John R. Waterman house/Lockwood Brook Farm part 1
While some of Warwick’s historic homes and places have been utilized as places of business, nursing homes and restaurants, some have still retained the same designation as a farm. This is true of the John R. Waterman house, part of the Lockwood Brook Farm that still exists today. The Waterman house has been a farm since colonial times.
Today, the farm is owned by Eileen and Dr. William Naughton. The house has been beautifully preserved and restored. The Lockwood Brook Farm is on the historical register and is noted as an agricultural entity. Like so many other farms in Warwick, it has been divided and re-divided a number of times, but the area still retains much of its original charm and is one of Warwick’s most important and interesting landmarks.
The farm still boasts of a number of Rhode Island reds and lovely black-faced Yorkshire sheep. Unfortunately, Eileen pointed out that the growing number of coyote and other wild animals have made it impractical for the farm to house more animals. Fortunately, the house and farmland has not changed a lot since we first wrote about the dwelling in the early 1980s. At that time, we wrote the following story:
The past is ever present at the lovely old house at 100 Homestead Road in the Conimicut section of Warwick. This is the feeling conveyed by Dr. William Naughton and his wife, Eileen, the present owners of the John Robinson Waterman house. Eileen is convinced that the effects of living in a historic house are more than just physical. Her interest in her home led to a greater understanding of “Old Warwick” and its history. It is no mere coincidence, she feels, that she ran for a seat in the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1983, a position occupied by John R. Waterman from 1821-1824. Curiosity led her to read the diaries of Waterman, the man who built her large five-bay home in 1800. She found that he was the one to first introduce legislation in Rhode Island for free public schools and that he supported Thomas Dorr in his attempt for universal manhood suffrage.
This handsome house was the center of the large homestead farm. The Watermans were a very wealthy family, and this is reflected in the house. It was exceptionally well built by Dutch craftsmen who came from Newport. It has a number of outstanding features, such as the paired chimneys that rise through the 2 ½-story dwelling and a beautiful federal doorway. The H-shaped house boasts a center hall, with eight main rooms and a ballroom on the second floor. Each of the main rooms has a mantled fireplace and its own entrance from the hall so that you don’t have to go through any other room.
Most of the materials for the house came from somewhere on the large estate that extended well into the present-day Conimicut. The chimney bricks were kilned on the property. The oak floorboards and the chestnut timbers for the structure that go through the house form top to bottom were cut at the sawmill in the area. The metal hardware was made by the fine blacksmith who had his shop on the farm property.
The house not only incorporated many of the best features of the Federal period, it was also the prototype for well-built houses of a later era. Exceptional foresight and planning is obvious. The house was built in 1800, when Waterman was only 17 years old, and a full three years before his marriage, yet it was built large enough to accommodate the many children, slaves and servants who were to live there in the early and mid-19th century. The builders were as energy-conscious then as we are now. The front faces full south to take advantage of passive solar heat in the winter. The north, or cold, side of the house had but one window to conserve heat and to keep the house cool in the summer. Two large maple “marriage” trees were planted and the working kitchen was placed along the side of the house.
The Watermans were a very prominent and wealthy family who descended from Richard Waterman, one of the early proprietors in Providence in 1638. The old homestead dates back to 1642 when John Waterman, son of Richard and Roger Williams’ daughter, Mercy, built a stone-ender on the property and became a very successful farmer.
The Watermans took an active part in Warwick’s history. They were staunch patriots in the 1700s who dared paint their chimneys white as a sign of defiance to the British crown. Colonel John Waterman signed the Rhode Island Declaration of Independence in May 1776. He was also the leader of a group of 25 bold men who surprised the British Captain John Wallace on Prudence Island in January 1776 and helped to drive the British off the island. Waterman’s son, Deacon John, took part in the daring raid led by William Barton that kidnapped British General Richard Prescott in July 1777. This amazing crew, under cover of darkness, was able to row across the bay from Warwick Neck to Middletown undetected by the British Navy. They surprised the British general who was surreptitiously visiting Mrs. Overing at her estate. The haughty commander of Newport was roughly thrown, unclad, in the bottom of the boat. With a gun at his head, he was rowed back across the bay to Warwick, once again eluding the British patrol boats.
Both of Deacon John’s sons were to show this daring and courage in their lives. Benomi, the elder brother, chose the sea for his vocation and became a successful captain, while John R. selected politics and farming. John Robinson Waterman was Warwick’s representative in 1810. In 1821 he was elected to the state senate and worked to establish a free public education system. Through a great deal of work and political maneuvering, he was successful in drafting a bill for public education that was eventually adopted by the state legislature in 1828. The first free public school in Warwick was located on his property off Church Avenue. It is no wonder he is regarded by many as the father of public education in Rhode Island.
When Thomas Dorr assumed the leadership in making reforms in this state, calling for all men to have the right to vote, Waterman supported him, and in 1841 helped to write the “People’s Constitution.” This action was to result in the so-called “Dorr’s Rebellion,” the only armed rebellion in the state’s history. While reforms in public education and in the suffrage movement were not immediate, they did eventually come about and Waterman played a key role in their development.
The story of the John R. Waterman house/Lockwood Brook Farm as it was in the 1980s and today will be continued.