Museum History

The House | The Families 

Babcock-Smith House Museum
124 Granite Street
Westerly, RI   02891
401-596-5704
bsh1734@verizon.net

The Babcock-Smith House

Since the middle of the eighteenth century the Babcock-Smith House has stood amid an ever-changing area atop Granite Street in Westerly, RI. One of Rhode Island's important architectural and historical landmarks, the house as it now stands clearly reflects the modes of life of the several generations who continuously occupied the house until 1972.

The land originally extended from what is now Tower Street to Wells Street, then Eastward into a wedge-shaped mass for about 1 3/4 miles. Now the property is about 200 feet square. It's location was on the main road from Mastuxet (Mastuxet Brook on Watch Hill Road at the intersection of Winnapug Road) to Hopkinton.

The Early Years

1734 - 1818

The Prosperous
Years

1860's - 1887

The Museum

1932 - present

 

The Early Years  
1734  Joshua Babcock built the mansion from which he practiced medicine, ran a retail business, and became involved in colonial politics. 
1770's Benjamin Franklin made several visits to his friend Joshua.
1772 Joshua was appointed first colonial postmaster of Westerly with the post office located in this house.
1783 Joshua died; see his Last Will and Testament: authentic transcription or easy-to-read version.
circa
1818
Dudley Babcock, Joshua's grandson, sold the house to Oliver Wells to recoup financial losses from the War of 1812. The property became a tenant farm and gradually fell into disrepair.

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The Emerging Granite Industry  
1845 Orlando Smith discovered a granite outcropping on the old Babcock farm.
1846

Orlando bought the Babcock Farm for $8,000.  The house was in such disrepair that his father-in-law, Isaac Gallup, rebuilt the foundation and the floor joists of the north wing before Orlando and his wife Emeline moved in.

Orlando moved his business to the top of the hill and used the granite on his property as a raw material for his work as a stonemason.

1850's The granite business expanded to include cutting monuments.
1859

Orlando died and left the farm and The Smith Granite Company to his wife Emeline.

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The Prosperous Years
1860's

Following the American Civil War, the granite industry flourished because of the desire to memorialize Civil War heroes and a trend toward park-like cemeteries.

Changes to the house during this period included the building of the back stairway and the granite wall in front.

1870-
1880's
The Smith Granite Company continued to thrive.  Wealthy customers who came to Westerly to approve the work they had ordered were often guests at the Smith home.  Consequently, the home needed to have an air of prosperity appropriate for customers.
1884 A major Victorian renovation moved the front entrance forward, allowing for stained glass windows in the entryway, and added a balcony over the front door, a wrap-around porch, and an elaborate outhouse.  The highly decorated interior and furnishings reflected the ornate style of the period. The two-seat, elaborate outhouse had plastered walls, mahogany trim, wainscoting and a pine floor.  It had a stove for heat in the winter months -- a luxury that would be fitting for the wealthy guests.
1886 Emeline Gallup Smith died.
1887

The Smith Granite Company was incorporated with stock owned by family members.  For $1.00 Julia Emeline Smith bought the farm, which remained a prosperous, working farm.  It was the first on the hill to have gaslights, electricity, and a telephone which people from the neighborhood used in an emergency.

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The Colonial Restoration
1924 Julia Emeline Smith died and her nephew Orlando R. Smith, Jr. inherited the property.  He was interested in local history, genealogy, and antiques.
1928

Orlando R. Smith, Jr. began an extensive colonial restoration.  He hired Norman Isham, noted restoration architect, who removed the Victorian details, enlarged the dining room, added the butler's pantry, restored the fireplaces in the parlor and dining room, and installed a steel beam in the keeping room.  He oversaw the choices of reproduction colonial wallpaper for the parlor, dining room, front hall, and bedrooms.  With these changes the house returned to its former Georgian appearance.  Many of the current furnishings are from the collection of Orlando R. Smith, Jr.

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The Museum
1932 Orlando R. Smith, Jr. died.  His will established the Orlando R. Smith Trust to preserve the house and its furnishings.  His widow, Phebe Alice Smith, maintained the house and the collection for the next forty years despite the decline of the granite industry and its income.
Late
1950s
In order to fund the maintenance of the house, Phebe Alice Smith petitioned the court for permission to sell the adjoining cottage which had been the home of the farm manager during the prosperous years.
1972 The trust was reorganized so that the house could become a museum.
1993 The Carriage House was built to support the museum and its programs.
2000 The original corn crib became Joshua's Store and a workshop was added.

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© 2009 Babcock-Smith House Museum