two story outhouse?

Can you imagine?   Whoever first suggested it had to have been laughed at.  But as houses grew and trips to the loo got longer, someone did, and got away with it.  Someone actually constructed it, and attached it to the back of this house.

It certainly surprised me, when I walked across the attic floor to a brightly shining little room on the other side, to find a small bare space with three lids – just like the one I had seen on the floor below.

Another three-holer – and they were sized small, medium and large!  It took a few minutes to realize how they pulled this off.  I was curious enough to actually stick my camera down into the dark hole to find out.  The flash lit up the answer beautifully, (however gritty the deed, the photo of which I’ll spare you), but with that I discovered how they did it.

(note the added “step” for the child’s seat)

Long vertical wooden planks (and painted by the way) created a shaft that ran just behind the “facilities” below.  Certainly not as sanitary as second floor toilets today, but just as convenient and better than heading outdoors at two in the morning.

We’ve come a long way since these, but sometimes I wonder – with all the plumbing and water and septic and pollution problems.   There have been some modern “simple” solutions, like the “Clivus Multrum” (I always wanted one – but family said no!).  They are definitely stuck on modern plumbing and our more civilized porcelain potties.

So the closest I can come to emulate the old is to install a lot of wood in the room and a half moon on the door :)

Whitehall

While it’s the architecture that lures us to these houses in the first place, it’s discovering the unique  stories of the original builders that enliven the experience.  From heiress to sea captain, revolutionary soldier to merchant, post rider to pig farmer, all who had a hand in the birth and direction of this experiment, make every visit an adventure.  While the home of George Berkeley, 18th century theologian and philosopher, was not  open when we were there, it was still a treat to view the unique architecture outside, and impetus to discover the fascinating history of the man responsible for it.  A man after my own heart, in his love for art, philosophy and architecture.   One of the books in his vast library was by a British architect named Inigo Jones, who had studied the architecture of Palladio in Italy, a style that obviously struck a chord with everyone as it began to be reproduced in England and here in America in the 18th century.  George Berkeley thought it the perfect addition to his little cottage as well.   Only thing is, to achieve this double doorway on his center chimney house with tiny front hall, one door would have to be false.

I love knowing that someone of his substance was willing to sacrifice convenience for the sake of good design.  Good design is everything.  And he was willing to live with the minor annoyance that he would never be able to open the door on the left.   But it was worth it.  I imagine that every time he walked up that pathway his new doorway reminded him of his travels through Europe and the magnificent architecture he had witnessed there.  He must have been excited to bring it here to this new land.  Thank goodness he did.

Whitehall,  what once sat on a hundred acres, now sits on one.   That it exists at all is a miracle.  Divine intervention, perhaps, since its owner was a famous clergyman.  Dean George Berkeley was a minister, teacher, philosopher, one of the leading thinkers of his time, who counted among his friends Alexander Pope and  Jonathan Swift.  He was considered one of the big three 18th century philosophers with Locke and Hume.  His philosophical work Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge made him famous at home and abroad, he entered Newport in 1729 a celebrity.   He was attracted to Newport for its forward thinking and religious freedom.  Here he planned to establish a plantation, a home base, from which he could furnish crops and supplies for the college he planned to establish in Bermuda where the sons of the colonists would be trained to become clergymen.   The promised funds never materialized, and he would soon return to London, then to his native Ireland where he was appointed Bishop of Cloyne.

His influence in just three short years here, from 1729 to 1731, was grand.  Before he left he donated most of the thousand books he brought with him to Yale, the rest to Harvard.  The divinity school at Yale was named after him.  University of California Berkeley was also named after him, inspired by a line from one of his writings – “Westward the course of empire takes its way…”  He influenced King’s College (Columbia) and Brown University.  He helped found Newport’s Redwood Library and the Literary and Philosophical Society.  He donated his house and land to Yale, the proceeds were to fund scholarships for students studying Greek and Latin.  Now a scholar in residence spends a few weeks a year in the apartment upstairs – amidst the books and spirit of the great mind that once inhabited it – how glorious!

