200625ind history02

Fans of local history will find much to marvel at with the building located at 14 Church Lane in Wickford. This home was constructed in the early 1800s for James Cooper and has passed through the hands of several prominent North Kingstown families since.

This fine little home was constructed somewhere around 1800 for James Cooper on land that had already been in the inter-related Cooper-Updike family for many years.  Lack of an associated real estate transaction connected to the construction of this home makes providing a more concise construction date problematic. It does though, first show up specifically in the historic record in 1813, when the details of Cooper’s last will and testament provide for ownership of the house to be transferred to James Cooper’s daughter Almy, who later appears as Amey, the wife of George Hiams (Himes). By the time she assumes ownership of the home after her father’s death, Amey Hiams is widow living with the family of her only son George Jr.  In January of 1822, she sold the home to Jonathan Reynolds and relocated to Providence to live with a yet unidentified relation. Amey  Hiams died February 11, 1833 and is buried in the Locust Grove Cemetery located near the Providence/Cranston border.

Jonathan Reynolds was a prominent early 19th century member of this locally important family. He was a Wickford merchant and, as he lived elsewhere, probably bought the home as either an investment property or to be used by one of his adult children. Most probably that child was his daughter Mary M. Reynolds, wife of successful mariner Captain Vincent Gardiner as he transferred ownership of the home to Mary in May of 1829. Mary lived in the home, which was just a short distance from her parent’s large home (now demolished) on Main Street while her husband was at sea, until 1854 when they moved into a new large and impressive home on West Main Street in the “Quality Hill” section of the village. At that time Mary, through her husband Capt. Vincent Gardiner, sold the home to prominent local real estate mogul Avis Ann (Smith) (Spink) Brown who folded the small parcel into her substantial real estate holdings centered around the large farm that ran all the way up the north side of Main and West Main Streets from its intersection with Church Lane all the way up to the Boston Post Road.

At some point during this timeframe, Avis, although she retained ownership until her death, allowed her grandnephew Charles Shippee to move into the house. Upon her death, she willed the house to Charles and he, in April of 1876, sold it to recent Irish immigrant Bridget McDonough.

With this 1876 purchase, Bridget McDonough began a period of inter-related Irish immigrant ownership that spanned more than 80 years and included successful Wickford green grocer Patrick McDonnell who purchased it in 1886, and then Mary (McDonough) Tully who owned it from 1891 until her death, and finally her daughter Anna (Tully) O’Hara whose husband James was the long-standing sexton at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church. Finally in 1959, the estate of Anna O’Hara sold the house to local plumbing contractor Henry Brennan.

Brennan lived in the house until 1967, and after a short period of ownership by the Dale Brown family, it was purchased, in 1971, by prominent state politician and human rights activist Eleanor Slater. Slater was a Democratic Party lawmaker and activist who was instrumental in the creation and passage of the state’s Fair Housing Act and Community Mental Health Act. She also was extremely active in women’s rights issue and the institution of higher education scholarship and loan programs. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a political science degree in 1978 at the age of 70. In 1994, Gov. Bruce Sundlun officiated over the renaming of Rhode Island’s State Hospital to the Eleanor Slater Hospital. The Slater family owned this home until the year 2000. It is presently owned by Martha Parks and it was Martha and her late husband Lauristan “Larry” Parks who added the delightful giant Chia pet to the yard. Only in Wickford …

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

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