Just So You Know: Reminiscences of An ‘Old Timer’

by | Sep 28, 2019

Above: View looking northwest, Main Street’s west side with the big building on the left the Masonic Building, foot of Church Street, the old house moved up the hill to make room for Halsband’s News & Tobacco store – most recently Norman’s Restaurant & Tap. Out of site a livery where Jigger’s Diner is today, then Main Street Coffee. The horse and wagon in front of Court House. On right, trees in front of the Updike House, today’s hotel.

From the files of Alan F. Clarke

The following is reproduced from the front page, second section, of the September 5, 1927, issue of the East Greenwich News, special 250th Anniversary Edition. It is part of a collection I have been gathering entitled “200 Years of East Greenwich History – written by those who lived it.” (Bracketed items are things Alan Clarke added for clarity.)

Recollections of the Past 60 Years in East Greenwich 

“I remember when I first came to East Greenwich, [1862±] sixty odd years ago,” said Philip Brady, who has managed to pass the scriptural age of man by at least a decade without betraying the fact to the casual observer, “I remember that Main street was then one long avenue of elms over-arching the road. It was as pretty a little town as you could find anywhere. The street was, of course, a dirt street – no asphalt or even macadam in those days. And when the rains came, and the wash came down from the hill, it was sometimes a thoroughfare of mud – not up to the hubs of the farmers’ wagons, but deep enough.

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“There, on the site of the present Updike House [Greenwich Hotel], a colonial building of dignified aspect with the dignified Updike sisters running it, a stately old place with stately old furniture in it – and the bunch of grapes hanging outside. Old settlers even then often spoke of it as ‘Colonel Arnold’s Tavern,’ or ‘The Bunch of Grapes.’

“There was not a brick house on Main street then except the old brick house, then called the Tilley house, where Dr. Philips now has his office. All the other houses on the street were of wood and had every appearance of being aged. On South Main street, from the house standing next to where the Catholic Rectory now stands, there was only one house on the east side down to the Potowomut road. That was the house now occupied by the Greenwich Village Coffee Shoppe [Hill Funeral Home]. On the west side of the street, from the Bateman house opposite where is now Fogel’s store, down to the brow of Bleachery Hill there was the Bill Gorton house and the Shepply house, the latter of which became the station of the Seaview railroad. Then, nearer the Bleachery – then a printworks – was the very old house still standing.

“Stanhope was Town Clerk then and had his office in the Wicks house, where now is Egglestone’s cigar place. He kept a little periodical shop in front and his office in the back room. There was no town hall. Elections used to be held in the County Court House.

“There were three industries in the town then, the Shore Mill, the Orion Cotton Mill, now the Drysalters, and a woolen mill owned by the Waterhouse family, which mill is now a part of the Boston Wire Stitcher plant. This mill was burned out twice but the walls still standing are, I think, the same. I remember the last time it was burned in 1867. It was on Christmas Eve and Mr. Waterhouse had started for New York, coming down from up the river to catch the Shore line train. He stopped in at the mill to see the watchman before he took the train and everything was all right. But before he got to Bridgeport the mill was in flames.

“Most of the people worked in the mills in those days. There was some fishing – you could get any sort of shellfish you wanted in abundance out of the Cove then, and all other kinds of fish abounded in Cowesett Bay. All you had to do was to drop a line overboard and catch them. There were no street lights in the town except here and there where a shopkeeper set out before his place of business an oil lamp. But we did not lack for amusements at night.

All the good traveling shows of the day used to make East Greenwich. Where Browning’s store now is stood was Fones’s Hotel, with a stable back of it and over the stable a hall. Here I remember having seen for the first time ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ Shows were given in Fones’s hall until the place was burned [in 1947] and then in the Odd Fellows Hall, still standing. Barnum used to come once a year to East Greenwich with his circus and all the surrounding country came to attend it.

“The first Tuesday in May used to be a great day then for East Greenwich. It was the date of the yearly meeting of the Quakers at the old Quaker Meeting house on the hill. The Quakers came from all over – from Newport and everywhere else. They came mostly in steamboats, all wearing the Quaker garb, and the streets were full of them: they dominated the town. The Quakers at that time were numerous and influential among the residents of East Greenwich. There are a few still here, I believe, but all of those whom I knew when I was young have long since passed away.

“There were not many house on the hill then. Spencer avenue had been laid out and there were three houses on it; one where now stands the house of B. F. Vaughan, one where A. K. Tillinghast now lives and the house near the corner where Mr. Burlingame lives. The brick house owned by Frank S. Arnold was just being built. I should add to my list of local industries of that time that Mr. Arnold’s father had a machine shop in the old building still standing at the corner of Division and Marlborough streets. He was not only a manufacturer of machinery but an inventor of considerable celebrity in his day.

“On First avenue, as it now is, there stood only the poor farm near the cemetery. Two rather stately mansions, still standing, were on Marion Street just north of where William C. Huntoon now lives. Land was rather cheap on the hill at that time. I remember that the father of Mr. D. A. Peirce offered to sell me once that square bounded by Rector, Church, Spring streets – and another street the name of which I forget—for $800.00. I did not buy it for the very good reason that I did not have the $800.00. Well, East Greenwich was a good place to live in then and is a good place now. I have watched its growth for sixty years and expect to watch it for some years longer.”

Alan Clarke resurrected this piece and supplied the photos. 


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September 28, 2019 7:49 am

I’ve only been gone for 40 years, but it sure sounds familiar. Thanks for the mem’ries, Alan!


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