New York City. Once these handfuls of 19th century structures are gone, we’ve lost something. That’s why I’ve placed the 19th century buildings along Post Road in the number two spot.
Well North Kingstown, you can at present, pretty much kiss the building in the number one spot on the list goodbye. There seems to be no desire at all to even try to find a new use for the old Belleville school house on Oak Hill Road. Once described as a gem of architecture that adds much to the Village of Belleville, this circa 1888 structure built by the Sherman Brothers, is firmly on the road to demolition. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a taxpayer too and it makes good sense that the old school ought to go back on the tax rolls as a privately-owned building. But you see, that’s not even being considered as an option here. This building is a ”dead man walking”, so if you have a fondness for it – better go take some pictures today.