The Fayerweather House in Kingston Rhode Island commands special interest as part of Rhode Island’s architectural and historical heritage, a focal point in the rural setting of Kingston. Originally home of the village blacksmith, Fayerweather House is typical of the middle class villagers’ home of a century and a half ago, of which sadly few remain. In the 19th century the local blacksmith was as important to the village’s well being, particularly in a rural community like Kingston, as its tavern keeper or its lawyer or its storekeepers. The smithy was indeed the hearth of the town. The age-worn little home was given a fresh lease on life. Restored by the Kingston Improvement Association, it now serves as the Village Craft Center. The restored house is a living reminder of a way of life never experienced by today’s younger generation. Fayerweather House was added to the historic register in 1984.
The Fayerweathers were one of the leading Indian-African families in the area and reflected the ‘plantations’ history of South County where people who came as slaves eventually gained freedom and in turn contributed to the community life.
The original George Fayerweather took his name, as was the current custom, from his master, the Reverend Samuel Fayerweather, minister of the earliest Episcopal Church (St. Paul’s) in “the Narragansett Country,” about 1770.
The house was built about 1820 by his descendant, George Fayerweather, who married Nancy Rodman, descendent of Narragansett Sachem Ninigret, and had twelve children. A son, Solomon, succeeded his father as the village blacksmith, and was also for many years sexton of the Kingston Church. It is a local legend that Solomon’s peculiar skill in manipulating the bell rope enabled him to make the church bell ‘sing” when he rang it on Sunday mornings.
Another son, George, also a blacksmith, married Sarah Harris, of Norwich, the first colored girl admitted to Miss Prudence Crandall’s school in Canterbury, which was forcibly closed under the notorious Connecticut Black Law of 1835, a story immortalized in President Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. George and Sarah moved to Kingston in 1855.
Letters, written between 1869 and 1881 by Miss Crandall, then Mrs. Calvin Philleo, to Sarah Harris Fayerweather and her daughters were discovered in the house during it’s restoration. When Sarah died November 16, 1878 she was buried in the local Old Fernwood Cemetery along with George who died on November 13, 1869. The inscription on her headstone is lasting testimony to her estimable qualities: ‘Her’s was a living example of obedience to faith, devotion to her children and a loving, tender interest in all.”
Mabel Mitchell Lewis, granddaughter of George and Sarah Fayerweather, along with her sons George and Ralph, moved to the Fayerweather House in 1902. Six years later she married Arthur Perry and they were the last couple to occupy the house. Mrs. Perry was a lady of great dignity and culture, was an accomplished musician, and is best remembered as the piano teacher for the children of Kingston. After Mrs. Perry died, Mr. Perry occupied the house alone for several years until his death on December 15, 1962. Thenceforth, the weather-beaten old structure stood vacant and rapidly deteriorated. Meanwhile it had come into the possession of several joint owners and was virtually unmarketable because of an involved title.
A suggestion in 1965 that the property be converted into a village green or small park met with a popular response. Whereupon the joint owners Mr. and Mrs. Roland Beauregard, Mrs. Vera Champlin, the heirs of the Herbert J. Wells estate and Mrs. Berleine Marshall deeded the tract to the Kingston Improvement Association for civic purposes. After careful study, KIA decided the house should be restored in keeping with the architectural and historical character of the village. The following year the restoration was accomplished at a cost of approximately $11,800, contributed by more than 300 donors. One of the principal contributors was the Rhode Island Foundation. A dual purpose was followed in planning the restoration: first, to preserve as far as possible the original pattern as an example of the architectural style of the period; and second, to adapt the structure for current use. In this spirit, craftsmen succeeded remarkably well in installing modern plumbing, wiring and heating facilities without sacrificing the old-time look.
Even before the restoration was complete, the house was converted into a village craft center. The property is owned and maintained by the Kingston Improvement Association and is used by the Fayerweather Craft Guild for its program of classes, workshops and demonstrations of handcrafts. The house hosts a unique gift shop featuring locally handmade crafts.
With the cooperation of the Kingston Hill Gardeners, the grounds of nearly an acre have been developed into a small park, featuring old-fashioned shrubbery and garden plantings typical of 150 years ago. An additional 1 1/2 acres of land in back of the property was donated to KIA by the Kingston Fire District. This wooded area has been maintained with the assistance of the Boy Scouts. To the East of the house, only two foundation blocks remain of the old blacksmith shop.
The Kingston Improvement Association owns and maintains the Fayerweather House at Rtes. 108 and 138.