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 Western Rhode Island Civic Historical Society » 2014 » December

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Stephen Hopkins House- Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Stephen Hopkins house

The Governor Stephen Hopkins House is a museum and National Historic Landmark at 15 Hopkins Street in Providence, Rhode Island. The house was the home of Stephen Hopkins, a Governor of Rhode Island and signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

The Stephen Hopkins House is an L-shaped 2-1/2 story wood-frame structure, whose main block was built in 1742-43 for Stephen Hopkins, with an attached two-story ell whose first floor dates to 1707. The main block is four bays wide and two deep, with the main entrance in the second bay from the left. This entry is a 20th-century alteration; the original main entrance was through a doorway on the west side of the ell.

The interior of the main block has the main parlor on the right, and Governor Hopkins’ study on the left, flanking a central hallway with stair. Behind the parlor is a keeping room, with a small bedchamber behind the study. There are five bedrooms on the second floor, two with fireplaces. The downstairs fireplace mantels are paneled, with that in the parlor slightly more elaborate.


The 1707 house was purchased by Stephen Hopkins in 1742 and enlarged into its present size. It served as his home until his death in 1785. During these years he served in the colonial assembly, as a justice (first associate, then chief) of the colonial high court, and as colonial governor of the province from 1755 to 1757. The house is the only significant structure associated with Hopkins’ life.

In the late 1920s the house was carefully restored by Norman Isham. The house is now owned and managed by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, and is a museum open to the public.

The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.


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Posted on December 31, 2014 at 11:51 am
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Hearthside — The House That Love Built


Located just to the north of Providence in Lincoln, Rhode Island, Hearthside is a unique stone mansion built in 1810 on pastoral Great Road, the first road through the wilderness between Providence and Mendon, Massachusetts, and one of the oldest thoroughfares in America.

Hearthside is beautifully preserved and had been a private residence until 1996, when the Town of Lincoln purchased the property. In 2001, a group of citizens formed “Friends of Hearthside”, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to serve as stewards of the house and help preserve the property, while promoting its historical significance and accessibility to the public. Hearthside House Museum is open frequently for guided tours and special events, and by appointment for group tours. Now an award-winning museum, Hearthside House is open frequently for guided tours, special events and exhibits, as well as by appointment for group tours. For a schedule of openings, please see our events section.  http://hearthsidehouse.org/events/

Hearthside has been noted as one of the finest examples of early 19th century federal-style houses in the state, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The unique 2 ½ story house is built of fieldstone,   which was rare in dwellings at that time. Its design includes a gable roof with impressive ogee curves above circular attic windows. There are 10 fireplaces in the 10-room home, hence the name ” Hearthside. ” Hearthside has become known as “The House That Love Built” because of the romantic history behind the building of this beautiful house by Stephen Hopkins Smith.

Hearthside History.  http://hearthsidehouse.org/history/

Posted by: norma
Posted on December 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm
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The Towers of Narragansett

towers and casino 1885

The Towers, also known as the Tower entrance to the Narragansett Casino is a historic structure located at 35 Ocean Road in Narragansett, Rhode Island. It is the only remnant of the Narragansett Pier Casino built in the 1880s. On November 25, 1969, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

History (1883–1900)

The Narragansett Pier Casino was the center of social life in Narragansett during the late 19th century. The Narragansett Pier Casino rivaled the Newport Casion’s popularity as a resort for the social elite until it burned to the ground in 1900.

Built between 1883–1886, the Narragansett Pier Casino was a fine example of Victorian Shingle style architecture (a variation of Queen Anne style of architecture, designed by McKim, Mead, and White. The Casino offered a variety of sports, including boating, tennis, billiards, bowling, cards, and shooting, restaurants, stores, reading rooms, a theater, a bandstand, a ballroom, and a beautiful beach.

