"For his honorable service during King Phillip's War of 1675 - 1677, young Clement Weaver, along with 49 other veterans were each given large parcels of land in what was then a barren outpost now known as East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
An historical treasure, this rare example of primitive 17th century architecture - the Clement Weaver home built in 1679 stands today as the oldest documented home in Kent County and one of the oldest homes in Rhode Island. Over the past fourteen years this home has been meticulously and painstakingly restored. Unlike many old-home restorers, we were lucky. Most of the home's original details were still intact and remarkably well preserved. The goal was a museum-quality restoration, tempered with the needs of 21st century living.
The house was at first a one-room plan, a story-and-a-half high. The walls of the house were constructed using wide vertical boards over a post and beam structure. The house had been added on to four times prior to 1712, as indicated by Norman Isham’s drawings. The first addition, about a year after it was originally built, Weaver added a one-story lean-to along the northern side of the house. This was to become the original kitchen. About a year after that in 1681, this particular lean-to was brought up to the height of the original house affording the Weaver family two garrets above with a center chimney and entry. Its chimney made up of stone and ballast brick, was never exposed on the outside end of the house as was the case with many early homes of this period. A short time after that, a lean-to was built along the back of the house, creating the traditional salt-box shape it remains today.
In the 1930’s, Norman Isham, a nationally recognized historic architect, was commissioned to restore the Weaver farm house, which now belonged to the Howlands. The restoration was intended as a memorial to Daniel Howland. Shortly after the restoration was started, the current Mrs. Howland gave the home to what was then called 'SPNEA' – The Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities, now called Historic New England - http://www.historicnewengland.org/
The original kitchen was the first room restored during Isham’s restoration. Subsequent owners have referred to this room as the "Museum Room" due to its accurate representation of seventeenth-century architecture. Besides the huge fireplace, the room still retains many of the original hand-planed, feather-edged, vertical pine boards, along with batten doors with wooden latches and wrought strap hinges. The ceiling is exposed oak beam, and the floor as well as ceiling above is wide-board. Of particular importance, this room also contains two of the original square-shaped, single casement, leaded-glass windows. They too were carefully restored and re-hung where evidence had shown them to be originally located. These windows provide some of the best evidence available of seventeenth-century windows. The entirely restored room presents an excellent picture of a seventeenth-century residential interior in Rhode Island.
The last of these older additions was a single-story (circa 1712) kitchen ell with a stone-end chimney of its own. These particularly constructed chimneys were later referred to as “Rhode Island Stone-enders.” Only a few of which have survived. The ell was added off the southern wall of the keeping room. This latest room, still used as a kitchen, has an enormous fireplace with a small oven still intact. The original beehive oven, evidence of which can still be seen on the outside, appears to have either fallen or was deliberately removed.
The keeping room is the largest [original] room and has an impressive system of framing with its original posts, girts, and summer beam – all solid oak and chestnut, and all beautifully exposed. The ceiling is exposed beam and the underside of the plank flooring above. The wide-board wall sheathing was at some point covered with plaster, as it remains today. There is also a very early corner cupboard opposite the fireplace. It has what appears to be the original, planed, single plank, batten door along with two hand-wrought, butterfly hinges. The oak fireplace lintels, or 'chimney trees' are enormous as well as completely petrified. Our own observation, far less than scientific, would indicate that based on the size of the trees used in construction, as well as when they were harvested and installed, would make much of the wood in the house 600+ years old. While fairly common in other parts of the world, this is a unique find in the United States.
The sheathed entry hall having the original vertical boards and stairway are special in that so few if any of these original "split" staircases still exist. What is not visible in the pictures is that one staircase has six steps while the other has seven. Being built at different times, the newer staircase was constructed to reach the garret (bedroom) above the museum room.
Some years later, Howland’s intent was that the home be restored and opened as a museum; thus leaving it to SPNEA. What is not clear is the reason why the home was returned to Mrs. Howland a short time later. Certain correspondence still maintained by SPNEA, indicates that it was becoming too expensive for the agency to maintain. It is believed that the rest of the house was then restored by Isham for its new owners in the 1930’s.
The home contains six fireplaces. The kitchen, keeping room and museum room have fireplaces almost ten feet wide and five feet tall. The museum room fireplace also has a beehive oven in the back wall. Each second floor bedroom contains a fireplace. The first floor room currently used as a dining room has the smallest fireplace.
An interesting and rare feature that few people get to see is the southern wall of the main house still retains several of its original clapboards, preserved when the 1712 kitchen ell was added on. If you go into the eaves, behind the bedrooms, you can walk into the attic space above the kitchen ell. It’s where the kitchen was joined to the house that several of the original hand-riven clapboards remain untouched. They appear to be made of oak and have been feathered and lapped while being fastened to the vertical sheathing with large, hand-wrought nails. Untouched for centuries (presumably because of the difficulty getting to them), this is pretty cool stuff!
Before we moved in, the home’s only major documented restoration was that conducted by Isham. When we found the house in the mid 1990’s, the home had sat vacant for more than two years and clearly needed work. We needed to upgrade all the major systems. All exposed surfaces were carefully cleaned, repainted or refinished. With respect to the museum room, maintaining its seventeenth-century appearance was non-negotiable. While the rest of the house still retains much of its original detailing, aside from electricity, modern heat and furnishings, we wanted the museum room to maintain an historically accurate representation of life in the 1600's.
For fellow researchers, there’s been much written about this house as well as the Weavers and Howlands. Many documents – new and old are available if you’re motivated enough to look for them. We’ve come across collections of photo’s, newspaper articles, historical documents and records as well as many book excerpts. The most recent of which I found in the non-fiction book, “Killed Strangely” by Elaine Crane. The book contains notes indicating that during the later part of the seventeenth century, our very own Clement Weaver had served as a juror in the murder trial of Rebecca Cornell – she of Cornell University fame. According to the book’s author, Ms. Crane had obtained this information from Jane Fiske’s edition of Rhode Island Court Records. Unfortunately, it mentions little else other than the reference to Weaver as well as to this particular home, offering a drawing of our very own museum room fireplace as a comparison to the home (and fireplace) where Rebecca Cornell was killed.
A few more interesting facts…
- We’ve learned through Martha McParland’s book, “The History of East Greenwich 1677 - 1960” that Daniel Howland – the same Daniel that purchased this house in 1748 from the Weavers, was a Quaker and chaplain during the Revolutionary War. He was also the grand-nephew of John Howland, one of the original 102 pilgrims that in 1620 landed in Plymouth, MA aboard The Mayflower. Three descendants of the original Clement Weaver also served during the Great War.
- While most of the outbuildings have since disappeared, there remains one that was originally a horse barn. It was later converted, after the Hurricane of 1938, into a smaller barn with an attached two-car garage. From the street, this building still retains its older look.
- Up until the mid 19th century, several generations of Weavers had run the old White Horse Tavern (no longer standing) on Division Street in East Greenwich. It is unknown whether this tavern was related to the White Horse Tavern in Newport. The similar name and early time periods for both buildings suggest it could have been.
- During Isham’s restoration, it was noted that workers found the home's original builder had used seaweed for insulation.
Larry Schneider & Deborah Colasanti - 125 Howland Rd. East Greenwich, Rhode Island 02818
Restoration by: Preferred Remodeling & Design - (401) 741-8485