Above: A picture of The Grange by artist Emily G. (Greene) Welling. Courtesy of George H. Waterman III.
By Alan Clarke
Located on the Greene’s River in Potowomut is a beautiful old estate called The Grange. The Grange is one of three original homes of the Greene family, the most famous member being General Nathanael Greene, second in command to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
But the general’s fame came 75 years later.
The Greene family’s founder in America was surgeon John Greene1*, a peer of Roger Williams and one of the earliest settlers of Warwick. Once established in Warwick, he sent some of his sons to settle across the bay in Potowomut. The Potowomut peninsula was used at the time for pasturage for the Warwick farm, precisely why Potowomut is part of Warwick even though they are not connected by a land route. The Greene brothers built three houses, parts of which still stand: Hopelands, the present home of Rocky Hill School; The Forge, atop the hill on the right before the Forge bridge; and The Grange, on the river directly across Old Forge Road, the estate being discussed.
James2 Greene moved to Potowomut in 1684 and built his house on a hill above the west bank of the Potowomut River. Today and for much of the past 300 years, this area and the house is known as The Forge, site of an ancient ironworks and several mills operated by the Greenes. With the 1698 death of James2 Greene, the property went to his sons, Jabez3 and David3, who continued developing various industries at the site.
Jabez3 built his home across the road on the river and it was named, at some point in its history, The Grange. On January 23, 1732, Jabez3 petitioned the General Assembly for partial restitution of the loss of his residence at the site with all its contents in a fire on December 31, 1731. The General Assembly voted to grant him assistance; the house was rebuilt in 1732 and is the present structure that is being discussed for sale today.
At that time, the land considered part of The Grange extended from the Greene’s River to roughly where the railroad bridge is today on Old Forge Road. It extended north on both sides of Ives to the Chafee property today. It included the 1721 Elijah Bacon house that was also recently sold. On this property and the other Greene property across Forge Road stood the site of the ancient ironworks and several mills operated by the Greene family.
The Grange was used as residence for the next two generations of Greenes. During the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane Mecom, often stayed with the Greenes at The Grange. When the British were in Boston, she had had to flee. She had tried to join a daughter in Philadelphia only to have to flee again when the British took over that city. She always came back to The Grange at those times.
When Rufus Waterman married Franklin6 Greene’s daughter, Elizabeth, in 1838, the marriage changed the name on the real estate to Waterman, where it remained on and off for over 100 years. From 1848 to 1856, Charles Winston Greene of Boston, a descendant of Thomas2 Greene, leased The Grange, added a schoolroom and operated a private school. He purchased the property of 136 acres in 1851. His wife sold it back to Rufus Waterman in 1856.
Rufus Waterman was a descendant of Richard Waterman. Richard Waterman, also a peer of Roger Williams, was awarded a block of land where The First Baptist Church in America now sits. Waterman was also a signer of the Compact of Providence of 1640 proposing a form of government.
When word of Richard Waterman’s arrival at Salem, Mass., was discussed, it was said he “would get good venison.” He was known to be a good hunter in England and it was assumed he would proffer this value in the Colony also. And that he did, in service to Roger Williams and those in Providence. He was hunter and guide, a man who knew his way through the woods.
Generations later, Rufus7 Waterman, residing in Potowomut, wrote a book for his descendants entitled “The Annals of My Home at The Grange with notices of the other places at Potowomut 1654-1880.” Abbreviated simply to The Annals, it is compelling reading for anyone interested in the history of the area.
The Grange passed through three more generations of the Waterman family, occasionally being sold and repurchased a few years later. The estate was owned by Peter L. and Mary Pendergast in 1923-1924. From 1924-1937, it was owned by Dr. Arthur M. Potter D.D.S. and Elizabeth M. Potter. From 1929 to 1931, she operated a tea room at the residence.
In March 1937, George Hall Waterman10 repurchased the Grange property from Elizabeth M. Potter, returning it once again to the Waterman family. George Waterman was a noted collector of rare and unusual automobiles. Among his collection were the racing cars that, prior to WWI, won the first and second Indianapolis 500. Also in the collection for a time was the 1941 Mannerheim Grosser 770K Mercedes-Benz gifted by Adolph Hitler to Field Marshal Mannerheim of Finland, part of a deal that didn’t work out for Der Fuehrer. Hitler had several Mercedes automobiles and one was, for a time, in Potowomut. Today, the Mercedes-Benz is in the collection of the Lyon Air Museum in Southern California.
Also in the collection was one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cars, a 1932 armored Packard touring car. In 2017, one of Roosevelt’s cars, an armored 1932 Packard touring car, was restored to running condition by Connecticut automobile entrepreneur Wayne Carini of the TV show Chasing Classic Cars so that N. Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo could ceremoniously drive it across the first completed span of the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens.
The story of both restorations were shown in 2019 on the Velocity Channel, now MotorTrends, and George Waterman of Warwick, Rhode Island, was listed among the previous owners on the 770K Mercedes Benz. It was not stated that the Roosevelt car was the same one owned by George Waterman. Roosevelt had several cars also. George H. Waterman was one of many car collectors of note in that era, among them, Tom Barrett of Barrett-Jackson Auctions.
George Waterman sold The Grange to Paul and Elizabeth Choquette, the present owners. Today, March, 2020, the historic Grange is again for sale. The asking price is over $1.6 million. With it, one gets the guest house and 20 acres of land, down a bit from the vast expanse it once had, but by far the most beautiful part of the original estate.
Alan Clarke is a local historian and a member of the EG News board.
* The superscript numerals indicate generations.