This Week in Block Island's history, April 12, 1908Samuel Mott — always home
This Week in Block Island’s history: 105 years ago, on April 12, 1908, Samuel D. Mott died at the age of 66 after a lengthy illness. He was at home, in the ancient family residence on West Side Road that now serves as the annex of the Narragansett Inn. As befits a small, intimate town, the house where Samuel Mott died was the same in which both his father, also named Samuel (1777 - Feb. 11, 1828) and grandfather, likewise named Samuel ((July 16, 1811 - Aug. 16, 1888), were born and passed their lives.
The Samuel Mott who died in 1908 used his two-story home to cater to tourists, as the island’s Baptist preacher explained soon after the tourist boom began here, stating in 1877 that several “hotel enterprises ... and Samuel Mott’s residence at the south end of the Great Pond, have all been proved by their many respectable patrons to be comfortable and pleasantly located homes for summer visitors to Block Island.”
Great Salt Pond, not connected to the sea and turned into a boating harbor until 1895, was nevertheless well used, as the preacher explained:
“The baptismal scenes, for many years, have been at the south end of the Great Pond, a short distance northwest from the house of Mr. Samuel Mott ...
“While many witnesses assembled on the slightly elevated shore, the candidates met at Mr. Mott’s house for preparation where many rooms were warmed and opened for their convenience. When all were ready, the pastor with the senior deacon, followed by a choir of male singers chanting a recitation ... followed by the candidates, and these by their friends, marched in a procession to the water...
“In the winter of 1876 three young ladies were thus baptized. The wind was blowing strongly; the waves came a long distance on the Great Pond; the shore was bordered with ice and snow, as one after another, in the presence of a multitude, walked calmly down into the water... “
And so the Newport Mercury’s obituary in 1908 said of the venerable Samuel Mott:
“Mr. Mott was one of the leading citizens of the town, taking a deep interest in municipal affairs and was universally esteemed for his upright, sterling character. He became a member of the First Baptist Church in 1866, and he was one of the most active in the erection of the Baptist Chapel at the Old Harbor.
“He was one of the builders and original owners of the steamboat wharf at the New Harbor, and had done much to develop that part of the island. His business consisted of the management of a small farm, and he had also been proprietor of the Lake Shore Dining Hall since 1896.
“He was very proud of his farm and spent much of his time upon it, in the cultivated fields, or with his cattle and poultry.
“He was an honest, upright, hardworking citizen, a friend to all in trouble. He made it a rule of his life never to meddle in others’ affairs, and never to borrow, although he was a cheerful lender of anything that he had.
“On June 9, 1872, he married Eliza C. Mott, who survives him. He also leaves one son, Mr. Alton H. Mott of Block Island, and a brother, Mr. Edward Mott of Auburn, R.I.
“Funeral services were held at his late residence on April 15th, and were attended by the greater part of the people of Block Island.”
In 1912 Samuel Mott’s son, Alton, built the Narragansett Inn, the last Victorian-era hotel to be constructed on Block Island. The Lake Shore Dining Hall, built by his father, was moved from its spot adjacent to the beach, up a small hill, and attached as a rear wing, becoming the dining hall of the new hotel.
Although nearly all island businesses 100 years ago were built by local residents to support themselves, most are now owned by absentee landlords from the mainland.
But the homey Narragansett is the last of the hotels and stores from that grand era of tourism that is still owned by the original family. And great-great grandchildren of Samuel D. Mott (1841-1908) still thrive on Block Island.