The Narragansett Pier Casino thrived during the Gilded Age until it burned down during the Great Fire of September 12, 1900. That day, a fire broke out in the neighboring Rockingham Hotel. The flames spread quickly to the Casino, leaving only the granite walls of The Towers standing. More recently Hurricane Sandy has uncovered the foundation and part of the old board walk belonging to the old casino that had been buried by sand.

Recent history

Today, having survived a number of fires, nor’easters, and hurricanes, the Narragansett Towers are the only remaining part of the original Narragansett Pier Casino. One of the most recognizable landmarks in Narragansett, The Towers currently hosts weddings, dances, dinners, plays, and fashion shows. Its location on Crescent Beach makes it an ideal venue for social events.


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Posted on December 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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Waterman Tavern Smithfield

Waterman tavern ell Smithfield


In 1733, Resolved Waterman Jr., built a tavern to attract business from travelers on this former turnpike road, and in 1822 the new owner built the Smithfield Exchange Bank as an ell attached onto the back of the main tavern building. Another western ell was built onto the tavern, and the two were connected by a cobblestone courtyard. The 1822 bank incorporators were Daniel Winsor (president), Asa Winsor, Stephen Steere, Elisha Steere, Richard Smith, Silas Smith, Nathan B. Sprague, Joseph Mathewson, Dexter Irons, John S. Appleby, and Reuben Mowry. The bank originally provided services to farmers and small businesses throughout northwestern Rhode Island.

In 1856 the Exchange Bank moved next door to a larger brick building. The main section of the Waterman Tavern was demolished in 1936 for the construction of US Rout 44, and the ells were altered to stand alone. The former bank ell served as a residence until 1969 for Mrs. Bessie Fish. Other owners included the Evans, Mowry, Whipple, and McLaughlin families, and Cumberland Farms. From 1969 to 2008 the building became greatly dilapitated. In 2000 Cumberland Farms sold the building to the town of Smithfield, and in 2006 it was sold to the Smithfield Preservation Society. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.


As of 2009, the Smithfield Preservation Society has been fundraising and attempting to restore the tavern, despite an earlier attempt by the town of Smithfield to condemn and demolish the building because it is perceived as an eyesore by some neighbors.

Posted by: norma
Posted on December 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm
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old jail

1658 Five white men from Newport contract with the Narragansett Indians to buy the “Narragansett Country,” lands we now know as South Kingstown, Narragansett, and parts of North Kingstown and Exeter.  The contract becomes known as “The Pettaquamscutt Purchase.” Torrey Road, south of the intersection of present day routes 1 and 138 and opposite Saugatucket Rd and beside the Tower Hill Cemetery, is the earliest concentrated settlement in the area.  It had at least one tavern, a Congregational meetinghouse (1695; relocated to Kingston in 1820), and a school, surrounded by large plantations occupied by wealthy planters.  All these early building are destroyed in King Philip’s War in 1675.

1720 The Narragansett Country lands are incorporated into the Colony of Rhode Island as King’s County. 

 1729 Rhode Island develops county court system.  Each of the 3 counties (King’s, Providence, and Newport) is to have their own courthouse and jail.  A High Sheriff and his deputies are in charge of maintaining order.

 1730 Tower Hill Road settlement made the county seat, and the first jail and courthouse for King’s County are built there.

1752 Residents of Kingston petition to become the new county seat, and have the courthouse and jail moved to Kingston.  They promise to pay for the new buildings, and also to build three new taverns. Being the county seat means increased business and prestige.  The Tower Hill residents fight to keep their town as county seat, but lose.

 First Kingston jail built across the street from the present jail.  It is a two-story frame (wood) structure housing prisoners and the jailer and his family together.

This first Kingston jail was flimsy and falls quickly into disrepair.  Breakouts are common and the jailer complains frequently about poor living conditions.  It is so bad that debtors object to staying in the jail and are housed in private homes in town. The decision is finally made to build a new jail.

courthouse was built on a site just east of the present-day Kingston Congregational Church. A new courthouse later replaced that courthouse in 1776 across the street, the present-day Kingston Free Library.

