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Thomas Clemence–Irons House

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1650s?; 1691, rebuilt. Early 18th century, saltbox extension. 38 George Waterman Rd. (opp. Irons Ave.) (owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities; open by appointment)

This and (even more) the grander Eleazer Arnold House ( LI14) are the classic northern Rhode Island “stone-enders” which most frequently appear as representatives of the type in surveys of seventeenth-century architecture. Disconcertingly surrounded as the Clemence-Irons House is by a suburban housing tract, on a busy highway, with its most distinguishing aspect—the exposed flank of its pilastered stone chimney—oriented away from the road, it takes a degree of imagination to recapture its aura. The front slope of the gable projects roughly half its length beyond the edge of the chimney block (unlike that of the Eleazer Arnold House, which originally filled the entire end elevation). The chimney may date from just after 1654, when Thomas Clemence, another close friend of Roger Williams, settled here, considerably earlier than the Angells ( JO1). If so, it provided the nucleus for the rebuilding of the house immediately after it was destroyed, along with virtually all other isolated farmhouses, during the course of King Philip's War of 1675–1676. If not, then chimney and all date from 1691. This was originally a one-room house with a garret chamber above, under what was then a roof with identical slopes front and rear. The clapboarded section of the end wall forward of the chimney block contained the boxed stairs which connected the two communal spaces. The lean-to, or saltbox, slope to the rear provided a kitchen behind the original keeping room, or fire room. Although the broad exterior surfaces of clapboard and shakes are almost wholly restored, and the placement of the small battened door and the tiny, diamond-leaded windows is conjectural, they nevertheless make vivid the introverted, protective nature of this shelter against an environment so substantially experienced by the early settlers as harsh and threatening.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Thomas Clemence–Irons House", [Johnston, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 171-171.

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