Scenic Block Island

The story behind the home

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 12:45pm

Those Roman-like ruins that are receding into the earth at the Mansion Beach, silent since the old building burned down in the early 1960s, has a new plaque nearby that tells of its brief life as the grandest house on Block Island at the time.

Created by the group Scenic Block Island, which posed a similar plaque near the site of the old Spring Street Pump House a couple of years ago, the sign tells the story of the emergence and eventual destruction of the 19th century home.

Designed by the renowned architect Henry Vaughn for the interior designer Edward Searles, the house cost $1 million to build ($24 million in today’s dollars.) Mrs. Searles soon died, and the property was sold, and used over time as a night club, guest house and private home. On April 23, 1963, at 9:30 p.m., it burned to the ground.

There is almost nothing left. There is the outline of the stone foundation, and what can be seen is the result of the work of Highways Supervisor Mike Shea and his crew, which keeps the remains cleared and tended to.

The town, using bonding authority and a contribution from the Block Island Conservancy, purchased the land and road in 1984, ensuring public access to Mansion Beach, one of the East Coast’s most beautiful shorelines.