To the Editor, Are the Buttonwood Beach Association Streets Public? What about the No Trespassing signs? Five generations ago, in 1871, the buyers of Old Buttonwoods, the beach community in what is now the Buttonwoods Fire District, promised to lay out
To the Editor,
Are the Buttonwood Beach Association Streets Public? What about the No Trespassing signs?
Five generations ago, in 1871, the buyers of Old Buttonwoods, the beach community in what is now the Buttonwoods Fire District, promised to lay out 1,000 cottage lots, along with streets for the public to get to the lots. They advertised in newspapers in Massachusetts for the public to come to the shore at Buttonwoods, buy the lots and use the streets.
The mortgage for Old Buttonwoods was provided by the Rev. Joseph Charles Hartshorn, an ordained Baptist minister and Providence industrialist. When his wife, a member of the Thurber family, died, Rev. Hartshorn founded the Hartshorn Memorial College in Richmond, Virginia, in her memory. It was her vision to build the first Black college for women, which he did. Rev. Hartshorn also provided seed funding for the Providence YMCA, and many other public projects of worth. He financed Old Buttonwoods as a seashore resort for the public.
Rev. Hartshorn secured his financial interest in what became the Buttonwood Beach Association by requiring it to lay out or plat public streets and grade them for carriage use so that the buyers of the lots could get to their properties. That is how developers and financiers worked together in the 19th century. They put up large subdivisions through “Associations” like the Fox Point Association, the Oakland Beach Association, and the Buttonwood Beach Association. These associations were land development companies.
Now, 150 years later, the Buttonwood Beach Association wants you to believe that Old Buttonwoods has morphed into a private community with special ways to be used by “members only” who pay “special taxes” to keep the place private. But taxes must be used for public purposes. We fought the Revolutionary War over that. Buttonwoods is not a fiefdom but rather a borough, like Manhattan or Queens.
There are no “members!” The Beach Association is a land development company. Two years after you move to Buttonwoods you may be offered a share of stock in the company. But maybe not. And what happens if the Association goes bankrupt? Its promise to Rev. Hartshorn that the streets are public endures.
Back in 1871, the Trustees of the Association promised to lay out public streets and filed that promise with the Warwick Town Clerk. This promise remains in effect unless the Warwick City Council rescinds it and gives the land to the people living there, not the Beach Association. It is the law.
This promise secured Rev. Hartshorn’s mortgage and all the other mortgagers, thousands of them, down through the years in case they needed to foreclose on a lot. No access to a public street? No mortgage. If a mortgage company got whiff of the possibility that a Buttonwoods property were not on a public street, it would demand an easement and street maintenance agreement. Title search companies would not be happy!
Some residents of the Buttonwoods community have formed a privacy committee to study how they will go about enforcing the full intent of those “Residents and Guests Only” signs, as well as the no trespassing signs hanging on telephone poles. They were stopped when they found out that they needed a phone line for the public to listen in to their meetings. This is a Governor's emergency requirement.
And who do you think pays for the streetlights on those poles? You do, through your tax dollars.
The privacy committee was funded with a $10,000 tax appropriation from the Buttonwoods Fire District, a government. It is unconstitutional to use that money to slap up No Trespassing signs. There is no such thing as “special private taxes.” That is what the Declaration of Independence is all about.
The people of the City of Warwick have been maintaining some of these streets since Presidential candidate William Henry Harrison held his Fourth of July Clambake and political rally at Old Buttonwoods. Over ten thousand people attended. Harrison was the first political candidate to hold mass rallies – called log cabin rallies, complete with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” Nobody saw a “residents only” sign along the road to Old Buttonwoods that day in 1840.
The people of Warwick now provide $35,000 per year to maintain the streetlights in Old Buttonwoods. This is a ticket for all the people of Warwick to use these streets. Even if the Fire District were to take on that $35,000 responsibility through its “special taxes” (whatever they are), these taxes guarantee the right to everyone to enjoy these scenic streets. However, if you drive there, do respect the no parking signs. And the tennis and basketball courts, and casino are for residents only.
As Woody Guthrie might be inspired to put to lyrics: "This Land Is Your Land" --- these "Residents and Guests Only” and No Trespassing signs were not made for you and me!
So yes, the streets in Old Buttonwoods are public. Be my guest!