1792 Two-story wooden jail built at present site.  It is approximately the size of the current front part of the building only (with no back extension).  The prisoners are kept in 5 cells upstairs, and the jailer and his family live in four rooms downstairs.  Still, the arrangement is too close for comfort.

1803 One-story cellblock addition or “close” prison of wood built at back of jail.  (A close prison is self-contained and holds prisoners only.) Still, prisoners manage to escape regularly; in 1812 two prisoners escape by burning down part of the building, and in 1827 all the prisoners escape.

1838 State prison built in Providence.  However, the system of county jails to house prisoners without bail awaiting trial continues.

1858 Current two-story granite cellblock addition built.  The outer walls are buried 3 feet in the ground and are 3 feet wide.  The first story floors are 2 feet thick with an additional 2 inches of concrete.  The ceilings are stone.  The granite blocks are held together with 2-inch iron balls to further strengthen them.  Cell doors and outside windows are of heavy iron.  Two doors leading to the jailer’s residence are made of 2-inch oak plank; these are later replaced with iron doors.

The jail cells on the first floor, which hold two prisoners per cell, are meant for criminals (murder, rape, robbery, counterfeiting, etc.).  The upper jail cells are more like regular rooms in a house:  they are much larger, are heated, and have windows to the outdoors.  These cells were for debtors, or people who owed money but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pay it.  They lived in the cells as if they were apartments, and often were allowed to leave during the day to earn money to pay off their debt.  Sometimes the better-behaved criminals or female criminals stayed upstairs as well.

Despite its forbidding appearance, this new close prison was considered a big improvement and much more humane than previous jails.  The wooden jails had few if any windows, almost no ventilation, and the wood was usually rotting and full of bugs and other vermin.  In other words, they were dark, crowded and dirty, and they stank.  By comparison the new stone prison was clean, and had light and ventilation. Prisoners still managed to escape, usually by trickery, but not as frequently as before.

1861 Wooden jailer’s residence in front torn down and current granite jailer’s residence built. This building is not as heavy as the addition; it has 20-inch thick walls on the first floor, and 16-inch walls above.  (Note:  The Civil War began in April of 1861).

1880 Front porch with mansard roof attached.

1885 Steam boiler (central heat and hot water) added.

1906 Electricity added.

1956 County jail system discontinued. The four existing county jails (in Kingston, East Greenwich, Bristol, and Newport) are closed. Defendants without bail awaiting trial now go to the state prison.

The University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography occupied the old country jail until moving into the new Narragansett Bay Campus about 1960.

1958 The Pettaquamscutt Historical Society founded on the 300th anniversary of the Pettaquamscutt Purchase.

1960 The Pettaquamscutt Historical Society buys the Washington County jail from the state for $1.00 to use as its headquarters.

1999-2002 Jail extensively restored to more closely resemble its original appearance.


Posted by: norma
Posted on December 27, 2014 at 1:39 pm
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The Forgotten History of Hemp

uss constitution

More than 120,000 pounds of hemp fiber was needed to rig the 44-gun USS Constitution, America’s oldest Navy ship affectionately called “Old Ironsides.”

Nearly 55 tons of fiber was needed for the lines and rigging on that vessel alone. Even more hemp fiber went into making canvas for sails and caulking for the wooden hull.

Where did all of that hemp fiber come from? It came from the cannabis sativa fields of patriotic Revolutionary War-era farmers who originally grew the fibrous crop for the British Crown. Strong fibers formed strong nations in the pre-industrial age, and hemp was strategically important during the Revolutionary War.

 Yet, hemp is no longer purposefully grown in the U.S. in any significant amount. The forgotten history of this lowly “ditch weed” – now hugely important as a food for migratory birds – reveals that hemp was an important crop from Colonial times through World War II, when it was last widely planted across the country for the war effort.

