Category Archives: Rhode Island

More than seventy years later, a WWII-era photograph travels across generations and an ocean to return home

As the number of living World War II veterans continues to dwindle, the importance of documenting their stories is more important than ever.

In 1945, a twenty-year old army veteran of World War II returned to Rhode Island following a stint as a cook, serving under General Patton. He eventually married, built a house in Johnston, and raised seven children.

Federico “Fred” Paolucci, was born in 1925, the son of Italian immigrants. He was the only son and he and his five sisters grew up in North Providence. Fred would have a variety of jobs, including working at Brown & Sharpe, at a fireworks factory, and for the Johnston School Department.

Later in life, Paolucci was well known for his sign art, homemade and hand-lettered folk art-style signs commenting on anything and everything he found interesting in the news of the day. After his retirement from the Johnston schools where he worked at several schools in the maintenance department, he found a hobby. Often using recycled items, he created his sign art in his garage, often while listening to talk radio. The signs were displayed in his yard and on the facade of his garage.

An ocean away from Johnston, Rhode Island, in Tourlaville, France, Jean-Paul Corbet was going through some family photos last year, scanning them.


In uniform, Federico “Fred” Paolucci, age 19

Among them, he ran across a black and white photo of an American GI in uniform. On the back was a name and address written in pencil: Federico Paolucci, 32 Forest Street, Box 77, Centerdale, Rhode Island, USA. [Centredale is a village in northwest North Providence, on the Johnston line.]

“[It] represented a handsome dark GI, a proud soldier taking the pose,” Corbet said in an interview published in a French newspaper. Paolucci was 19 years old at the time.

Curious, he asked his mother, Renee, about the man in the photo.

She told him that Federico was one of the young American soldiers who came to the aid of his grandparents – Paule and Gustave Valognes – and their five children (his mother Renee, Jacqueline, Therese, Paulette and Louis) in 1944.

“When I was young, my grandparents told me their own story and how they have felt the German occupation, the exodus, the liberation,” said Corbet in an email interview from France in January.

“They were simple people, the existential issue for them was live [sic] during this lean time and survive during the exodus. After the 6th of June, they were civilians on the battle field under the belligerent’s crossfire,” he said of their hunger and constant fear – they were lucky to to be alive. Corbet noted that his wife’s family wasn’t so lucky. “My wife’s dad lost his mother and two young sisters,” he said of the loss of life – 37,000 allies and 20,000 civilians.

The family had been evacuated from their home for two months, and upon their return, Renee and her younger sister Jacqueline were underweight and sick. Both were treated in the American camp. Jacqueline was five years old at the time, and reminded the soldiers of Shirley Temple, recalled Renee. “She became in a way a mascot of the camp,” she told Corbet, recalling that the Americans even organized a Christmas party in December 1944. Among the soldiers the sisters met was Federico Paolucci, a cook at the camp.

Corbet went online to find out what had become of Paolucci, and soon found a memorial for him created by his daughter Vivian (Paolucci) Doyon at a genealogy site called Find-A-Grave. He was saddened to learn that Paolucci had died in 2008. He became determined to return the photo, and contacted Doyon, who now lives in Kernersville, North Carolina.

After corresponding by email in November, he sent Doyon the photo of her dad – which had been “sitting in a box for 74 years” as a Christmas present, enclosing it in a Christmas card.

Doyon, who said her father did not speak much of his World War II service, was thrilled.

“This means a lot to me. This story makes me see my dad through the eyes of another, who has seen him through his mom’s and grandma’s stories,” she said. Already interested in the family genealogy, she is now researching more about her father’s military history.

“It blew my mind that this man knew more about my dad in that time period than I did,” she told a local news reporter. She hopes to one day meet Corbet in person.

Corbet, too, is also interested to hear from other soldiers who were stationed at the camp in Tourlaville, France after the occupation ended.

