It is with considerable sadness that I pen this column this week as it has been a sorrowful time; two folks very important to me and the greater community of our fair town have recently passed on. Erma Peirce of Pleasant Street in Wickford and J. Paul Wilson of Wilson’s of Wickford fame, both in their 90s, are no longer with us. I have known both of these remarkable people for as long as I can remember and will keep them in my heart as long as I shall live. Heaven’s gain is our loss in both these cases. It only seems fitting to honor them by taking a look at the one home that in some ways, ties them together, the fine home on the southeast corner of Beach Street and Boston Neck Road. Paul Wilson grew up in this house, this house built by a relation of Erma’s family by marriage. I will miss you both terribly.
You’ve got to figure that Hattie Peirce is looking down from heaven right now feeling quite a bit conflicted. I’m sure she’s pleased as can be to see her fine home at the corner of Boston Neck Road and Beach Street so lovingly maintained. She’s probably just beaming with pride over the undisputed fact that the home she made with her husband Christopher exists now as one of the area’s finest bed & breakfasts. The grounds are beautiful from season to season, the welcome lamp is always lit, but that name; that name has got to stick in her craw a bit. She probably wonders. “Heavens to Betsy, just who is Haddie Pierce?” Why everyone who knew Harriet Louisa (Waldron) Peirce knew she’d been called Hattie since she was just a young lass. And every god-fearing Swamp Yankee in South County knows that folks who share the Peirce/Pierce/Pearce name around these parts take the spelling of their particular branch of this extended family quite seriously. There was a time back during the Revolutionary War when this kind of mistake would elicit the response, “Them’s fightin’ words!”
Let’s take a gander at the history of this fine home while the spirits the countless Peirce’s that have gone on before cool down a bit. The story of this home begins back in May of 1905, when Hattie herself purchased this fine corner lot of land from the primary land owners in the region, the spinster sisters Abby and Lucy Reynolds. She chose the spot specifically because her husband Christopher Phillips Peirce worked with his father just down Beach Street, running the very successful Cold Spring House, the premium summer resort hotel in the area. Hattie could afford to purchase the property due to her Waldron family connections, as the niece of wealthy Providence wholesale grocer Nathan Waldron, who owned a large summer home in nearby Quidnessett, and the notorious and successful NYC gambler William Waldron, who had his own summer place near Hamilton (now Waldron Avenue), she had the financial wherewithal to own the place outright. Hattie and Christopher had their grand home built in 1906 in a style befitting their station in life. After the Peirce family sold the Cold Spring House, Christopher became one of the area’s earliest insurance agents, a business he most probably ran out of their house. Christopher died young in 1915 and in 1920 Hattie sold her home and went to live with her married daughter Marguerite Fearney. Hattie died in 1955 at the age of 98.
The house was purchased by Providence businessman Harry Bowen who used it for a short while as a summer home. In 1923 he sold it to local native Henry E. Rathbun and his wife Mary (Gardiner) Rathbun. Henry had attended the public schools in town and then had gone on to further his education in Providence where he eventually became a mechanical engineer. He held a number of patents for spring-loaded window shades and was half owner of a window shade factory in Worcester, Massachusetts. They lived here throughout the end of Henry’s business career and into his retirement. Mary sold the place in 1939, after his death, to Wickford businessman Edward “Skitty” Wilson, the founder of Wilson’s of Wickford, and his wife Ethel (Hainesworth) Wilson.
The Wilsons raised a family here in the home, just a short walk from the store that bears the family name. Additionally, during this time frame, the fine stonewalls on the property were constructed utilizing, in part, some of the foundation stones from an old barn found on the Hainesworth property in Wickford. That old foundation still exists as the “sunken garden” in front of the wonderful North Kingstown Free Library.
So, as you can clearly see, there’s been a long history of Swamp Yankee ownership of this fine home over the years. And, although there’s not a Swamper among us that wants to trod upon the vital rights of property owners to do as they wish with their home within reason, or to call their home whatever they want, we also would like to see old Hattie Peirce get her due.