On This Day in Block Island's history, April 30, 1916 — Is there a doctor in Capt. Noah Dodge’s house? —
On this day in history, April 30, 1916, Capt. Noah Dodge’s wife, Mary Ann Milliken, died at the age of 84. The captain himself had passed away in mid-April 1907 at age 83.
Their spirit may have left the earth, but not their house on Payne Road. Since the middle of the 1900s it has been well-known to the island’s sick and injured as the “doctor’s house.”
Born in 1824, Noah Dodge was a seafarer and farmer — leading the double life of many islanders. In 1876 he built his dream house, no doubt with his wife in mind, incorporating many of the decorative gingerbread features and details in vogue on the mainland. And he built it a full 2.5 stories high, taller and bigger than nearly all other houses constructed on the island to that time.
The local minister, Samuel Livermore, wrote of Capt. Dodge’s new structure:
“A few dwelling-houses of good taste have been erected during the past few years on the Island... Mr. Noah Dodge’s residence, just completed, so sightly, large, and convenient, will incite others to imitate his example.”
Taking on a third career, the captain quickly adapted to the booming tourism business of the late 1800s, turning his home into a summer boarding house. A descriptive booklet of Block Island from 1895 reads:
“One of the very popular places for summer visitors who wish to avoid hotel life, is the hospitable home of Captain Noah Dodge and wife.
“Here one can rest perfectly at ease and surrounded with the comforts of their own homes. The rooms are large and airy, furnished suitably for occupancy all the year round.
“Mrs. Amanda Rose, a daughter of the house, takes the active management, and ably assists her mother, Mrs. Dodge, in caring for guests. The visitor at this island home never fails to repeat his visits as often as opportunity presents.
“The cuisine is of the best, the cooking unsurpassed by any on the island, and the house is finely located on high ground.”
Perhaps taking advantage of that nicely located vantage point, as well as the proximity to the adjacent school, islanders turned the house into a doctor’s office and home some seven decades ago, periodically spending several good chunks of the town’s budget for renovations. When the Medical Center was built next door two decades ago, another renovation removed the ambulance garage from the right side of Noah’s house, and once again refurbished the interior living quarters.
For 136 years the poignant drama of birth, life, and death have played out in Captain Noah Dodge’s special place, probably to a greater extent than in any other building ever erected on Block Island.