He is quick to point out the fact that after seventy years, his new friendship with Doyon and her family is symbolic of the friendship between the American GIs and the liberated French people, a friendship that continues to this day.

“Every year in Normandy is commemorated the D-Day. More than a duty of memory, it is a recognition, indestructible, eternal – especially for the inhabitants who lived the operation Overlord. We must see this popular fervor, this immense burst of gratitude, these moments of intense emotion, the tears of the pampered and adored veterans idolized and elevated to the ranks of heroes. Our liberators of yesterday are now our very old friends. They have become, without knowing it, icons, true ex-votos of the friendship between our two nations,” Corbet noted, recalling the story on Feb. 6.

“‘The most true friendship between noble souls is that which has for its knot the respectable link of benefits and recognition’,” he said, quoting Francois-Rodolphe Weiss.

An account of Corbet’s story appeared in a French newspaper and also on a local television news channel in North Carolina.


An English translation of the story that appeared in a French newspaper, featuring a photo of Doyon holding the photo of her father, Federico “Fred” Paolucci.


Jean-Paul Corbet and his mother Renee holding a copy of the French newspaper featuring their story.


Tag sale treasures to be found amid clutter of collectibles offered at Old Warwick Grange

A sign outside the front door of the Old Warwick Grange # 41, located at 1175 West Shore Road not far from Conimicut, advertises the weekly tag sale. Located on the building’s lower level, treasure hunters can dig through piles and isles of all kinds of stuff, ranging from collectibles to house hold items.

The weekly tag sale, held each Saturday year round, is run by Richard Fuller.

Fuller, age 82 and a longtime member of the Grange, has been selling yard sale items since the 1960s. And he loves to talk about both subjects with visitors to the tag sale.

“I’m just a lonely guy who loves to do this stuff,” he quipped on Saturday, Jan. 13. “I got a lot of stories,” he said, adding that he loves answering questions about the Grange, which still holds monthly meetings, and about agriculture. In fact, most questions receive an answer that often starts with “Let me tell you a story…”.

Fuller recalled how he got started in the resale business, almost 60 years ago. He had met a woman who had wanted her house cleared out, but all the companies she had contacted had wanted too much money. Fuller offered to do it for much less, and she took him up on his offer.

Fuller rounded up some assistance and began removing the items to his own property, setting up a very large yard sale – on 120 linear feet of land in front of his house. “People said, ‘hey, nice yard sale!,’” – and he was hooked.

“I didn’t know anything about antiques or anything,” he admitted. “It was the 1960s, everything was different back then,” he continued. He became known for offering good deals.

He did keep one thing for himself from that original sale. “When I cleaned up that house, I kept the Shirley Temple glass – one of the few things I collect,” he said.

Over the years Fuller branched out, selling items on tables he set up at the Rocky Point Flea Market, which had been located in the former Shore Dinner Hall. He would often buy out tables from other dealers when they decided to discontinue selling there.

He’s quick to point out that he didn’t start the Warwick Grange tag sale – a flea market was held in building for years decades earlier. “I’ve been here for about 15 years,” he said.

The tag sale fills the entire lower floor of the Grange, where almost anything can be found on any given weekend, from fuzzy dice, to music albums to collectible toy cars. Fuller also features “Mystery Treasure Boxes” of items for $1.

Looking for something specific?  Fuller can usually point you in the right direction.

“It’s hard, at my age I forget where things are – I’ve got a little bit of everything,” he said. And it’s best to come early – at his age, he often heads home early if business is slow.

For model train aficionados, visit upstairs to see train layouts by members of the Providence Northern Model Railroad Club, open 12 noon to 4 p.m., on “most Saturdays.” (There is an admission fee for special events – check their website.)