British colonies compelled by law to grow hemp

Hemp arrived in Colonial America with the Puritans in the form of seed for planting and as fiber in the lines, sails and caulking of the Mayflower. British sailing vessels were never without a store of hemp seed, and Britain’s colonies were compelled by law to grow hemp.

Hemp was the fiber of choice for maritime uses because of its natural decay resistance and its adaptability to cultivation. Each warship and merchant vessel required miles of hempen line and tons of hempen canvas, which meant the Crown’s hunger for the commodity was great. Ship captains were ordered to disseminate hemp seed widely to provide fiber wherever repairs might be needed in distant lands.

Hemp: Important crop for colonial farms and Republic

By the mid-1600s, hemp had become an important part of the economy in New England, and south to Maryland and Virginia. The Colonies produced cordage, cloth, canvas, sacks and paper from hemp during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Most of the fiber was then destined for British consumption, although at least some was used for domestic purposes. Ironically, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were penned on hemp paper.

Hemp fiber was so important to the young Republic that farmers were compelled by patriotic duty to grow it, and were allowed to pay taxes with it. George Washington grew hemp and encouraged all citizens to sow hemp widely. Thomas Jefferson bred improved hemp varieties, and invented a special brake for crushing the plant’s stems during fiber processing.

Shortly thereafter, Robert McCormick (father of Cyrus McCormick, who invented the first successful reaper) patented a hemp fiber-processing device. Through the International Harvester Co., Cyrus’ descendants later contributed additional labor-saving harvesting tools to hemp farmers in the 20th century.

Read more: http://www.farmcollector.com/farm-life/strategic-fibers.aspx#ixzz3N0yD19lz





Posted by: norma
Posted on December 26, 2014 at 2:35 pm
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Tavern on Main

tavern on main

The Tavern on Main was built in the early 1700′s. It was originally

a two and a half story colonial dwelling, built on a stone foundation.

The founders started with a huge center fireplace (the upper portions

unfortunately, have been removed over the years) as a building block.

Framed walls and floors extended from the fireplace using hand hewn 

native chesnut and oak lumber in a post and beam construction. These 

beams and timbers are evident throughout the building as it stands today.

The village of Chepachet was the site of the most controversial political

upheavals in Rhode Island’s history. In 1842, Chepachet resident Thomas 

Door, a well respected lawyer was a duly elected Rhode Island governor

by the people’s party. The incumbent governor, Samuel King refused to

step down. Governor Door called the RI general assembly to convene in

this building on July 4, 1842.

The struggle for power prompted Governor King to order a general call

to arms to quell Dorr’s rebellion. King’s forces arrived to do battle with

Dorr’s troops who were entrenced atop Acote’s Hill (Cemetery Hill located

1/4 mile east on Rte. 44 on the left). Dorr, realizing that he was out 

numbered and outgunned, withdrew the night before King’s troops

arrived. King and all his men fired right into the front door of the building.

Shots were fired through a locked tavern door. Horace Bordeen was 

struck in the thigh. Jedediah Sprague (tavernkeeper in 1842) in order 

to save his patrons and establishment, was forced to submit to King’s

troops and he allowed them lodging. This occupation of troops

continued throughout the summer, much to tavernkeepr Sprague’s dismay.

An 1844 volume discloses that these troops consumed 37 gallons of

Brandy, 29 gallons of West India Rum, 34 flasks of liquor, dozens of

bottles of old Madeira and Sherry, 12 dozen bottles of Champagne,

 and 2 dozen bottles of cider. In addition, 820 bushels of oats, 17 tons

 of hay, 50 bushels of corn, 16 bushels of meal, and a quarter ton

 of straw were consumed. 2,400 dinners were served, and 11,500

 cigars the soldiers enjoyed. All these items were charged and 

Jedediah Sprague never collected a penny for this bill.

The 20th century has witnessed many owner changes at the Tavern on Main.

