Area landmarks win historic preservation awards

Area landmarks win historic preservation awards

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — The Weekapaug Inn, which reopened in October 2012 after a $20 million renovation, has won a 2013 Preservation Project “Rhody” Award from Preserve Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission and will be honored — along with a number of other organizations and people — at a reception today from 4 to 7 p.m. at the inn.

The original inn opened on the shores of Quonochontaug Pond in the summer of 1939, when it replaced a hotel that was destroyed by the 1938 Hurricane.

In 2007, after generations of management by the Buffum family, longtime Weekapaug resident Lang Wheeler teamed with Watch Hill and Greenwich financier Charles M. Royce to rehabilitate the landmark and make it into a year-round destination.

The inn was upgraded to meet building codes and modern amenities without sacrificing its historic character.

The Rhody Awards honor individuals, organizations, and projects for their contributions to the preservation of historic places.

This year’s awards will be presented in the categories of education, stewardship, and preservation projects. The preservation groups will also bestow special honors for professional leadership, public service, and volunteer service.

Also among the dozen people, projects, and places to be honored at the fifth annual Rhode Island Preservation Celebration are Narragansett’s townwide effort to preserve and protect historic places; the rehabilitation and expansion of a historic library in North Kingstown; and the effort to protect an archaeological site in Narragansett.

The Willett Free Library, an award recipient, traces its origins to 1885, when a group of Saunderstown residents formed a library association. Noted architect and summer resident C. Grant LaFarge provided the plans, and the small Colonial Revival-style building opened its doors in June 1904.

The Saunderstown Free Library Association recognized that the building’s historic character was central to the library’s success and so it set out to expand and renovate the building. Clifford M. Renshaw Architects designed a solution, increasing the total area to 1,400 square feet and making the building fully accessible.

The town of Narraganset has been named the recipient of a stewardship award. In the decades after World War II, as the seaside community became a suburban town, its year-round population grew to 14,985 by 1990. Many farms were subdivided and historic buildings were demolished for new construction.

Despite development pressures, historic preservation efforts got a foothold. In 1974, the town acquired a 174-acre tract to prevent new development on the historic Sprague Estate. Today, Canonchet Farm is a town park that preserves open space and archaeological resources.

It is also the site of the South County Museum. In 1986, the town established the Narragansett Land Conservancy Trust.

Sunset Farm was the trust’s first purchase, preserving the town’s oldest and largest working farm and extensive woodlands. Today the land trust protects more than 500 acres.

The town has effectively stewarded its historic buildings. The Towers — the only surviving part of the Narragansett Casino (1883-86) — was acquired by the town in 1990. What had been the hub of a resort society is now a popular special events venue and community icon. At Sunset Farm, the town restored the distinctive Kinney Bungalow (1899-1901) as an events destination and recently completed the rehabilitation of the historic farmhouse (1904).

With support from town government, private citizens are also advancing the historic preservation cause. Historic district zoning, established in 2009, preserves the character of Narragansett’s historic neighborhoods.

The volunteer-led Narragansett Historical Society was relaunched in 2012 to offer local history programs.

G. Timothy Cranston has been named the recipient of the Antoinette F. Downing Award for Volunteer Service. Cranston became North Kingstown’s first official town historian in July, but he has held the post unofficially for years. His passion for local history stems from his family’s deep Rhode Island roots. His ancestor, John Cranston, arrived on Aquidneck Island in 1635, and Cranston was born and raised in Wickford.

Cranston has written a history column in a local newspaper for more than 14 years. His first book, “North Kingstown: 1880-1920,” was published in 2005. Cranston has since produced three guidebooks that provide detailed information on more than 225 buildings in Wickford.

The John H. Chafee Award for Public Service recognizes Michael Rubin and Gregory S. Schultz of the Office of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, and Michael P. Lewis of the state Department of Transportation. The Office of the Attorney General provided legal support for the R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission’s efforts to protect a 900-year-old Indian village in Narragansett from destruction. The owner, who planned to develop a housing subdivision, sued the commission in federal court and contested its recommendation that the state Coastal Resources Management Council withdraw permission for the development.

The Late Woodland period village contains rare evidence of the Narragansett Indians’ daily life before the beginning of European settlement. Well-preserved residential structures, storage and refuse areas, human burials, and ceremonial areas comprise an archaeological site of national significance that has changed theories about native settlement patterns and maize agriculture.

Preservation of the Salt Pond Site was achieved when federal funding became available to buy the property, thanks to the leadership of Lewis at the transportation department.

The Rhode Island Preservation Celebration and Rhody Awards event is open to the public and features local beverages, appetizers, a silent auction, and a raffle. Tickets cost $35 at the door. To buy a ticket or request more information, call 401-272-5101 or visit


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