For FaceBook fans, a page is available:

The Railroad Club also has a FaceBook page:

Clam cake aficionados author book, share their knowledge of ‘Rhode Island Clam Shacks’

Just the thought of clam cakes and chowder can conjure memories, images and smells and set taste buds watering for most New Englanders. The nostalgia of clam bakes of the past has been preserved with the publication of a new “Images of America” series called “Rhode Island Clam Shacks.” The book was created by clam cake experts David Norton Stone, a Warwick native and resident, and Christopher Scott Martin, co- creator and curator of the popular online site

Stone, a Hendricken High School graduate and a self-proclaimed food historian, has also penned “Clamcake Summer: One Man Eats Every Clamcake in Rhode Island (Or Dies Frying),” “Stuffie Summer,” and “Chowder Summer.” The two have been researching the clam shacks project for about a year, gathering and scanning antique postcards, ephemera, family photos and information shared by clam shack owners and their descendants. The book, published by Arcadia Publishing Company, was the subject of a launch party at the Providence Public Library on May 15 – images from the library’s digital collection appear in the book – and the duo have been traveling to local libraries, museums and historical societies to share their work.

Stone and Martin recently participated in a “clam cake crawl” around the state, sampling (re-sampling) some of the best that Rhode Island has to offer.  The book includes more than 200 images, anecdotes and history of many well-known (some no longer in existence) clam shacks, all pre-dating 1970.

The authors visited the Johnston Historical Society on Wednesday, June 28, where Martin is a longtime member and where Stone has spoken in the past, to talk about their new book and sign copies. (Johnston Historical Society president Louis McGowan, a post card collector, also contributed images for the book.)

Stone and Martin are planning future talks, and have been invited to visit the Crow’s Nest of Apponaug to speak on July 16.  They were recently invited to attend an invitation-only 30th anniversary party for Evelyn’s, also featured in the book.

The book includes several clam shacks from the Warwick area, including Gus’s and Mrs. Gus’s, both formerly located in Oakland Beach (now the site of Iggy’s). Of particular interest are reproductions of old menus (and their prices), as well as photos of proper Rhode Island clam bakes.

Also included, Rocky Point’s “World’s Largest Shore Dinner Hall” – Stone points out that there were four different buildings over the course of its history – “built not near the bay, but right over the water.” (Stone worked at Rocky Point for a summer during college).

The book also includes information on the devastating effects of hurricanes in 1938 and 1954 to the Rhode Island shoreline, where many of these clam shacks were situated. According to information from a caption in the book, Rocky Point’s Conrad Ferla “watched the roof of his shore dinner hall fly off and into the parking lot.”

Other Warwick connections include interviews of Warwick historian Henry A. L. Brown, who attended many Rhode Island clam bakes in his day, who also contributed images for the book.

Other notable names include George’s of Galilee (which started as a small lunch room), Champlin’s, Flo’s, Ballard’s, The Hitching Post, Dead Eye Dick’s, Aunt Carrie’s.

Aunt Carrie’s, which is often credited with creating the clam cake, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020.  Stone noted that clam cakes pre-date Aunt Carrie’s, but the restaurant should be credited with refining the clam cake as we know it – although they were called clam fritters. Both Stone and Martin counted the clam cakes at Aunt Carrie’s among their favorites at the recent “clam cake crawl.”

The authors lamented that several clam shacks which could have been included in the book had not responded to queries for information – leading those in attendance at the recent talk asking about the possibility of a Volume II. The book includes ephemera from the personal collections of Stone and Martin, both of whom collect “Rhode Islandiana.”  Stone is currently working on three future book projects, researching information about restaurants of Rhode Island no longer in existence.

Copies of the book are available from and online, or locally at Barnes & Noble Bookstore, or from the authors as they travel around the state. Future talks are listed at Martin’s website,


Memorial Day, 2017: Honoring a Rhode Island civil war veteran

Video of the ceremony

As a volunteer with Find-A-Grave [], I photograph graves of veterans all the time.  Many are marked with a generic military marker of marble or bronze, but some graves of veterans bear only family gravestones, with nothing to designate the deceased as having served our country. Such was the case of a gravestone I photographed in St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston, for Frederick C. Brayton.  He is buried (section O, lot 330) with his wife and several of his children.  Back in October of 2015, I created Find-A-Grave memorials for each, and uploaded photos of the front and back of the stone.

