200312ind History

The houses along the southwestern side of Washington Street in Wickford were once owned by the Lewis family before eventually being sold to Charlotte Luce Noyes and several members of her family.

The four little houses that run from 5 to 35 Washington Street have seen a lot of history in their two hundred years or so of existence. Backing up to Wickford Harbor, the homes, which were originally built to house the working class folk of the village, have stood witness through the period of time when sloops, barks, ships, and schooners not only made Wickford a frequent and important port of call, but were actually built here in great numbers. As a matter of fact, the three-masted, 212-ton “Union,” an honest-to-goodness 83-foot -long ship; one of the largest ever built in Wickford Harbor would have had to slide by the little cottages on her maiden voyage in 1805 with North Kingstown resident, ship’s Master William Gould at the helm. The houses survived three great hurricanes, sheltered Wickfordites through a Civil War and two World Wars with a Great Depression thrown in as well. Yes, they’ve weathered many a storm both literally and figuratively. For many years they were owned by the fishing Lewis’s of Wickford a remarkable family of entrepreneurial fishermen. Now it’s time to tell the rest of their tale; the tale of another family bound to the sea, bound this time not by the bounty that exists beneath the waves but by the potential for warfare that exists above. For the clan that bought all of these four homes from the Lewis’s, the inter-related Luce-Noyes family, were inexorably and forever connected to the US Navy.

The story begins with the widow Charlotte Luce Noyes the woman who purchased the first of these homes. Charlotte, from a wealthy Philadelphia family, most probably knew of Wickford due to her father’s amazing naval career. You see in 1884 Charlotte’s father Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce was made the first superintendent of the institution that he had championed; the Naval War College in Newport. He and his family would have gone back and forth between Newport and Philadelphia by way of little Wickford via the Newport & Wickford Rail and Steamship Co. Ironically as it sounds, the Admiral would have boarded “The General” in Wickford each time he made the trip to Newport. Luce’s illustrious career, which had begun on the monitor-type gunship Nantucket during the Civil War, would end gloriously at the War College in Newport. Three US Navy ships have borne the name USS Luce in his honor, including one, the Fletcher-class destroyer Luce that fought bravely, but was sunk by kamikazes during the Battle of Okinawa. Charlotte’s dead husband was Lt. Boutelle Noyes, another Navy man who had graduated from Annapolis with honor in 1868 and went on to a naval career that ended tragically in 1883 with his death aboard the ship he commanded, the USS Richmond while serving in the Asiatic Squadron. At some point during all this, Charlotte became enamored enough of Wickford Village to purchase the home of George Lewis a short while after his early death.

The other three Lewis homes were purchased by Charlotte’s eldest son, Robert Boutelle Noyes. Robert’s naval service was during World War I where he served aboard the original battleship Utah. A 1902 graduate from Harvard, Robert had also attended Annapolis as his father had before him. After the war he left the Navy and purchased substantial property on Puerto Rico where he became a successful coffee plantation owner. He and his wife Pauline lived between their plantation in Puerto Rico, an apartment in the Hotel Savoy Plaza in New York City and the little family compound they shared with Charlotte and Robert’s brother Stephen. Sadly, tragedy struck Charlotte’s life in rapid succession when by the beginning of 1938 both of her sons passed away suddenly. She and Pauline were now the owners of the four homes.

Charlotte lived on until 1946 summering in Wickford each year with Pauline and spending the rest her days in Philadelphia. She passed away in October of that year and was followed two years later by Pauline who had continued to summer here until that last season in 1948. The four houses were then willed to Charlotte’s nephew, R. Keith Kane, a New York City lawyer with a tale all his own.

R. Keith Kane was also Harvard educated and a successful and prominent member of the New York bar. He had handled his aunt’s complex financial and legal affairs for years prior to her death. During World War II Kane was a member of the Roosevelt administration involved in intelligence and counterintelligence gathering and interpretation. After the war, Kane’s behind the scenes efforts were very important in the formation of the United Nations. He was well-known and well-respected in both Washington and New York political and legal circles and there’s no telling what sorts of interesting folks he entertained here at what was by then known as the Kane compound on Washington Street in Wickford. These homes, these homes - Oh the stories they could tell!

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

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