Revisiting Bungtown: ‘Big Bill’ and the Lucy Carpenter House

Revisiting Bungtown: ‘Big Bill’ and the Lucy Carpenter House



We aren’t leaving Bungtown just yet folks, because Barbara Hutchins Coon, of Pawcatuck, told me some interesting things about her grandfather, William H. Pendleton.

It seems “Big Bill,” who weighed in at about 250 pounds, had a blacksmith shop at 197 Main St., where the Elite Cleaners parking lot is located. You’ll recall that Bungtown was a rough-and-ready district along the Pawcatuck River, crowded with all sorts of business establishments.

Barbara said, “The men folks had a wine barrel in the back of the shop and Bill (known as the mayor of Bungtown) was always elected to open the ‘bung’ for the day of the testing.”

On March 28, 1946 — the date of Bill’s 60th birthday — The Sun carried a story about him. He had inherited the blacksmith shop in the shadow of the cleaning plant from his father and operated it for 44 years. He saw the waters of the Pawcatuck pour though the doors during the ’38 hurricane, and the time when tugboats hauled barges of coal and lumber up river.

During the winter months, oldtimers sat around his potbellied stove whiling away the hours, and during the summer months, Bill threw open the doors so passing pedestrians could catch a glimpse of him working at his forge.

On the shop walls were an 1885 poster announcing Doughy & Welch minstrels at Borough Hall in Stonington, an old blubber cutter that looked like a huge knife at the end of a stick, an ancient calendar of Westerly events and a ships log. He saved a 1903 copy of The Westerly Sun because it carried the story of a horse thief.

At the time his story appeared, Big Bill had been a member of the Westerly Fire Department for 37 years and was an honorary life member of the Cyclone Engines Number Two.

Bill’s sister, Mary Pendleton Peckham, owned the house next door to his shop — 201 Main St. — where she maintained a convalescent home. It was also the house where Barbara was born. Early records show the Pendleton family was among the town’s early settlers.

Another Bungtown story

When Mrs. Charles F. Hickox researched the history of the Lucy Carpenter House, located across from Big Bill’s blacksmith shop at the intersection of Main and Beach streets, it was a labor of love.

A lot of us have admired this early American dwelling as we round the corner where it sits today, and it’s interesting to note the building is well over 200 years old. In the Westerly Historical Society’s collections of records and papers printed in 1933 — and loaned to us by teacher, historian and writer Tom O’Connell — Mrs. Hickox wrote, “It seemed it was on the verge of disintegration. But every plank and panel of that ancient rundown house, for me had magic in it.”

Ann Hickox, wife of dentist Charles Hickox, exercised her own brand of magic on the old place the couple owned, tracing it from a time when temporary primitive shelters such as dugouts or log cabins were first homes for colonists to the time of the first real houses — simple one-story or story-and-a-half homes — with a chimney at one end and maybe a loft. More room was gained by adding rooms on the other side of the chimney and again when it became a full two stories.

Mrs. Hickox followed the progress of domestic architecture in this part of New England as it grew from those primitive accommodations through generations into what she called the final “fifth development.”

She found initially the colonists were satisfied with ground-floor additions to dwellings and that they gained more space with the addition of a second-story loft. Then it dawned on them that if they wanted to stand up in that space they needed more headroom up there. That would take two full stories and the introduction of the gambrel roof.

Ann Hickox scrutinized the dwelling she loved so well, discovering much about its history and its occupants. Lucy Carpenter, who lived there for 68 years, could have never dreamed what lay ahead for her beloved cottage.

Next week: Lucy Lanphear Carpenter.

Gloria Russell has lived in the Westerly-Pawcatuck area all her life, and has been a reporter for 45 years. She can be reached at harglo@verizon. net.

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