One of the questions I am most often asked is, “What’s the story with that big cellar hole next to the library?” Many people erroneously assume that it is the foundation to a house, but the truth is, it is all that remains of the great barn that, along with a carriage shed and a fine two story home, Alfred Chadsey had built for his youngest daughter Deodata and her new husband Joseph Fischer. This is the story of that home.
The name “Deodata” means “gift from God” and I am sure that this is how Chadsey and his wife Susan looked upon their youngest daughter, as they had tried for a very long tim e to have another child after their first daughter Ellen. Ellen had grown up and married well. Her union with the son of Lt. Gov. J.J. Reynolds surely must have made the Chadseys proud. And now, in August of 1886, Deodata, too, was marrying a man of great promise, for Joseph Fischer was the priest at the Wickford Methodist Episcopal Church (now occupied by The Captain’s Table, a gift shop), just down the hill from the Chadseys’ great home at the top of “Quality Hill” (West Main Street). He had been born in Germany but had immigrated with his parents to the United States and had grown up and been educated in and around Scituate, Mass. How he met and courted the daughter of one of Wickford’s most devout Baptists is unclear, but whatever the circumstances, it must have made the very religious Chadsey’s happy to know that their daughter would be assisting in God’s work. Reverend Fischer was already well liked in the community and since his recent arrival at the Wickford M.E. Church attendance had increased dramatically and the church, which had been considered likely to fail soon, was having a renaissance of its own. Chadsey had the grand house built for his daughter and son-in-law shortly after their marriage. The building of the house also entailed the design and building of an access road to the property, and anyone who has walked up to our present day library form West Main Street and taken note of its construction can see that this was much more than a simple driveway. But Chadsey, the gentleman farmer and agricultural scientist, loved a challenge. He was more than up to the task and before long the house, barn, and drive were completed. Alfred Chadsey retained ownership of the property until 1895; at that time he transferred it to his daughter and son-in-law. Perhaps he was doing them a favor and not subjecting the newlywed couple to the burden of paying the taxes on their home. One can imagine the young pastor and his wife entertaining church vestry members, as well as their families, in the fine home. It was just a short walk each day for this “preacher of the Gospel” (as he described himself on his marriage license) to get to his parish; it must have been the perfect home for them. They lived there until 1909 when Fischers successes at his small church caused him to be reassigned to a new and larger church in Burrillville: the Laurel Hill Methodist Episcopal Church. I’m sure it was with great reluctance that they left their home of 20 years, but they were doing God’s work and it would not be the last time that the up and coming priest would be reassigned. Just two short years later he would be writing his former parishioners in Burrillville from his new church in Ducor, California; a town in the northern part of that state.
In 1910 the Fischers, who were already living in Burrillville, sold their home to an up-and-coming local plumber, pipefitter, and sheet metalworker from Wickford, John W. Hainsworth. Hainsworth was married to Sarah Milner and eventually had two children, Albert and Ethel. John can be seen in the accompanying photo with his children in front of the business he purchased form John Congdon. John and Sarah had a good life at the Fischers’ old home. Their children grew up and went to school nearly right next door. John’s business grew and was quite successful. All that changed in 1922 when Sarah died suddenly and left John to raise their son and daughter alone. John was devastated but he had a business to run and children to raise and he carried on. Son Albert had a love of music and a God-given natural ability to go along with it, and he grew up to be a musician of some note locally. Daughter Ethel fell in love with another local boy with an unusual nickname of “Skitty.” Skitty Wilson, a Rodman mill worker, had a dream to run his own clothing store in town and he and his wife Ethel Hainsworth fulfilled that dream. They passed their store “Wilson’s of Wickford” down to their son Paul, and the rest is, as they say, history. John Hainsworth died in 1938 and his family home became the property of his son Albert. Albert lived in the home for a time, but eventually found it too big for a single man and too full of memories and moved out.
This marks the third and final phase of the house’s existence and brings it to the point where your loyal columnist remembers it. We children of Wickford of the ‘50s and ‘60s grew up knowing nothing of the house’s storied past; to us it was the “haunted house,” a place of mystery up on the hill behind the grammar school. By then the house stood alone, the carriage house and barn long gone, burned down somewhere near the turn of the century by the look of the huge trees which grew up in the foundation. The gardens of Deodata Fischer and Sarah Hainsworth had long gone wild. Each spring the ground was a virtual blanket of flowers, mostly Lily of the Valley, which did well in the cool shade of the tree-covered property. Many a Mother’s Day bouquet were hastily picked form these very grounds. None of us could imagine why a house so big and wonderful had been abandoned there in the middle of town. Few of us could resist walking in and imagining what must have transpired there. Sadly, this fact was the final nail in the coffin of the Fischer/Hainsworth house. You see, Paul Wilson the house’s owner at the time, knew full well that the house was a magnet for the local young ’uns; he also knew that it was a dangerous place, unmaintained for many years. It might have cost a child an injury or worse. So sometime around 1972 he had it burned by the town fire department, who used it for training purposes. With that the house that Alfred Chadsey had lovingly built for his daughter, his “gift from God,” was gone. But the “gift” part of this story lived on, for in 1973 Paul Wilson, North Kingstown greatest philanthropist since Robert Rodman himself, sold the parcel of land to the town for a fraction of its actual worth for the construction of a new library. In one of the town’s greatest ironies, the old library, built by a donation from C. Allen Chadsey, was to be replaced by a library built on the land of his cousin Alfred Chadsey.
If your kids are anything like mine were, they can’t resist running down into the old foundation of the barn built for Deodata and Joseph. Some day when you’re sitting there in the cool shade of the trees which sprang up from the barn floor tell them the story of this place. It’s easy to see that it is essentially a story about gifts and giving and there is nothing more important you can pass on to your children than that.