NORTH KINGSTOWN – A shabby little green-trimmed house that historians trace to the founding family of North Kingstown is being moved from a waterfront site on Cold Spring Lane to Smithfield where it will be restored and occupied.
It will join two large colonial homes in a Limerock-area compound owned by a pair of devoted preservationists.
Identified as the Updike-Lawton House by an official at the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission, the early Cape Cod-style cottage was built by descendents of Lodowick Updike.
Lori Holland, an interior designer who, with her husband Stephen, an Amica insurance executive, is the home’s new owner says, “One of the theories is that the first part of the house was done in the 1600s. A foundation was dug out and there’s a fully-operative kitchen with a beehive oven in the basement. There was probably a flat roof [over the cellar] until the house was finished in the 1730s.”
This concept is supported by the existence of a walkout from the cellar.
The structure is in a state of disrepair and might have gone unnoticed had it not been for Andrew McClatchy’s need to remove it to make way for Beechwood House, which he plans to relocate to that site and restore as a summer residence.
McClatchy, a native of Philadelphia, is a business executive living in East Greenwich. He bought the property on Cold Spring Lane – including the antique cottage – six years ago.
“We found it on a Tuesday and bought it on Thursday with no real plans,” he recalls. “It was used as a summer camp for the kids but we never really did anything with it.” He became involved with acquiring Beechwood House, he says, when it looked like the building would be razed.
“I felt a responsibility to step forward.”
Incredibly, in earlier statewide surveys of historic properties, the Updike cottage fell through the cracks and was never mentioned.
“I was oblivious to the importance of the cottage,” says McClatchy. “It’s on private property outside the historic district; I felt I would have immunity from some of the constraints there might be. It was just an old house and at some point I probably would have demolished it.”
As it turns out, it was indirectly saved by people opposed to McClatchy’s plan to move Beechwood House to his adjacent land for restoration.
“If the brouhaha over Beechwood hadn’t happened, people would have been [unaware of] the cottage even being there,” he says. “The agitators’ net effect was very fortunate.”
After state preservationists determined its historic importance, McClatchy offered the house free to anyone who would remove it from the site. He says initially a local resident expressed interest in it.
“I thought it would stay in town but that person bailed out,” McClatchy explains. “The Hollands came forward. I’m a little bit melancholy that it’s leaving the village but [glad] it will be saved and refurbished. I came to appreciate the house’s history. I felt kind of bad for the cottage, but it never fit into anything I would have done with the property.”
How the Hollands learned the place was available is a typical tale of Rhode Island connections. Landscape architect Joe Plante, with whom they’ve worked, also works for McClatchy.
“Joe mentioned the Beechwood project and the history,” recalls Lori Holland. “He mentioned this great little house that nobody had identified as old or special. It would be an absolute crime to bulldoze such an early, sweet Cape.
“The more I spent time inside and walked through it, I said to my husband, ‘If we put on a nice workable kitchen, I could live in this house’. My girls are out of the nest and the house we’re living in now is pretty large. It’s a nice house to downsize to.”
(The Hollands live in one of two early houses named for the Angell-Ballou families and are restoring the second. “We got the second house unexpectedly,” says Lori Holland. “We call them Angell 1 and Angell 2.”)
In an impressive flurry of activity, the Hollands’ workmen have accomplished a lot in preparing the house to move.
“We’ve removed an ell, a screened-in porch and a deck. The chimney was brought down to within first floor level; all the fireplaces were removed. The roof will be removed and the house moved intact to Smithfield,” explains Holland.
The height of the house has to be temporarily altered, she notes, so it won’t get stuck under an overpass. “We won’t be going on the highway. The mover has mapped something out on side roads. The biggest thing for us is how to pull it off in four weeks.
“I’ve never moved a house before but if it’s meant to be, it will all come together.” She credits the Smithfield Planning Board for its quick response in approving their request to subdivide a lot to make room for the cottage.
“The board was extremely supportive. Smithfield is very history-oriented.”
The next steps involve finishing the roof removal, then lifting the house and putting steel beams under it. When it’s ready to move, she says, “We’ll need escorts from each town. I’m thinking it will go as smoothly as everything else.
“We’re very, very excited about it.”
Meanwhile, Phil Bergeron, North Kingstown’s public works director, says his crew is inside the Beechwood, preparing it for the short journey next door. He credits McClatchy’s due diligence in obtaining the proper permits from the state Coastal Resources Management Council and for having the importance of the little cottage documented so it could be saved and moved.
“Right now we’re demolishing the addition and the connecting hallway to the Beechwood so his movers can get to the foundation [to prepare the structure.] They need six to eight weeks to get the Beechwood ready to move.”
McClatchy who, like the Hollands, seems to thrive on huge challenges, is looking forward to returning Beechwood House to its original beauty.
“It will be a great project for me; something I’ll enjoy doing,” he says. “We’re bringing back the stick-style architecture. I have an architect, two engineers and a landscape architect working on it. The same guy moving the cottage for the Hollands is moving Beechwood House, too.”
He wishes the Beechwood acquisition process had been smoother.
“The project has dragged on; it’s had a lot of fits and starts. The Beechwood was ill-cast as a municipal building in the first place. The third floor is as big as the first floor — it has nine-foot ceilings. The town kept expanding the first floor, put offices on the second and the third floor was abandoned.
“People were so passionate about retaining it: it was the site, being on the water. We’re going about 10 feet higher in the air, above flood level. Everybody will be able to look over from the new bandstand and the lawn and see it and enjoy it.”
Uncomfortable in the spotlight, McClatchy admits to feeling “beaten up a little” over the whole issue.
“I want to get back to being someone no one knows,” he says.
Martha Smith is a resident of Warwick, RI and an independent contributor to Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.