Do you have a historic house that you always go by but never go in? This was the case for me and Eleazer Arnold House. Located in Lincoln, RI, the historic home’s proximity to family-friendly walking sites like Lincoln Woods State Park, Blackstone River Greenway & Bike Access, and several town parks meant that I frequently visited the area for a few hours of pleasant walking. Once I became a Historic New England (HNE) member, I knew I had to go!
Named for its original owner, Arnold House was considered a “Splendid Mansion” when first constructed, although the building pales in comparison to modern houses. Arnold hired a construction company to build the house around 1693 using a style distinct to Northern Rhode Island. The design is called a stone-ender, because its large, gray, stone chimney also acts as a wall on one side of the house, stretching from ground to roof. The plaque in front of the house listed 1687 as the date construction, as this was the year that Arnold bought the property. However, a recent dendrochronology study, or analyzing the tree rings found in the wood, proved that construction of the wooden portion began at least six years later. Even with this knowledge, Arnold house is still among the oldest buildings in the state.
Arnold intended his home to serve not only as a place for his family but also as a “Publick House” or licensed tavern. He ran the business on the ground floor, while his large family lived on the second floor and attic. Arnold and his wife, Eleanor Smith, had ten children, so those upper levels would have been crowded. The house is located along the historic Great Road, the first highway between the New England cities of Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut; and Worcester, Massachusetts. This was an ideal location for weary travelers to stop for a bite to eat. The Arnold family became so well-known in Rhode Island that this part of the road was sometimes called “Arnoldia”.
The house stayed in the Arnold family for over three hundred years, until 1918, when the family gifted the property to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which became HNE. In its later years as a residence, women owned the house, and they aided in its preservation. Another fun fact was that the street across from the house, called Preserved Arnold Court, was not named for the preserved house but for a wealthy family member whose first name was Preserved, apparently a common name among the Puritans.
Arnold House underwent extensive renovation in the past three hundred years or more. Its current state reflects the research of multiple generations of restorationists. Out of these many changes, the house has undergone two major restorations specifically to return the building to its early 18th century design. The first renovation took place around 1920, a few years after the family donated the property to HNE. Rhode Island architect and restorationist Norman M. Isham led the project to stabilize the building. Thirty years later, a 1950 restoration resulted in the removal of all additions of the house, including the replacement of the Federalist style doors and windows used in the late 18th century with the battenboard doors and leaded glass panes used in the late 17th century. The colorful reproduction panes of glass are just over a decade old and were constructed using the same technique as in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The chemical composition of the glass includes the element manganese, which turns the glass yellow or purple when exposed to sunlight.
As an added bonus, this historic house has a neighbor! Croade Tavern, the bright red building behind Arnold House, was originally built around 1700 in modern day Pawtucket, RI. At the time, this area was known as the Jenks Settlement. HNE moved Croade Tavern to the site in 1918, right after receiving Arnold House. The house is currently a rental property owned by HNE.
I enjoyed my visit to Arnold House so much that I went again during a special day. Did you imagine that Lincoln, RI could be named after the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln? You would be right! Each year, around Presidents’ Day, the town hosts a birthday celebration for the “Great Emancipator”. The 2023 celebration at Arnold House was free and open to the public. Festivities included a more personalized version of the regular tour, an adorable cutout of the man himself holding festive party balloons, and a birthday cake.
While I greatly enjoyed my visit, I will warn that the property is not accessible to those with limited mobility, using a wheelchair, or with a visual impairment due to the step up to the entranceways, the narrow staircase, and low lighting. In contrast, these houses are a great spot to take children, including school group, scouting groups, or religious groups. The lack of original furniture combined with the availability of open space both in and around the building enables small groups to explore the area. Younger children may need assistance navigating the stairs. Arnold House is open on Sundays in June through early October. Guided tours are on the hour from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tours cost $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $5 for students, and $0 for HNE members (like me!)
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Abigail Epplett leads a dual life as a freelance digital marketing consultant for small humanities-focused organizations and as a customer experience design creative specialist at lab equipment manufacturer Waters Corporation. She holds an MA in Museum Education from Tufts University, where she researched the history of New England from Plymouth to the Civil War. To learn more about her adventures with museums, visit her current blog at abbyeppletthistorian.blogspot.com.