On the corner of... Our home since 1943
Ed. note: The Block Island Historical Society was founded in 1942. To help celebrate its 75th year, the Society’s Diamond Anniversary, The Block Island Times will be publishing sketches and photographs of items in its collection. For those interested in joining or donating to The Block Island Historical Society, please visit blockislandhistorical.org.
The largest item in the collection of the Historical Society is often taken for granted, our home, the former Woonsocket House.
When the Historical was incorporated 75 years ago this month, it did not have a building in which to house its newly acquired collection. Everything was moved to the first floor of the Masonic Hall — now B.I. Health & General Store — on High Street, a building which had The Lodge quarters on the upper floors, reserving the lower space as a source of rental income, although the Historical was forgiven any fee.
In January 1943, the Historical Board met and authorized one of its members, Florence Ball Madison, to seek “not less than 20” subscriptions of $100 each to cover the $1,500 purchase of — with a cushion for repairs to — the Woonsocket House, a hotel on the corner of Ocean Avenue (aka the New Road) and Old Town Road, literally the corner of past and present. In April of that year she reported back that 22 subscriptions had been received; in May the deeds were passed; the new building was open to the public in July.
By the fall of 1948, it was reported that “the building has been re-shingled, a new roof put on the porch, gutters and jetties repaired and all the trim painted.” The old kitchen, shown in the postcard reproduced here, “was torn down and the north end of the assembly room converted to a new kitchen of ample size for house use.” A fire escape had been added, various other repairs made. Hotel rooms were converted to apartments which would remain in place and be rented providing the organization a revenue stream until 1982 when the museum expanded its floor area.
(The hotel on the hill, since demolished, was the annex to the smaller, but older, Woonsocket House.)
Everything old is new again, including the work required on an old building. Again, we are looking at a kitchen update, but also showing off the work that has been done over the past few years: new floors, plumbing, and, especially, over this last winter, refurbishing and revitalizing the museum space.