220616ind history

The Samuel Brenton Milkhouse in Wickford may be one of the area’s smallest historic properties but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have quite the story to tell. According to North Kingstown Town Historian G.T. Cranston, the property was once the milk house for the Brenton family and may just the tiniest little historic home in all of New England.

We’ve spent lots of time poking and prodding the historic records in an attempt to get at the stories behind some of the oldest notable structures in our fair town. Let’s shift our focus this week and take a gander at what must be among “Ye Olde Quaint and Historic’s” smallest historic buildings; the Samuel Brenton Milkhouse.

Why, if you were just to cast a quick glance at this little wooden outbuilding, you might take it to be nothing more than a mere garden shed. Granted, it’s a nice one but most wouldn’t give it a second thought. A more curious soul might ask around a bit, and find that the little shed once had a former life as the milk house for the family farm which helped to support and feed the occupants of the wonderful colonial home just in front of it. It was here that all the implements necessary to run a home dairy operation were. Butter would have been churned here; cheeses, recently pressed, would have been aging on a shelf. A couple of milk pails and perhaps an old three-legged milking stool might have been stored in the corner of this little building made in the 18th century and framed with rugged pit-sawn beams that stand as straight as the day she was put together.

If you were to nose around a bit more, you’d begin to uncover an even more amazing story regarding this little structure. It may be that this is New England’s smallest dwelling house. You see, back in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s, even a small farm was apt to hire on a farmhand or two. The records show that here in southern RI and in nearby Gardiner’s Island, NY, the tiny house for one person was occasionally found. This arrangement offered privacy to both the farmer’s family and his hired man. Often these folks would end up bunking with their employers if there were no other accommodations. Heating expenses were low and if another hand was hired, another tiny home could be constructed. It has always been thought that a lot these little one-room structures with an equally small upstairs sleeping loft were long gone, but when the old milk house was restored in the early 1960s into a garden shed by the Lambert family, an amazing discovery was made. Up in the little upper loft area, the “remains of an ancient rope bed were found and in the walls were cleverly concealed secret compartments.” This one’s a tough one to prove, but perhaps, “Ye Olde Quaint & Historic” possesses the tiniest little historic home in all of New England. Imagine that!

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

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