THIS SIDE UP

Gaspee Point comes alive in print

by JOHN HOWELL
Posted 12/3/20

Some memories just have to be shared. Henry Brown knows the feeling. So does Roger Hudson. Henry has been recording stories for years. He grew up in Warwick, lived here pretty much all of his life and holds the title of the city historian. The

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THIS SIDE UP

Gaspee Point comes alive in print

Posted

Some memories just have to be shared.

Henry Brown knows the feeling. So does Roger Hudson.

Henry has been recording stories for years. He grew up in Warwick, lived here pretty much all of his life and holds the title of the city historian. The designation is deserving. Henry is not only a student of history, but has authored carefully researched books. That’s the scholarly side of Henry. He has the documents, such as land deeds, agreements, letters and bills of sale that support his accounting.

Henry is also a raconteur, a storyteller, and that what makes a visit to his home so much fun.

For the last year, if not longer, I’ve been hearing about Henry’s book on Gaspee Point. The book was always in a stage of completion, although there were no estimates as to when it would be ready to go to press. I’d get snippets of what “the book” would contain, such as the preparations that went into planning for Lindbergh’s landing in Gaspee along with some colorful narration.

I was beginning to question whether there would be a book on Gaspee Point.

Then Roger, who helped Henry pull together the stories, the maps and the photographs, emailed me last week – “the book is done.”

Naturally, after all this build up, I was anxious to get a copy. I suggested we meet Sunday, and Roger replied after noon would be good.

The book wasn’t what I had expected. Many neighborhood books consist of old photographs and pictures of old post cards of the locale with little in the way of narrative. This book is 8 by 10 inches and generally follows a chronology of Gaspee Point starting with the Narragansett Indians. This is the scholarly side of Henry. He tells how in 1642, Chief Sachem Miantonomi sold a tract of land south of the Pawtuxet settlement to surgeon John Greene. The book has a printed copy of the deed with a map of Gaspee Point on the adjoining page.

We settled into chairs in Henry’s living room, with its sliding porch doors that offer a view of Occupasstuxet Cove, the tip of Gaspee Point and, in the distance, Conimicut Lighthouse and Narragansett Bay beyond. We soon covered the details of assembling the photographs and how graphic artist Alan Clarke put it together. Roger dug through Henry’s collection of newspaper clippings, notes, photos, letters and stories that he keeps in three-ring binders. Henry filled in the gaps with Roger writing some of the stories.

And then came the fun. As we flipped through the pages, Henry started recalling events from his childhood. The stories were coming alive.

“There was Rocky Marciano,” Henry said.

I had heard that not long after his historic flight, Charles Lindbergh visited Rhode Island for a hero’s welcome. How come I hadn’t heard about Rocky Marciano?

What I didn’t know about Lindbergh’s visit is that Spring Green, which still owns Gaspee Point, had a huge field in what is now Governor Francis Farms. The field was considered an ideal location for Lindbergh to land the Spirit of St. Louis, but Alice Frances Brown, a principal in Spring Green, feared she was opening herself to liability if thousands turned out to greet Lindbergh as expected. She wanted the state’s aviation commission to post a bond if the field was going to be used. Lindberg ended up landing at a field in Quonset.

But Rocky Marciano?

Henry confessed the story probably shouldn’t have found its way into the book, since Marciano never visited the point, but it was too good to be left out. There was a connection, however.

At one time Manny Almedia, who was the state’s leading boxing promoter, rented a campsite on what was known as the “high banks” of the point overlooking the water. Manny had a high regard for Henry’s father, who managed the rental of the campground, and reserved two ringside seats to the bout between Marciano and Big Red in the fall of 1947 at the old Rhode Island Auditorium. Henry and his father set off for Providence after dinner, arriving just as the bell sounded for the first round. As they weaved their way to their seats, Marciano and Big Red danced around the ring. Henry followed the action before sitting, but his father was turned away preparing to sit down when Marciano threw a punch that decked Big Red. As the referee gave the count, Henry’s father sat down to learn the fight was over.

“One punch,” said Henry, reveling in the memory and the fact that his father was there but didn’t see it.

As Roger leafed through the book, Henry regaled us with more stories – ones that didn’t make it into print.

He recalled the plan to build Route 895, a ring highway around Providence that would have crossed the Providence River at Gaspee Point. The plan was promoted by then-Gov. John Chafee and vehemently opposed by many Warwick residents. Neither the Gaspee Point plan nor one that would have meant a bridge between Conimicut Point and Nayatt Point in Barrington got off the drawing board. Gov. Frank Licht killed it soon after taking office in 1969.

The book doesn’t get bogged down by politics of the times. Rather, stories center on Gaspee Point activities such as clambakes and duck hunting, events such as the Hurricane of 1954, and places familiar to old timers, like the Big Tree, King Cole Stable, Waldman’s Family Store and the Community Hall. It is all woven together with reprints from the Providence Journal and the Warwick Beacon that make for a vivid picture of community.

Henry says if it wasn’t for Roger pushing the project along, he personally wouldn’t have had the steam to finish the book. That could be true, but listening to Henry reel off the names and the stories, there’s no doubt he gets fired up by Warwick and its neighborhoods. He’s got more stories to tell and books to write.

Gaspee Point, Brown

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