Pawtuxet Rangers celebrating 175th anniversary, open museum
History is calling, and the origin of its cry resides squarely in the middle of Pawtuxet Village in Warwick at the Pawtuxet Rangers Armory Hall.
There will be a celebration of that history on Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m. Despite the humble size of the two-story building, nearly 200 people are expected to attend – including mayors, local history buffs and historic military units from the Centennial Legion of Historic Military Commands – in order to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the building, which was constructed as a reward for the company staying loyal to the state during the short-lived Dorr Rebellion.
The celebration goes much beyond a simple recognition of time passing, though, as it will be an opportunity for the Pawtuxet Rangers to show off their blossoming museum housed within the Armory.
“This building is a little gem in the neighborhood,” said Ronald Barnes, current commander of the Pawtuxet Rangers. “There is the basis for something very neat here, and it’s well on the way.”
Barnes is one of a rare but important breed that find great joy in cherishing local history. He has been with the Rangers for about 31 years, but that doesn’t stifle his palpable sense of pride showing off artifacts held within the Armory, such as a handwritten copy (scribed by the Rangers’ first clerk John Waterman Jr.) of the original charter that formed the Rangers in 1774, or an encased sword that belonged to the family of the company’s first commander, Samuel Aborn, and was dated to the era in which Aborn was in charge.
These artifacts tell the story of the Rangers from their inception to their current role as drummers (and fifes) of enthusiasm in parades and marches throughout the state of Rhode Island. There is period clothing and a fully weighted musket to help immerse those interested in the past – as if being in an 175-year-old building doesn’t quite do it for you.
Also in the lower level there is a unique piece of preserved history – a door to what was once the Sabin Tavern, where a gathering of local patriots met to plan a certain military operation that changed the trajectory and course of modern U.S. history. Of course this operation is the burning of the HMS Gaspee, which ramped up tensions in colonial America a full year before the Boston Tea Party. The new museum has an entire room upstairs dedicated to telling this significant story.
The first room that greets you following a trip up the narrow staircase pays homage to two former owners following the original disbanding of the Rangers in 1847. From 1850 to about 1907 the Masons utilized it as a lodge. There will be a Masonic blessing of the original cornerstone at Sunday’s event.
Within the same room is a corner dedicated to local resident Alma Fransson, who purchased the building and lived in it as her home from 1929 until 1985. The Rangers were able to repurchase the building from her, but only after they promised to provide her with free burial services, which they offered through their connections with Mark Russell, a well-known local mortician. That deal was made official when Fransson passed away in 1992.
Since the Rangers reacquired their historic home, they have put in over $175,000 into its revitalization. Much of this money came in 2004 from a Rhode Island Historic Preservation grant and a matching grant from the Champlin Foundation. The exterior includes a re-done finish on the outer walls, new shutters and a fenced-in yard for gathering.
On the inside, the Rangers received significant help from three Eagle Scouts who helped remove wallpaper, repaint and raise funds to purchase museum lighting and display cases for the various artifacts seen throughout as part of their Eagle Scout projects.
Back upstairs, another room will contribute further to the historic preservation goals of the Rangers. Along with stacks of history books on shelves, a laptop will be set up at a desk with access to an online archive of The Bridge, a former local newspaper which is also featured on the Warwick Beacon website. This will enable visitors to even further immerse themselves in the lore of their locale.
However the Rangers are not fit to merely relish in the recognition of past history, they are inclined to make some of their own as well.
A time capsule that was reportedly placed within a recess of the cornerstone when the building was originally constructed in 1843 was found to be missing when the Rangers checked it out. As a result, they will be making their own time capsule and placing items into it on Sunday, which will be placed into the wall with the instructions to not be removed for 50 years.
In addition to showcasing the new museum, the celebration gathering on Sunday will also serve to raise awareness about a fundraising campaign that seeks to establish a building fund in order to ensure that the building will be well maintained down the line.
“The goal is to raise $25,000 and invest it so that we can keep this place running forever, or at least long after I’m gone,” said Barnes.
The Rangers have currently raised $13,000 of that goal. If you wish to donate to the cause, checks can be written out to the Pawtuxet Rangers or you can find an online donation portal on their Facebook page.