Fast forward to May, 2017. I received an email from a member of the Rhode Island Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War [RISUVCW], Elisha Dyer Camp 7, asking about Frederick C. Brayton (1849-1933).  A member of this group was a descendant of Frederick Brayton, who had served in the Civil War. The group was planning on honoring the veteran during Memorial Day weekend.

According to Peter Sarazin, Camp 7 graves registration officer, Brayton was mustered in on March 7th, 1865 as a Private in Company B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, and mustered out as a Private on June 12th, 1865 at Providence, Rhode Island.

Additional research revealed that Brayton was a member of Post 4, Grand Army of the Republic [GAR], following the war – the predecessor of Camp 7, SUVCW.


The group held a grave-side ceremony on Saturday, May 27, which included a reading of Brayton’s service, a musket salute and the playing of taps. It turns out Brayton’s brother, Oscar L. Brayton, also a civil war veteran buried in nearby Pocasset Cemetery, has been honored by the group each year, and will once again be honored on Monday, May 29.

St. Ann Cemetery and Pocasset Cemetery were just two of the many stops the Camp 7 SUVCW group – comprised of descendants of civil war veterans – had planned for Memorial Day weekend, which also included several parades.

Attending the ceremony for Frederick Brayton was a nice reminder of what Memorial Day – formerly known as “Decoration Day,” – is really about.

Ensuring a future for Johnston’s historic ‘Wealthy Apple Tree’

Almost as well known as the Mabel Sprague House, located at 216 Morgan Avenue in Johnston, Rhode Island, is a beautiful old tree on the property, known as a ‘wealthy apple tree.’ Anthony Ricci, owner of the house now known as the Andrew Harris House (the name shown on its plaque), recently hosted an event on the property to try to ensure a future for this tree. The event, held on May 6, was sponsored by the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy, Inc. [NHC], the Providence Parks Department, The Rhode Island Tree Council, and the Blackstone Heritage Corridor.

The tree, dating back to at least 1880 (it appears in a photo dated that year), has been hallowed out over the years, causing concern for its future. According to Ricci, an NHC board member, the tree is self-pollinating and insect resistant, which may have contributed to its longevity. The groups held an apple grafting workshop during which 30 grafts were created.

“It doesn’t have too many years left,” said Ricci of the tree. Ricci spent several years renovating the house, built in 1768, and has been preserving the surrounding grounds, which include a two-seater outhouse, a barn and a blacksmith shop.

The “Special Walk & Talk” event also featured a talk by John Campanini of the R.I. Tree Council, who described “the perils of heirloom apple trees and efforts to perpetuate their diversity and bounty.” A guided walk to Hipses Rock (an original boundary point of lands given to Roger Williams) and a historical cemetery, also located on the grounds, was offered to participants,

as well as a tour of the recently renovated blacksmith shop.

Despite its age and condition, the apple tree continues to produce fruit every two years, and members of the Johnston Historical Society have made pies from the tree’s apples in past years. The apples themselves are said to taste tart, when uncooked.

The home’s prior owner, Mabel Atwood Sprague who was born in 1913 and last of the Harris and Atwood families, was a longtime member of the Johnston Historical Society before her death in November of 2006. She had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Johnston and the surrounding area.

And if one special tree wasn’t enough, a white mulberry tree on the property was also named to the 2017 Rhode Island Champion Tree list by the Rhode Island Tree Council.

[with photos by Beth Hurd]

Local archeology expert shares passion, gives updates on Warwick projects

WARWICK – On Sunday, Oct. 30, Alan Leveillee, senior archaeologist, principal investigator and co-founder of the Public Archaeology Lab [PAL, Inc.], came to speak at a place very familiar to him – the Warwick Public Library. A Warwick resident and frequent WPL visitor, he credited his early interest in archaeology to a book he found on the subject in a public library he visited as a child.

