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John Hunt House and East Providence Water Pumping Station

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c. 1780–1790. Before 1863, dam. 1893, water pumping station. 1963–1964, filter bed. End of Hunts Mills Rd. (Hunt House owned by the East Providence Historical Society; open to the public)

This is a sylvan spot with a horseshoe dam so low that the smooth curve of the spill is intimately juxtaposed to the tumble of the water against the rocks below. The Hunt family was among the original Puritan settlers when the settlement was Rehoboth and in Massachusetts. John Hunt purchased the property in 1713. His son presumably built the house, very much in the manner of the Phanuel Bishop House ( EP11) except that here the chimneys are in the more traditional central position rather than the ends. The interior has fine country woodwork and plaster walls all recently restored. Presumably either the father or his son built a gristmill on the property. Other mills, including a small cotton operation, made up a rural industrial group before the East Providence Fire Department took over the property and demolished the lot. The fire department needed a pumping station to supply water to the Rumford area, which was both isolated from and at a higher elevation than the population center of the town (by then called Watchemocket). The 1893 pumping station is a one-story building of irregular plan in random masonry with a picturesque grouping of hipped roofs and ventilating dormers, all dominated by a tall, square, slightly tapering chimney. The interior, lined with stained tongue-and-groove boards, retains an electric switchboard, a major portion of the pump, and the glazed supervisor's office curving into a semicircular bay beside the entrance. Behind is a reinforced concrete filter bed, open to the sky but looming as a blind box. Foliage from vegetation now growing within it brings a Piranesian touch to the place which should be exploited in landscaping—much as the cable link barrier between the park and the fast-moving stream should be replaced by more appropriate fencing.

When Frederick C. Sayles established his Glenlyon Bleachery in East Providence ( EP4) and required a more extensive water supply for the purpose, he convinced the town to set up a private water company and purchased the pumping station with the Sayles Company as principal stockholder to operate the system. He also established picnic grounds and a small amusement park on the site to benefit his workers and the town. It operated until a fire destroyed its popular dance hall in 1925. The amusement park led a languishing existence until it faded away at the beginning of the 1930s, when a debilitated industrial base and expanded automobile travel administered the coup de grâce. The waterworks returned to the city in 1928, and was closed only with the connection of East Providence to the Scituate Reservoir system in 1969. Although the house is colonial and the pumping station Victorian, the juxtaposition of the two here returns us, in an idealized way, to an early phase of the Industrial Revolution in which the owner's house was often set beside his mill.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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