The Block Island Times

Go and Do: The 43rd Annual House & Garden Tour

See the sights Aug. 12
Aug 11, 2014
Photo by: Lars Trodson

The Block Island Historical Society Tour is happening Tuesday, Aug 12, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets are $25 (and $30 the day of the tour) and on sale at the Block Island Historical Society on Old Town Road, in Bridgegate Square.

The Capt. Mark L. Potter House

Built in 1902 and locally known as Potter Place. According to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation (RIPHC) and Heritage Commission: “A four-square, 2 ½ story, shingled house with a wraparound porch, symmetrical elevations, and prominent dormers in each slope of the high hip roof; the interior is paneled with cypress. Potter, a retired shipmaster from Brooklyn, New York, built this as a summer cottage. Its fine siting above Tilson Cove is also vulnerable to erosion, and the house was moved inland from its original site” in the 1970s.

Potter was a Providence sea captain and opened the first American-owned shipping pier in Hong Kong. The house has been owned by the Homans/McCandless family since the 1940s. Located off Southeast Light Road, the house has never been winterized; has always been a summer cottage. (See the old Spaulding exercise machine.) The house design is known as “Pine Lodge” and the materials were sent down and the carpenters were brought in. It’s a real step back in time.

The Chasse Garden

This is a different and eclectic landscape design, with a Block Island twist.

The property has been landscaped, with circular pocket gardens filled with perennials, varieties of grasses and flowers (200-plus varieties), and shrubs. Most of the pocket gardens are decorated with antique farm equipment or nautical artifacts, some from the island. The gardens are surrounded by beautifully cleared stonewalls.

In his poem, “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost recalled the annual drudgery of walking the fence line with his neighbor to mend the stone walls separating their properties.

Like other forms of fencing, stonewalls were originally built to protect valuable crops and meadowland from foraging animals, which in the early years of colonial settlement were allowed to wander freely on undivided and unused land. As settlement progressed, families used walls to pen in animals. Stonewalls are common on the island due to the make up of soils after the glacier — field stones were plentiful and frequently inhibited tilling and mowing. The stonewalls are protected by local ordinance as a cultural landscape feature of Block Island. The stonewalls that exist today mark the efforts of those who first cleared the land and those who considered themselves good neighbors. They have become a quintessential feature of the Block Island landscape.

According to S.T. Livermore’s “History of Block Island”, from 1877: “When the first settlers landed on the Island it must have been difficult in some places to have stepped amiss of a stone. It is no exaggeration to say that more than three hundred miles of stone-wall now constitute the fences of Block Island.”

Maude Chasse is the current president of the Block Island Gardeners Club. (The house itself is not on the tour, just the garden). The gardens have been a 15-year project of Ray and Maude Chasse.

The Ross House, 2014

This summer cottage was completed just a few months ago. The home has two bedrooms and numerous lofty indoor spaces and nooks, as well as multiple outdoor living areas. It is the most recent addition to Block Island’s small but significant collection of modern beach houses. The Ross House is located off Whale Swamp Road.

The young owner commissioned a collective of friends and former classmates to both design and build this innovative structure. Some of the inspired details include reclaimed wood used to make the floor boards, the recycling of the previous structure on the site (a small cabin that came with the property) into cabinetry and a concrete sink and other vintage pieces collected from travels around New England. The design and build team was Adam Lackett and Kellen Fenaughty of EngineHouse. Both are graduates of Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture in Pittsburgh.

One of the most exciting features is a pair of sod roofs, one with a built-in viewing deck. These both insulate the house and provide a lovely continuity with the landscape of the bluffs and fields that surround the house. The exterior materials include weathered siding and a separate kitchen cube clad in Corten, weatheredsteel.

The Southeast Light

A National Historic Landmark since 1997.

The cornerstone was laid in 1873, finished in 1874 and lit in 1875. Drawn and documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1989 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and rescued and moved back from the eroding bluffs in 1993. The lighthouse has one of the most spectacular views of Mohegan Bluffs. This tour will be of the lighthouse keeper’s quarters only. Tower tours are available for an additional fee.

From the RIHPC: “A prominent octagonal-plan tower attached by a 1½ story hyphen to a large, 2½ story double house with mirror-image service ells on the rear. The complex is built of brick with granite trim and sits on a rusticated granite basement; the simple, severe trim echoes Modern Gothic sources. Dramatically sited at the island’s southeast corner on Mohegan Bluffs 200 feet above the Atlantic, the light marks the first landfall for ships approaching the New England coast from the south and southeast.”

The interior of the keeper’s quarters offers a rare opportunity to see how the lighthouse keepers lived for more than 100 years.

Representatives from the Southeast Lighthouse Foundation will also provide tours and information about the restoration work in the tower that will go out to bid this fall.

The Lang Garden at Lewis Farm

A neat arrangement of raised vegetable garden beds. This is a summer vegetable garden that’s reminiscent of traditional island gardens — located close to the home, just a step away from the kitchen. (This was the original seed-to-table arrangement.) Adjacent to what was known as the Little Barn on Lewis Farm, which was originally a dairy farm, the Lewis family once had more than 18 out buildings that were destroyed in the 1938 hurricane.

A beautiful, aesthetically pleasing stop on our tour.

The Big Barn at Lewis Farm

The Lang Garden leads to the chicken coop – now a restored summer cottage (beautifully refurbished by Doug Michel). You will then see a view of the original farmhouse.

Big Barn, still in the Lewis family, was built during World War I as a cow barn with beams taken from the Jacob S. Winslow, which ran aground at Black Rock on the south side of the island in 1914. The Winslow was a four-masted schooner laden with lumber. Bill Lewis renovated the buildings in the early 1960s and turned them into summer rentals. The farm was established by Jesse and Susan Payne Lewis in the early 19th century and run by succeeding generations of the family. Keith Lewis started to preserve the land in the 1980s.

The flooring and beams are from the shipwreck and other aspects were recycled from the Tripler Cottage on Plover Hill. Inside the house, artwork by well-known illustrator Melbourne Brindle (1904-1995). depicting, among other landmarks, the North Light. Brindle’s family continues to live on the island.

The views from Lewis Farm are incredible, and portions of the land were donated to the Rhode Island Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and  the Block Island Conservancy (which was established under the direction and vision of Capt. John Robinson Lewis). This property typifies the open space for which Block Island is so well known.


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