Tag Archives: Rhode Island

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

Video of the ceremony

As a volunteer with Find-A-Grave [FindAGrave.com], 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 HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and Airbnb.com 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 Findagrave.com.

“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 www.fennertree.com

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.

Graniteville’s monuments, descendants assure WWII vets not forgotten

Newer generations make sure Graniteville’s ‘greatest generation’ is not forgotten.

In one of the few states that still celebrates V. J. Day, or Victory Day, as it is now known, the village of Graniteville in Johnston is one of only a few sites to hold annual observances. The 16th annual celebration was held on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016 in front of the monument on Putnam Pike. The event was sponsored by members of the Graniteville WWII Veterans Foundation.

The village of Graniteville, in the town’s northeast corner, is bordered on two sides by the Woonasquatucket River to the north and east.

The Putnam Pike site was home to a World War I memorial, and later, to a handmade wooden monument in the 1940s during World War II, listing those serving their country. The wooden sign, created by mothers of those serving, was eventually replaced by a large granite monument with a bronze plaque, naming those who made the supreme sacrifice. The current monuments – plural – commemorate all those who served. On the left side of the central monument, “To Honor Those from Graniteville” who served in World War II, and on the right side, “Those who served in Korea.”

One hundred and eighty-six from the small village of Graniteville served during World War II. Of those, eleven would not return home. The eleven names were read during the ceremony, a wreath and flowers laid on the monument in their memory as flags were lowered to half staff and a firing of arms conducted by members of the R.I. National Guard.

Unable to serve during the war due to medical problems, Bob Jackson and the late Del Riley collected news from home to sent to those serving overseas, the monthly newsletters dubbed “Hot Sketches.”  The first issue included lists of service members and their addresses, to encourage correspondence home and to each other.

Living in a home located behind the monument, Jackson’s mother was among those who created the original wooden monument. Bob Jackson attends the event each year, and was present on Aug. 13, joined by his daughter Judy.

“My mother would have the name printed and have it screwed on [to the wooden monument],” he explained. “There’s no more room for any more monuments, they put all the names on it,” he quipped; a small marker next to the monuments commemorates the “Hot Sketches.”

The Foundation, originally comprised of WWII veterans from the village, was formed in 1996. As those numbers continue to dwindle, it is now being continued by a board of trustees, which includes several of the veterans’ descendants. There are very few of the WWII veterans still living, and only a handful in attendance on Saturday, among them Luke Green, now aged 96, who served in England.

The veterans from Graniteville have also been also been memorialized in a book by Sylvia Forrest (wife of Graniteville veteran Fred Forrest) called “Graniteville Went To War,” published in 2000. The book was co-authored by the late Angelo Casale and William C. Northup, Jr., also Graniteville veterans. Casale had brought a folder full of “Hot Sketches” to a 1995 Graniteville School reunion, which sparked Forrest’s interest in assembling the info for the book.

Using the internet and other veterans’ resources, Forrest searched and found many of the veterans, or members of their families, and collected biographical info and anecdotes about their lives before and since the war. The book also includes blurbs from the old war time “Hot Sketches” newsletters.

Two hundred copies of the book were printed, and a copy was presented to each veteran, or a member of the veteran’s family. A copy is available in the reference section of the Marion Mohr Library in Johnston.

Three of those biographies were read at Saturday’s ceremony – among those attending was Sylvia Forrest – describing how their lives were put on hold during the war.  Peter Neri grew up on George Waterman Road, and attended the Graniteville School in 1932 when it was brand new. He recalled “setting pins” at Zeke’s bowling alley. He was 15 when the war broke out, and remembered paper drives and scrap drives. He remembered flags in the windows, and star for each son serving overseas. The youngest in his family, his mother would have three stars, for Anthony, Michael and Peter, now all deceased.

In a reading about Northup, he recalled as a child living on George Waterman Road in Graniteville, one part was largely populated by those of Italian descent (near Our Lady of Grace Church), while the northern part was populated by English, Scotch and Irish. Living during the depression, he noted, “It’s amazing how well you got to know people when you all had the same holes in your shoes.”

Following the war, he wrote, “We were all just Americans who grew up together in Graniteville.”

Forrest, during her search, found veteran Donald J. Proctor far from home – living in San Diego, California. Proctor died in May of 2015, and his son wrote a letter to the Foundation members, describing how his dad had grown up in Graniteville, but had served in the navy on the USS Bugara, a Balao-class submarine [see the USS Bugara’s Wikipedia page to read about its exciting exploits during the war]. Following his discharge in California, Proctor stayed out west, went to college on the GI bill, married and started a family. Later dubbed “the old man,” he would serve a total of 35 years in the submarine reserve division.

“It’s important to remember and share these memories, to learn how the past shaped us,” said John Panicucci, who with Marie Carlino Butera, read the bios.

Following the annual ceremony, attendees were invited to visit the nearby Johnston History Museum, which houses many pieces from the village and from World War II, before attending the annual luncheon, held next door at Emilly’s Restaurant.

photos, also by Beth Hurd:

World War II veteran Luke Green, left, chats with Bob Jackson, co-author of “Hot Sketches,” a monthly newsletter from home sent to those serving overseas during World War II.

At right, Skip Healey, past commander of Balfour-Cole Post 64 American Legion, greets veterans attending the Graniteville World War II Foundation’s annual VJ Day observance held on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016.

Placing a wreath and flowers on the Graniteville memorial during the annual VJ Day observance are Laura Charnley Panicucci and Marie Carlino-Butera.

Veterans, including Korean War veteran Ralph Charnley, salute the flag during the playing of Taps and the reading of the WWII honor roll during the ceremony.

Author of “Graniteville Went to War” Sylvia Forrest listens as several biographies and anecdotes are read from her book, published in 2000, co-authored by the late Angelo Casale and William C. Northup, Jr.

 

See my past stories:

‘Graniteville boys’ remember fallen brothers – from 2009

http://johnstonsunrise.net/stories/graniteville-boys-remember-fallen-brothers,58118

Local veteran recalls when ‘Graniteville Went to War’ – from 2007

http://johnstonsunrise.net/stories/local-veteran-recalls-whengraniteville-went-to-war,26795

“Graniteville World War II Veteran Angelo Casale remembered,” Johnston Insider, 2010

“Graniteville vets celebrate VJ Day, 10th anniversary of Foundation,” Johnston Insider, 2010

 

and video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDP4UQZCYPk

2010 Graniteville WWII Veterans celebrate VJ Day at monument