First, as a drab apartment building, a billiard parlor, a pub, then a restaurant,

upgraded as it passed to each new Tavernkeeper. The Tavern on Main

has once again assumed its position in today’s busy, competitive 

community, and has contunued to maintain its popularity. The

tradition of hospitality will always continue at the Tavern on Main.


Posted by: norma
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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas


“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~Norman Vincent Peale”

Merry Christmas to all our members and friends from the Western RI Civic Historical Society and the Paine House Museum!

Best Wishes to all through this holiday season.  

Posted by: norma
Posted on December 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm
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Christmas at Cloud Hill

Cloud Hill

The house at Clouds Hill was built as a wedding gift for Elizabeth Ives Slater on her marriage to Alfred Augustus Reed, Jr. The home passed from Elizabeth to her daughter, Helen, on to Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Anne, and finally to her great-granddaughter, Anne. Anne is the current owner and graciously invites you to visit her family home which is also a museum.

The home was designed by William Walker & Sons, designer of many Rhode Island buildings, including most of the armories. Fireplace surrounds were carved by Charles Dowler, who came to the United States to produce arms for the Civil War; today some of his pieces are in other museums. Visitors from around the world have found this house to be one of the best examples of Victoriana, “surpassing even the Bellevue Avenue manors in terms of authenticity of its contents”. The family had the forethought to keep all of the records of the building of the house and the purchase of its contents. A few of the notables in the family line include Roger Williams, Zachariah Allen, Samuel Slater, and Anne “Nancy” Allen Holst, first female fire chief in the world.

In addition to the architecture and interior of the house, other collections include textiles, with family articles dating back to the 1870s; porcelain, including the dinner set used by Elizabeth and her family; carriages, including a gypsy wagon from the mid-1800s; “Nancy” Allen’s fire truck and much more. The property on which the house sits has been referred to as the West Bay arboretum. 

Clouds Hill is dedicated to the education and enjoyment of the people of Rhode Island and beyond, our mission shall be achieved through the preservation, and interpretation of Clouds Hill, its collections, and grounds. Our goal is to continue to inspire learning by supporting the education of our local, national, and international visitor.


Posted by: norma
Posted on December 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm
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Christmas is at the Newport Mansions

christmas at breakers

The glitter of gold and the sparkle of silver will dazzle you as you tour three magnificent mansions decked out in Yuletide finery. Music, tours, and spectacular decorations highlight the celebration of Christmas at the Newport Mansions.

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House–three National Historic Landmarks and icons of the Gilded Age in America–are filled with thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths.  A total of 24 decorated Christmas trees reflecting individual room decor anchor many of the magnificent spaces.  Dining tables set with period silver and chinacomplete the elegant setting.  And windows of each mansion are lit with individual white candles, in keeping with the colonial tradition.

Again this year, local pastry chefs have created gingerbread replicas of many of the Newport Mansions, which are on display in the kitchen of The  Breakers. Come and see these amazing confectionery creations, made entirely of edible materials, as the chefs compete for cash prizes and bragging rights.

New this year is a working garden scale model of the Vanderbilt family’s New York Central Railroad, on display in the second floor loggia of The Breakers.

Also on view in the loggia is a display of tabletop trees, decorated by Newport school children.  Visitors can vote for their favorite tree, and the participating schools will receive cash prizes to support their art programs.

We invite you to make holiday memories with your family by visiting The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House during the holiday season.

All three houses will be decorated and open daily for tours from Saturday, November 22, 2014 through Sunday, January 4, 2015.   The Breakers opens daily at 9 a.m., The Elms and Marble House open at 10 a.m.   The last tour admission at all three houses is at 4 p.m., and the houses & grounds close at 5 p.m.

Please note, on Christmas Eve, December 24, the last tour admission at all 3 houses will be at 3 p.m.  Houses are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.


Posted by: norma
Posted on December 22, 2014 at 12:35 pm
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