WEST WARWICK — On a crisp morning this past weekend, members of the board of the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society gathered for a brief ceremony to commemorate the groundbreaking on an addition to the historic building at 1679 Main Street where thousands of local artifacts live.
“This has been a long time coming,” Jerry Tellier, historical society president, said Sunday, holding onto the building permit as he stood beside a hole in the ground where the addition will be.
Founded in 1976, the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society over the decades has accumulated all sorts of artifacts, each a tiny piece of the Valley’s rich past.
The organization moved in 1993 into its current home in the old Crompton Free Library which, built in 1876, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With memorabilia from the old mill villages of West Warwick, Coventry and Warwick packing the small building, board members began four years ago to work toward expanding the space.
And as of last week — having gained all necessary approvals, raised a good portion of the funding it needs and secured a 25-year lease extension on the town-owned property — the organization has finally broken ground on the long-awaited project.
The hope is for the ADA-compliant addition to accommodate the society’s current and future needs. It will serve as a spot for meetings and social gatherings, and a place for displays, special exhibits and presentations.
The addition will be built in two phases. During phase one, expected to be complete in January, the foundation will be poured, the exterior will go up and a wheelchair ramp will be installed.
A $100,000 grant from the Champlin Foundation gave the organization the “big push” that it needed to get started, Tellier said. All told, he said, the addition is expected to cost around $200,000.
While the organization doesn’t yet have all the money it will need to finish, there’s at least enough to complete the first phase, and Tellier said they'll pick up fundraising efforts again once the pandemic ends.
And the project will cost West Warwick's taxpayers nothing, Tellier said, adding that it's being funded completely through grants and donations.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. “This [addition] is really for the town.”
West Warwick Town Councilor Jason Licciardi, whose ward the organization is located in, echoed that.
“I could probably spend an entire weekend in there and not see everything,” Licciardi said, standing Sunday beside the old library.
It’s crucial, he added, that the history of the Pawtuxet Valley be kept alive.
“They preserve the history which I think gets lost over time as people move out and new people move in,” Licciardi said. “It’s an important part of the Valley’s history.”
Licciardi lauded Tellier and the rest of the board of the historical society for making the project happen.
“They’ve worked very hard to put this addition,” he said. “It’s been years in the making."