“I became an archaeologist somewhat by accident,” he said of his career, which included stints in the field of social work and military service in the air force, studying weather. Before taking advantage of the GI Bill, he had never thought he would have the opportunity to go to college. He considers himself lucky to have studied at Rhode Island College, where he found “the best group of archaeologists at the time.”

He received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from RIC, and is an adjunct faculty member at Roger Williams University.  As co-founder of PAL, he frequently consults for the Warwick Cemetery Commission, the Warwick Sewer Authority, and other local groups.

During his talk at the library (entitled “Archaeology and History in Warwick: Native American and Early Settlement”), he described several historic and pre-historic sites, and the range of artifacts found in each found in Warwick, which was settled around 1640.

“Archaeologists are interested in the things, the stuff, but are also interested in the people, the culture, the languages,” he said, holding up one of several artifacts he brought with him. “Culture moves at the rate of technology (holding up an iPhone, as an example of our modern technology) – each culture through time generated its own artifacts.”

“Warwick has many archaeology sites, thousands of them in various states of preservation,” he said.  He showed a slide of the new Apponaug circulator project. “Ten years ago I was out doing archaeology for that project,” he said of consulting for the RI DOT.

Thanks to the passage of National Preservation laws in the 1960s [National Historic Preservation Act of 1966], federally funded sites with potentially important artifacts have been investigated and preserved.

Leveillee described working at a site during sewer work in the Governor Francis area, which had been filled in, dubbed the “Cove Terrace” site. Others sites that have been investigated include those at Lambert Farm, Cedar Tree Beach, Spinnaker Lane in Cowesett, and in Warwick Neck.

He described physical changes to the land area around Narragansett Bay, when “sea levels stabilized, mud flats developed, people were settling along the coast in large numbers.”

“Maize was found in Governor Francis, Cedar Tree and most recently Warwick Neck,” he said of finding signs of tribal territories.

On another slide, he showed earlier research conducted in the area, including a 1949 article published by the Massachusetts Archaeological Society called “An Indian Burial at Warwick, R. I.” by Maurice Robbins.

Part two of Leveillee’s presentation described the period during and after European contact and settlement – after about 1638, and the role Roger Williams played in the State, and the role Samuel Gorton played in Warwick.

Conducting sewer work in the area of Horse Neck, many “contact period” artifacts were found. He showed a few examples of these, including an English spoon, English copper and trade beads.

In investigations of a property adjacent to the Tri-City Elks on West Shore Road, destined to become condos, he found Native American as well as historic artifacts.

The Bayside and Longmeadow areas, in which 12 miles of sewers are destined were also investigated, delaying the project. Dubbed the Mill Cove site, Leveillee says residents probably aren’t too happy with him lately. “We opened up Tidewater Drive, and found a hundred or so Native American features,” he said, evidence of several Native American villages. Calling the site one of the most significant in New England, it is only one of two in the State. A Warwick Sewer Authority reports that the site “was the location of a major battle in July 1676 between the Colonists and the Narragansett Indian Tribe.” The report says that the Mill Cove Site was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

“The villages are under roads and houses. We peeled the road back just like a quilt. It’s the second verified village found in Rhode Island,” he said, noting the other was found in Jamestown.

The investigative work continues. “The wheels of progress are moving very slowly. We have a real Native American village, with a neighborhood on it – anyone living in the area is going to see more of me,” he said, hoping to convince residents of its importance. “We’re still waiting to put the sewers in,” he added.

“Here in Warwick, I’ve been really able to do what I’ve wanted to do,” he said of his continued passion for his work. He praised the City for its efforts, as well, noting that the former Rocky Point property is now protected.

Several members of the audience had brought artifacts they had found locally, and showed them to Leveillee, who later answered questions. One pre-teen budding archaeologist brought some pieces of ceramic he and his mother found on a beach, which were likely to have served as old sewer pipes from a local home to the bay, some still visible at low tide.

