So much about this house, including the name associated with it – the Baker homestead, is misleading. You see, this home, or at least the core of it, was already nearly half a century old when the first Baker moved in. The house was actually constructed around 1785 by Benjamin Lawton Peckham on land he purchased from 18th century real estate mogul Richard Phillips. Ben Peckham, son of Newport sea captain Benoni Peckham and Mary Lawton, moved here from Newport and joined his uncle Capt. Benedict Peckham, who had already put down roots in the area, living on a farm that existed on the land that now houses the Spencer Drive/Collation Circle neighborhood at the intersection of Ten Rod and Tower Hill Roads. Once here, Ben Peckham married a local gal, Hannah Wall, and had the house constructed on the lot purchased from Phillips.
You might have noted that I said that the core of the home dates to 1785 and that’s an important distinction as long-standing oral tradition suggests and the house’s layout supports the contention that it actually looked remarkably similar to the nearby Domini Smith house on Fowler Street a home constructed at nearly the same time. Yes, the version of the house that the Peckhams called home until the middle 1830’s was a center-chimney full cape, not the gambrel-roofed home that exists on the lot today. Indeed, the footprints that the Domini Smith House and the core of the Peckham house occupy on their respective lots are almost identical.
Those drastic changes occurred during the ownership of the second generation of Bakers to live at the corner of Pleasant and Friend Street. After Capt. Benjamin Baker deeded the house to his son Capt. David S. Baker, things here began to change. For one thing, Capt. David S. Baker and his wife were a prolific couple and before you knew it there were quite a handful of strapping (Bakers were renowned in the area for their unusual height) young sons, as well as a couple of daughters, running around the homestead. The typical low-ceilinged sleeping loft arrangement afforded by a colonial-era Cape just didn’t cut it. The roof, second floor, and bulky center chimney were removed and replaced with the roomier gambrel roofed arrangement somewhere around the time of the Civil War. Later, as Capt. Baker became a more prominent member of the community, the simple cape front door was replaced with a grander entryway and the transformation was complete. Now to look at the home, you’d never imagine its former configuration.
The Bakers and their descendants owned the home for nearly a century until losing it to the Wickford Savings Bank during the height of the Great Depression. The Bank retained ownership of the home, renting it out, until 1941 when it was purchased by the McNeil family. It has been a privately-owned single family home ever since. So, as you can see, this home, which just celebrated its 235th anniversary has quite a tale to tell.