221027ind history

The winter crypt at Elm Grove Cemetery in North Kingstown served as a place to house coffins through the long winters of the 1700 and 1800s prior to the invention of backhoes and tractors to dig into frozen ground.

The recent passing of retired firefighter N. Peter Magnant has got me to thinking about his father Napoleon Magnant and the time-honored volunteer position he held until his death in 1956. You see, Napoleon Magnant was North Kingstown’s last real pound keeper. These days when we think of “The Pound” it brings to mind a vision of the place where you’ll have to part with some of your hard-earned cash to spring your errant family pet. Or perhaps it’s a place that you went to pick out a puppy or a kitten. Journey back just a couple of generations and “The Pound” means something decidedly different. So let’s take a Swamptown gander at the remains of the “Ten Rod” or as it was also known “Collations Corner’s Town Pound.”

The word “pound” as it is used in this instance is just about the only thing in this story older than the pound itself. Its roots reach back to the archaic Old English word “pyndan” to shut up or in. From there it became the Middle English “poonde” which was just a short leap to the present word. Pounds were found all across colonial American. Anywhere there were pesky stray farm animals grubbing around in your gardens, trampling through your yards, or harassing your yungun’s, there was a pound to pen them up in; a place to impound them until their rightful owners could come and get the “durned critter.”

North Kingstown was no exception to this rule of thumb. The historical record mentions at least two pounds within the town’s borders. One was located on the main livestock turnpike, The Ten Rod Road, and the other near to the intersection of The Pequot Trail (present day Post Road) and Stony Lane. I expect that there were actually three, as I can’t imagine a North Quidnessett farmer driving a stray razorback all the way down Stony Lane. I’m willing to wager that at some time one was located somewhere in Quidnessett. Well, be that as it may, the only one that can still be seen is the second version of the Ten Rod Road pound, known as the Collation Corners pound, toward the end of its long existence.

The first version of this pound was probably constructed in the early 1700s and was much larger than the one whose remains can be seen today. It was part of the Ten Rod Road livestock driving system. The road, originally constructed to allow cattle and sheep to be driven from farms in western Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut, was named due to its enormous width of ten rods (about 165 feet). It was designed this way to allow for ample public pasturage for feeding the multitude of livestock driven to the docks of Wickford for eventual shipment all over the colonies.

With that many animals passing through town, it was a cinch that a few would stray off and cause problems for local folks.

Once caught, they would be placed in the pound and be tended by the town pound-keeper and his three drivers. These were local men appointed by the town council. If no one claimed the animals in a timely fashion, they would become the property of the aforementioned gentlemen. That was the incentive for holding this sometimes thankless job. At that time the big pound was located at the edge of the future “Davis Farm.”

Around 1900 Henry Girard, the then owner of the property, decided he wanted to build his big handsome home (the house that sits there to this day) and had to move the simple farmhouse over to the Ten Rod Road edge of the property. He did, and the simple white farmhouse can still be seen a couple of houses up the road. Trouble was, the big town pound was right in the backyard of the relocated farmhouse and Henry wanted it moved. He petitioned the town council and was allowed to build a smaller replacement pound at its present position just to the west of the old farmhouse.

Coincidentally, Henry Girard eventually became one of the town’s last pound-keepers. In 1919, with the death of pound-keeper James Brayman, Girard was appointed his replacement. He held the job until his own death in 1953. By then the largely ceremonial job was given to Napoleon I. Magnant, who was our last pound-keeper. The job was not filled upon his death in 1956. The last actual resident of the pound was said to have been a stray donkey “whose heinous braying awaked the entire neighborhood.”

The remnants of the old pound sit there along the side of the former livestock trail unbeknownst to the average “Joe” who speeds by in his car on the road that once brought countless cattle and sheep down to the docks of “the olde quaint and historic.” Filled up with weeds and trees rather than braying donkeys and grunting swine, it has a story to tell us all about times long past and barely remembered.

A story that Lt. Peter Magnant surely knew.

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

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