September 1, 2014
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Historic Homes
Indian Oaks-Aldrich Estate continued
Don D'Amato

Like so many of the other homes in Warwick, fire was a danger through much of the 19th century. Local fire stations were unable to stop fire once it got started. This is true of the Aldrich Estate even into the 20th century. For much of his life, Aldrich was primarily concerned by many of his art treasures and, unfortunately, some of these were lost.

Indian Oaks served Aldrich well, as it was the scene of a number of elaborate social gatherings and pleasant vacations that helped sustain the senator through many political and financial crises. While he could often force a reluctant Congress and president to do his bidding, he was powerless over some of the tragedies and crises that befell Indian Oaks. In April 1901, the original boathouse that Aldrich “really loved” was burned. A mysterious fire started at midnight and was spread by gale winds. There were no fire fighting facilities in the area at the time and there was no way to save the structure. Aldrich, as soon as possible, had a new boathouse erected to replace his favorite work and recreation building.

In 1910 another crisis occurred on the sprawling 250-acre estate when stonecutters, working on the new mansion, went on strike. Twelve English-speaking stonecutters from Providence left work in protest. They were being paid 33 1/3 cents per hour, while workers imported from New York were receiving 65 cents. The local craftsmen were demanding an increase to 50 cents per hour, which was Union wage at the time. The crisis ended when Bartholomew Touriston, supervisor of the 200 men of various crafts working on the estate, promised to pay the increase and persuaded Aldrich to agree.

Fire again did considerable damage to Indian Oaks I 1915. On the first of April of that year, the stables burned and, along with it, many valuable objects from Italy that had been stored there. Many believed that the senator, who was in the manor house at the time, may have over-exerted himself in a vain attempt to save his treasures. He ran from the house in his shirtsleeves and helped carry out some of his most precious paintings. He had been in ill health for much of the time since 1910, and this exertion may have contributed to his death on April 16, 1915.

When Senator Aldrich died, he left a will that set up a trust in Joint Tenancy comprising his wife Abby and three of his children, Edward, Lucy and Richard. According to E.L.D. Seymour, who wrote about the estate in “Country Life” February 1919, they were directed to keep the buildings on said estate in good order and repair, and properly insured against loss or damage by fire; to keep the walls, gates, drives, walks, and wharf in good condition; to care properly for the trees, vines, plants and lawns; to heat the buildings thereon, and light them and the walks and drives;…generally to keep up and improve the estate.

The coming of World War I made this very difficult to do, as the war needs of the nation demanded conservation, especially in relation to the upkeep of “sumptuous estates.” In 1919 Seymour, upon visiting the estate, commented, “AS a result, of all the rooms and apartments of the great house, only the servants quarters and two or three small suites for the occasional use of the members of the family are kept open. Other than these…all are silent, empty, asleep, the furniture shrouded, the rugs and pictures wrapped, the shades drawn, all waiting…the coming of a new reconstructive prosperity when once more then can legitimately be the scenes of normal activity and family life.

When Mrs. Aldrich died in 1917, the trust was terminated and the property was deeded to the seven living children. Six of the children then made conveyances to their brother Edward in 1927-28.

In June 1939, Edward B. “Ned” Aldrich, perhaps because of high taxes, vandalism and the damage done by the hurricane of 1938, conveyed the estate to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence. Francis P. Keough, D.D., the bishop at the time, agreed to accept the estate, which was essentially a “gift,” but which ended with a payment of $75,000. The property acquired from Mr. Aldrich included about 85 acres of land and the mansion, boathouse, tower, stables, gatehouse, gardener’s house and caretaker’s house. The church sold about seven acres of the land and used the remainder as a seminary.

In 1941 the tall water tower on the estate was used as an observation station as part of the defense program during World War II, since the view from the tower encompassed large areas of the state. A large two-story, T-shaped tan brick chapel, with one-story L-shaped wings was erected a few yards south of the mansion. That and a multi-functional education building to the southwest completed the major additions to the estate in 1946.


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