The Block Island Times

More Mansion Memories

By B.I. Historical Society | Dec 10, 2014
Photo by: BI Historical Society Searles Mansion, well after terraces were removed, photo circa mid-1950's.


More Mansion Memories

By Martha Ball


After posting the BITimes article about the Searles Mansion ( on facebook among the comments received were some from Bill Huggins. His mother, Alice, is from a long line of Motts who have owned The Homestead, the red house on the corner at the head of the Mansion Road, for centuries. The Huggins family was here from New Hampshire for school vacation in April 1963.


Bill writes: ”My dad grabbed a bucket and an ax [anyone who remembers Bill's father, Bob, can imagine that happening!] and although I was 5 or 6 I remember that fire well. You could see through the building, I remember the stairwells vividly.”


The fire was big and the fields were clearer then, the views wider and the little boy remembers being in that house on the corner. “I first saw it from our fireplace room window. My mom said "oh no it's the Mansion". The fire hoses did not put a dent in it. If that was 1963 I was only 5. A very powerful memory. To see right through the whole building like I had x-Ray vision. Was it engulfed when you got there?”


Leave it to a little boy to think of “x-ray vision.” I remember seeing the fire, telling my parents who called the fire department; it was more than engulfed when we arrived on the scene.


Bill then makes a really good point, one that people forget or do not today realize.


I have never seen a "next morning" photo. Cameras were a big thing to own except for maybe a Brownie and film was expensive and no one had any money to have extra film hanging around. Movie cameras got wound up to run, not battery powered yet. When the bricks cooled it was like picking a wreck. Those bricks are part of many homes on the island. By the time the Ocean View went up cameras where much more part of the culture.”


I do have one of those snapshots, that I of course cannot find at the moment, a grainy gray and white, of the chimneys alone standing the morning after the fire.


The Kodak Instamatic came out the year the Mansion burned. Had the little camera been a year earlier or had the fire been a year later there might be more photos. The Ocean View burned in the daytime and in summer so more people were here but, also, by 1966, more people did have cameras readily at hand.


Sometimes the record we have – or lack - is a part of a broader history.

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