The apparent interest of the young audience member was reminiscent of “the little boy who lived inside of me in the late 1940s and early 1950s,” said Leveillee.


Photo: Local archaeologist Alan Leveillee chats with a budding archeologist (and his mom) who brought along some of his finds to show at a talk at the Warwick Public Library on Sunday, Oct. 30. Photo by Beth Hurd.

Cranston’s 17th century ‘Major Thomas Fenner House’ oldest dwelling in Providence County


It’s not too hard for Richard Arthur Fenner to imagine how his earliest immigrant ancestors lived – he owns one of their homes. The Major Thomas Fenner House, located off Plainfield Street in Cranston was built in 1677, and Richard Fenner found out about its existence through his genealogical research.

Fenner, who lives in California, is descended from Captain Arthur Fenner (1619 – 1703) who came from England to America in the 1640s. The patriarch built his “house in the woods” about 1655; it was later burned down during King Philip’s War and was rebuilt in 1666. No longer in existence (it had fallen into disrepair and was demolished), it was later known as “Fenner Castle.”

Captain Arthur Fenner, one of the earliest settlers of the area known as Neutaconkanut, built another home less than half a mile away for his son Thomas around the same time of the rebuilding of his own.

Richard Fenner began his research in earnest on the strong foundation of genealogical research completed by his paternal grandmother, Edith (Daniels) Fenner. She had amassed a family tree for her son which included 1200 ancestors – all done before the advent of the Internet.

After a visit to the historic Major Thomas Fenner house in 2001, Fenner contacted the current owner, asking that if ever he ever considered selling the home, to please contact him. The house had been in the hands of descendants until about 1918.

The owners did contact him in 2006, and Fenner, a real estate agent, brought his ancestor’s dwelling back into the family.

“I had to buy it back – unfortunately I bought it on the day Rhode Island real estate market peaked,” he said of the project that has become his passion despite the financial burdens associated with it.

“It was in pretty good shape for a 330-year old home, it was already connected to public water, sewer and underground power lines,” he said. Additional expenses included switching from oil to gas, replacing the roof, insulation, remodeling the kitchen and baths. He also paid to have an archeological excavation done when he was considering developing the three acres with additional 17th Century replica homes.

In May of 2015 he decided to convert the home, which abuts to Stone Pond, to a year round vacation rental in hopes of generating enough income to cover costs.  He furnished the home with a mix of modern colonial and antique furniture and it comfortably sleeps eight guests.  The home is listed on, and under the heading Welcome to the 17th Century.  “The first year has been much better than I would have imagined,” he said.

“Most come because they want to stay in a historic home,” he said, adding that visitors come for a variety of reasons, including graduations, family reunions, weddings, foliage, temporary work assignments and youth sporting events.

There were no toilet facilities in the house until the 1920s – there is a three-seater outhouse still on the property. More modern facilities, including a functional kitchen and washer and dryer have since been added, even air conditioning and wi-fi.

This year, Fenner has been working on the grounds. He had considered adding a 1840s post and beam barn to the property, which he had purchased in upstate New York and had shipped in pieces to Rhode Island.

He points out two massive maple trees behind the home. “I had heard that it used to be a New England tradition for two maple trees to be planted as a wedding gift so that the newly married could would have maple syrup for the rest of their lives,” he explained.

“Originally there was a brook, Fenner Brook,” he said noting that a former owner of the estate dammed the brook to enlarge the pond, using it to harvest ice before the advent of refrigeration.

“There was an ice house on the property – it was destroyed in the Hurricane of ’38,” he added.

The two and a half story house is a known as a “stone-ender,” and the original portion, built in 1677, includes a “great room” or a fire room, with a great room sleeping chamber (each measuring 18 and a half feet square) directly above it. The fireplace measures ten feet in width and is more than three feet in depth and more than five feet high, in which is a “beehive oven.”

