The Potter-Dean House – Narragansett Tavern House, Wickford (North Kingston), Rhode Island

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Tim Cranston

Narragansett Tavern House, photograph by Mike Donohue
The Potter-Dean House, also known as the Narragansett Tavern House, photograph by Mike Donohue

 

Let’s look at a house in North Kingstown with some real Revolutionary “street cred”. That house is the Narragansett Tavern House on Main Street; a fine home which also just got a major sprucing up by its present owner, my long-time friend Petra Laurie. 

In November of 1769, the village’s most prominent house wright, Robert Potter purchased this parcel of land from his frequent business associate Samuel Bissell. He held the land for a time while working on other homes in the area. In March of 1772, he sold it jointly to his brother David and a fellow officer in the local colonial militia Timothy Dean. Robert Potter then constructed this large double house/tavern for them in 1773. In 1775, Timothy Dean sold his half share to David Potter and relocated with his family to what would become Burrillville, Rhode Island. Later that same year, David Potter sold the building, by then already identified as “Ye Narragansett Tavern”, to John Mowry, who most likely was the person responsible for converting the building from a double house and tavern into a full-scale tavern/inn. David Potter removed himself and his family to the area that would become Richmond, Rhode Island. Robert Potter, a loyalist, appears to have fled to Canada soon after the time of the Revolution. 

Tradition states that innkeeper John Mowry, who ran “Ye Narragansett Tavern” through most of the Revolutionary period, operated an establishment with a tavern/meeting room and eight sleeping rooms to let out. In an age long before widespread literacy was present in the region, the Tavern’s sign consisted of a “colossal bunch of grapes” carved from wood signifying both welcome and the availability of strong drink at the tavern. The tavern’s meeting room was one of the primary locations where local men signed up to fight for the nation’s independence; numerous locals of the period were noted as “mustering in” at Ye Narragansett Tavern. At nearly the tail end of the Revolution, John Mowry sold his tavern/inn to John Greene in March of 1783. 

During the period immediately following the Revolution, the Narragansett House was utilized as the local stopping point for the stagecoach run between Boston and New York and as such it entertained many notables. U.S. Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin stayed here while resurveying the Boston Post Road, a route he had established earlier while serving as the Colonial-era postmaster for the Crown. Noted early statesman William Randolph of Virginia lodged here as well. He tipped his hand to his non-New England roots when, after a long journey from his home towards Boston during which he evidently had his fill of ham, groaned when told that the evening’s fare included a fine quahog dish “Great Heavens, not hog again!” 

Ownership during this period, Wickford’s golden days as one of southern New England’s busiest and most prominent ports, continued in the hands of Eli Bailey and his relation Daniel Bailey from 1790 to 1805, and then Beriah Eldred, who ran it in concert with his brother Robert’s establishment, the Wickford House across the street, until 1820 and then Samuel Carr Jr. from 1820 to 1839. In 1839, Samuel and Mercy Carr sold Ye Narragansett Tavern to Stanton Congdon. 

Congdon renamed the place “The Exchange Hotel” and operated a butcher shop, slaughterhouse, and livery stable out of the large barn/stable behind the building, as well as a coach service between the train station at Wickford Junction and the village. His son, Henry Stanton Congdon, who worked as a conductor on the Newport & Wickford train after his father’s coach was replaced by that line, inherited it upon Stanton’s death. He in turn left the Narragansett House to his daughter Maria Congdon, who sold it after 96 years of continuous Congdon ownership to prominent architect and local landlord L. Rodman Nichols, in 1935. 

Nichols, who lived just outside of Wickford, rented the Narragansett House out for decades until it was sold by his estate in 1958 to Lugene Kettner. Later owners include members of the Ward, Huntington, Lovett, Livingston, Chase, Moore, Simmons, Sampson, Andros, Dodson, and Laurie families. 

About the Author

Tim Cranston can trace his Rhode Island roots back to 1637. It was then that his ancestor John Cranston, a young boy of 12, left Scotland as a ward of Jeremy Clarke, traveling aboard a sailing vessel bound eventually for Rhode Island. He was sent to the “colonies” by his father, a chaplain to King Charles, as he feared retribution would be rained down upon the boy by Cromwell during the long period of turmoil in England. Upon arrival he walked down the gangway to the young streets of Portsmouth and Newport and would later become colonial Governor. His son Samuel would marry the granddaughter of Roger Williamsand would become the longest standing governor in RI history. The Cranston family eventually settled in the villages of Wickford and Swamptown in North Kingstown.

Tim is the self-proclaimed arbiter of all things “Swamp Yankee” and local historian of Ye Old North Kingstown and South County. His popular local history newspaper column has run in the South County Independent for more than twenty years and has won two RI Press Association “Spirit of RI” and three Preserve RI Education Awards. The Town Council of North Kingstown honored Tim by naming him the Town’s very first official town historian. Tim is now working with the history department at the North Kingstown High School, aiding them in the development of a 12th-grade level RI history course.

The culmination of Tim’s efforts to learn about the details of the history of the village of Wickford, once RI Colony’s second most important seaport, is the “Walking in Olde Wickford” guidebook series, a four- volume set of handbooks on the history of this important South County village. Tim has partnered with Historic Wickford Inc. (HistWick) to create signage that is a self-guided walking tour and focuses not only on the history of the village itself but of all its inhabitants, beginning with the Narragansett people and including the contributions of women and people of color. Swamptown Enterprises and HistWick are now jointly engaged in a project to move all four of the Walking in Olde Wickford books into the virtual world on the HistWick website. Other recent research is his groundbreaking book, “”, as well as a historical fiction book for young readers, “The Day the Bay Froze”. Arcadia Publishing Company published his “North Kingstown 1880-1920” featuring the photo postcards of 19th century Wickford pharmacist Elwin E. “doc” Young. Tim is now wrapping up work on “We Were Here Too, Vol. 2 – Stories of Women’s History in North Kingstown”. 

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