Greetings, readers. This week we are going to begin a deep dive into the story behind the grand old building at the western end of Annaquatucket Road, known as Mount Maple. Mount Maple tells us two different – but inter-related – tales about two very different and distinct waves of immigrants to the shores of America. The first wave, those who came to this country during its colonial beginnings, is represented by the Gardiner clan. The Gardiners are one of North Kingstown’s largest and most successful colonial era families, and were the original builders of Mount Maple. The second important wave of immigration to this area occurred as a direct result of a national calamity across the Atlantic. The infamous Irish Potato Famine and its resulting mass migration to American not only helped save many desperate and destitute families, it also filled a pressing need here in North Kingstown and elsewhere for workers in the rapidly-growing textile industry.
The area where Mount Maple is presently situated was, at the middle of the 1800s, a part of the land-holdings of the Willett Gardiner family. Willett and Mary Gardiner had a large family and ran a successful farm along the southwest end of the road between the little mill villages of Annaquatucket and Belleville (now Annaquatucket Road). This area, like much of North Kingstown, was changing rapidly. North Kingstown, a community that was once primarily a farming region, was quickly becoming a hot bed of activity in the burgeoning textile industry. I expect Willett had mixed emotions about the whole affair. Just like folks today, he probably didn’t like the drastic changes that were occurring. But as a farmer who side-lighted as a trained mason, he probably enjoyed the economic opportunities that the Civil War-driven textile centered local economy presented. One local problem that I’m certain Willett was keenly aware of was a critical shortage of local housing to put up the many Irish and French Canadian immigrants who were moving here to North Kingstown to work in the mills. You see, most of the longtime local available workers were already employed at a mill or working a farm. Mill owners like the folks at the big Belleville Mill and the Hamilton Web Mill, both just a short walk from Willett’s farm, had to look far afield for workers to keep the looms clacking and humming along. Advertising far and wide, they eventually filled their needs with these eager Irish and French Canadian workers. Problem was, there were few places to house this large and rapid influx of newcomers.
This opportunity was not lost upon Willett and his extended Gardiner clan. One of his sons, the recent widower Whiting Gardiner (his first wife from the large Rathbun family passed on quite unexpectedly), was getting remarried to a second cousin named Hannah Gardiner. Willet and Mary put their heads together with the newlyweds and Hannah’s parents, William and Louisa Gardiner (William was apparently Willett’s cousin) and came up with a bold plan. A piece was carved out of the sizable Willett Gardiner farm and deeded over to Whiting and Hannah. Upon this land these inter-related Gardiner families constructed a substantial boarding house. The location selected, near the Belleville Rail station and within a 7 mile walking distance of Belleville, Hamilton, Annaquatucket, Oak Hill, Silver Spring, Shady Lea and Narragansett, was ideal for success. In 1869 the Gardiner Boarding House was open for business. To keep a ready stream of additional monies flowing in, Whiting gave up the farming life and took a job at Belleville as a dresser tender/mechanic. Hannah stayed home, raised their children, and tended to the needs of the boarding house. By the 1870 Census, the boarding house was full.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the family most associated with Mount Maple. For nearly seventy years the boarding house was owned and occupied by three generations of the Edmund Cullen clan. We’ll take a gander at their important role in the establishment of the local Roman Catholic Parish of St. Bernard’s and their long-standing family connection to another hard-working Irish immigrant entrepreneurial clan: the Ryans of Ryan’s Market fame.