The 17-inch wide beam over the hearth is estimated to have come from a tree more than 600 years old. It had, at one point, been boarded over, and once uncovered, revealed early 18th century ‘graffiti’ – chalk markings, which have been preserved and are still visible.

Over the years as the family and number of occupants grew, the southern part of the house was added.

“I warn people who rent, there’s some uneven floors, thresholds of various heights, and some low ceilings,” Fenner said.

The house has alterations and additions that date from about 1835, and a dormer was added in 1939.

The building has a stone foundation cellar, and its large chimney takes up most of the exterior north wall. The floors are of wide planks of hard pine, and most are assumed to be original, according to a study conducted in the 1990s.

In the attic space can be seen clues to the house’s construction; the roof framed of hewn timbers which had been “pit sawn,” are mortised and pegged together – no nails.

The house is listed on the National Registration of Historic Places, the report for which lists the house as “architecturally significant as a very rare surviving example of Colonial post-medieval construction.”

“The original chimney at one time had been plastered over and its crown covered in brick. The restoration of the chimney included rebuilding the crown in field stones, which were lying on the ground below, the restoration based on a photograph of Captain Arthur Fenner’s house taken in the 1880s,” Fenner said. He credits  a previous owner for the beautifully restored stone work.

He points out a small window tucked under the eaves of the roof, noting that it is the last of the original window openings. The  glass in the home’s original windows would have been triangular in shape, as large panes would have broken on the ship’s passage from England. “There is a section of the triangular glass panes from the Fenner Castle at the Rhode Island Historical Society,” he explained.

A plaque on the house features a DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] emblem.

“His military service was in the King Philip’s War – a number of his descendants were DAR,” Fenner said of Major Thomas Fenner; Fenner also has ties to a Mayflower line that he is researching.

He is a member of a few genealogical organizations, including Descendants of Rhode Island’s Founding Families, Rhode Island Genealogy Network, and is an active contributor to

“I started [doing genealogy] with no training – I had thousands of names before I realized I had to list the sources,” he explained. He found sites such as Family Search and Ancestry useful tools in his research, but has learned that there is much misinformation on the Internet that needs to be sorted through.

He uses Family Tree Maker software, and has been adding his research online, at

He also has a Facebook page called “Fenner cousins,” which includes 800 direct descendants of their immigrant ancestor – not all having the surname Fenner. (The site includes notable Fenners – many Fenners were active in politics, and two Fenners were governors of Rhode Island.)

The house itself is also featured on its own Facebook page.

Fenner said family reunions have been held in various part of the country, but he’s yet to attend one. It’s been suggested the Fenner homestead would be a perfect place to hold one in the future, which is under consideration.

“I have a lot of stuff in here that relates to Fenners,” he said – he has had portraits of several ancestors reproduced to hang in the house. A multi-volume set of “Early Records of Providence” sits on one of the desks. Fenner recently had most of his books on genealogy shipped to the Fenner House.

The property now includes less than three acres, but was originally hundreds of acres in size. Included in the original tract are several small family cemeteries, including the Major Thomas Fenner Lot, Cranston # 40, where Thomas is buried.

Asked about the house’s future, Fenner, who was born in Connecticut and was raised in Massachusetts but has never lived in Rhode Island, has a 30-year old son, who “he hopes someday will take a greater interest in the family history and the house.”

Fenner has thought about forming a non-profit. “I’ve had people who study stonework come here as well as members of different historical societies,” he explained. He is also considering offering tours to groups. This year his emphasis has been on the grounds which he hopes one day will be suitable for events such as hosting weddings on the property.

an additional anecdote from Richard Fenner:

The brook is part of an interesting story from circa 1682.  A Native American maiden came to the door of the Major Thomas Fenner House and asked Mrs. Fenner for a cup of milk.  After receiving the milk she went down to the brook and wove a small basket as a thank you.  The basket remained in the family until 1832 when it was given to the Rhode Island Historical Society where it still resides.