220428ind history

This small building located at 549 Tower Hill Road in North Kingstown, just to the north of the Oak Hill Tavern, was built by Oliver Greene in the mid 1800s and has passed through the hands of several landlords and had several purposes since.

The Oliver Carr Greene Cottage certainly isn’t much to look at, that’s for sure, and with just barely 500 square feet of living space, it definitely would not be anyone’s first choice as the place to “hang one’s hat” each and every evening after a long day at work. But don’t let this tiny cottage with its dowdy exterior fool you. Just like lots of other old but seemingly inconsequential buildings in our fair town, this building, has a story to tell that is much bigger than it is itself.

The story begins in 1855, when 40-year-old farm laborer Oliver Carr Greene purchased a small parcel of land, “fronting on the Boston Post Road” from the family of farmer Benjamin Potter who lived in the large 18th century farmhouse next door. The Potter farmhouse was located exactly where the Oak Hill Tavern is sited today. Oliver Greene had this small cottage and a small barn built on his land and moved in, most likely working on the Potter farm. He married while living here as well and in 1866, he and his wife Sarah sold the little cottage and barn, on a half acre of land, to recent Irish immigrant Bernard O’Connell. When Bernie and his wife Margaret bought the home, he was a textile worker in the nearby Belleville Mill, but he had big dreams and in 1868, he, in partnership with another recent Irish immigrant James Kennedy, bought a store in downtown Wickford, all moving into the apartment upstairs of the storefront. Together, they opened one of the town’s earliest liquor stores. Shortly after this event, he sold this cottage to another Irish immigrant family with whom he had worked at the Belleville Mill, John and Catherine McCabe.

John McCabe was a wool sorter at the mill, but he too, had bigger ambitions than being a textile worker, and, as soon as it began operation, he was hired on as the Stationmaster at the Newport & Wickford Rail and Steamship Line’s Belleville Station, which was conveniently just a short stroll down the road from the cottage. While living here, he increased the size of the land parcel to a little more than an acre by purchasing a nearby gravel bank known locally as the Sand Hole from William Pierce, who owned the Belleville Mill. Sadly, in the summer of 1874 he tragically contracted a fatal case of Cholera. His widow Catherine moved in with an adult son who worked in a mill in the Knightsville section of Cranston. She held on to the cottage though, renting it out as an income source to support her in her old age. Finally in 1884, she sold it to the first of a string of landlords, local chap Barber Wilcox. He was followed by Jerome Fenner, John C. Conley, and Edward Tierney, all of whom only owned the place for a short while. In 1892, the last of these landlords sold the house to the Clough family of Cranston.

The Cloughs were a middle class family at the time and bought the little cottage, seemingly as a country get away from their full-time home in the industrial metropolis that was the urban center of Rhode Island and adjacent southeastern Massachusetts at the cusp of the Industrial age. They could come down here to the “country” now on the trolley line and get away from it all whenever they wanted. They held on to this little cottage getaway until soon after the Sea View Trolley Line ceased operation, selling it in 1923 to William and Ida Plourd. William Plourd was a finisher at the Belleville Mill and they stayed here until 1934 when Ida unexpectedly passed away. At that time, he sold the cottage to the folks who owned the old Potter farmhouse next door, Jesse and Phebe (Bateman) Carr.

Jesse T. Carr had turned the first floor of the Potter farmhouse into a tavern called the “Belleville Inn” just before Prohibition kicked in, and he and Phebe lived upstairs. Locals always referred to the place as the “Sandhole” as an acknowledgement of its location next to the old Belleville Mill gravel bank. Ironically throughout the Prohibition period, this longtime saloonkeeper, who had prior to this operated in both Westerly and Narragansett, was hired by the government as a prohibition agent.  When Prohibition was over, Jesse returned the Belleville Inn to full tavern status and eventually bought the little Oliver Greene cottage next door as an investment property. Jesse was also a harness race horse aficionado and owned, trained and raced numerous horses over the years. While traveling in the harness racehorse circles he met and became friends with wealthy textile industrialist and father of the “Fruit of the Loom” brand name, Prescott Knight, who gave him and Phebe an extraordinary marble sculptural urn as a gift.

The Belleville Inn was a successful enterprise throughout the time that the Carrs ran it and upon reaching retirement age, Jesse and Phebe sold the Belleville Inn and moved, along with their beautiful marble sculptural urn, into the little cottage. Jesse kept his hand in harness racing though, spending summers here in town and winters down in Florida near his favorite racing ovals before passing away in 1946 and Phebe stayed on in the little cottage for the rest of her days before her death in 1961. She left the cottage to her nephew, who sold it that year.

The house was owned by a new series of landlords over the course of the next decade. The beautiful marble urn was stolen by a tenant in the early 1960’s and sold off to an unknown buyer. If anyone has ever seen it somewhere, I sure would like to know. In 1969, the property was purchased by O’Neil Oil and the cottage was remodeled into the oil delivery company’s office. Thirty years later, it was purchased by the present day owners of the Oak Hill Tavern, the business that sits on the land once occupied by the Belleville Inn, which burned to the ground a short time after Jesse Carr sold it.

So, the cottage has quite a story to tell after all and is indeed quite a survivor after 167 years. The Belleville Inn is gone, consumed by fire. The Carrs, the Cloughs, the McCabes, the Greenes and all the other folks who lived here are long gone too. Even the fancy marble sculpture that kept the cottage company for decades has been whisked away as well. The barn is gone, the treed hills behind are gone too; and the dowdy little cottage just keeps carrying on waiting for someone to tell its story.

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

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