The Village of Wickford – A Rhode Island Gem

Center of Wickford

Rhode Island may be the tiniest state, but it offers some of the grandest treasures.  Not the least of which are its charming seaside villages.  While Newport gains most of the attention for its yachting history and marble mansions, there are many other towns chock full of history to be discovered as well.  Wickford is one of them.  Architecturally, nothing has changed there for over a hundred years.  There are no too-tall buildings, instead they’re simple, charming and on a human scale.  You can window shop your way down Brown Street, buy hand made jewelry, a t-shirt or antiques, and then take a stroll down residential Main.  Here time will slow to a snail’s pace.  You can feel it as you pass within inches of old doorways that have witnessed centuries of change, but haven’t succumbed to it.  It is so quiet on the residential side that you can’t help but wonder if anyone lives there, or if even the same old names might still reside in their original homes – names like Updike, Williams and Smith.

Roger Williams, founder of this Rhode Island colony, was banished from Plymouth in the 1630’s for clashing with their religious ideas.  So he headed west, befriended the Narragansetts along this bay, and set up a trading post with another settler, Richard Smith, in an area a mile north of Wickford, called Cocumscussoc.  He later sold his trading post to Smith, whose landholdings here would expand to a staggering size – nine miles long by three miles wide.   Now, greatly diminished in size but not in historical importance, you can visit this old trading post.  Well, the “newer” version of it, which was rebuilt in 1678 by Smith’s son, after the old one was burned by Indians.  It is now a larger and more elegant house, known as “Smith’s Castle.”  The museum is run by the Cocumscussoc Association.  There is a particular marked grave on the grounds, noting where soldiers fell during the King Philip’s War.  Forty men are buried in that grave.

"Smith's Castle" at Cocumscussoc

Grave marker at Cocumscussoc

In the center of Wickford, is a “new” church, St. Paul’s, built in the 1800’s.  It is called the “new” church because it replaced the “old” one, just a hidden walkway away.  The Old Narragansett Church was built in 1707.  It was established by the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts” in 1706.  The minister told me that it is the oldest continuously operating church this side of the Mississippi.  Worship services are still held in the summer months.  Gilbert Stuart – our most famous colonial portrait painter, noted for portraits of Washington, including the one on our dollar bill – was baptized here.  On the first Sunday in August every year there is a service called Queen Anne Sunday, where a 1710 Communion service gifted by Queen Anne, and a prayer book of the time, is used.  Familiar names adorn the stones around the grounds.  Many Updikes, heirs to Smith’s Castle, are buried here.

Old Narragansett Church, 1707

Pulpit of the Old Narragansett Church, 1707

Here are some scenes to give you a sense of Wickford’s old world ambiance.  The merchants and residents love of their village is obvious in the well kept facades and lovely landscaped grounds.  Sit, relax on a bench with your morning coffee, or afternoon ice cream, enjoy the sea breezes and song of the gulls, and pretend for a day that you are part of an earlier, simpler time.

House on Main

Main St. Residence

Typical Wickford Doorway

Street Scene

Exploring the lanes

Sweet gambrel with one simple dormer

Love the simplicity of this gambrel, and the single dormer

You can feel time's weight on this one, but carrying it well!

End of Main and Harbor

Harbor at end of Main

Heading back up Main from harbor

Spire of the "new" St. Paul's from alley

This building on Brown St. is for lease – just how does one get into that doorway???

There are several restaurants with waterside dining – but when it’s hot outside, this little diner on Brown St. has the best “clambake” chowder and clam cakes!

There’s a big surprise on the ride out of town – if you’re visiting at the end of July/beginning of August.  Everyone stops to photograph these giant lilies – but you really have to be there!  They are breathtaking in size and beauty.

Giant Water Lilies