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Rumstick Point Marker   Leave a comment

The Rumstick Point marker as it appeared in 2008.

The Rumstick Point marker as it appeared in 2008.

A sedentary stone gathers some paint.
Corner of Rumstick and Chachapacassett Roads, Barrington

A large stone, part of a wall at the corner of Rumstick and Chachapacassett Roads, is adorned with a crude depiction of a pair of Indians kneeling beside a barrel, out of which jut two sticks. At center top are the words “Rumstick Point.” This curious artifact dates from around 1880 when Abbie Fessenden, who lived at nearby 153 Rumstick Road, painted it.

Chachapacassett Road delineates the northern edge of Rumstick Neck. Chachapacasset was the Wampanoag name for the area that includes Adams and Rumstick Points. It means, according to Thomas W. Bicknell in his History of Barrington (1898), “At or near the great widening.” Called Little Neck by early white settlers, it was first referred to as “Rumstick” in land records in 1698.

So where did the name Rumstick come from, and how does the image on the rock relate? Bicknell offered several different possibilities on the origin of the name.

First, he reported that a Brown University professor, Adrian Scott, had suggested a Norse, or otherwise northern European, origin:

Rumstokkr in old Norse was a bed-post, but in Provincial English there was a word, Ruinstich, adapted from the German language, or possibly the Dutch, and meaning the same as Mawe, i.e., an old-fashioned game of cards. The point might have had a famous game upon it by the first crew of sailors that bethought themselves to name it.

Bicknell noted that Providence bookseller and prolific amateur historian Sidney S. Rider also favored a Norse explanation, as did Norse scholars (no surprise), while he (Bicknell) had an entirely different idea:

But I should think this far more likely than either of the above, that the long slender point suggested the stick with which ancient sea captains stirred their toddy (differing from the common sailor’s grog, inasmuch as it was made of rum sweetened, and so needed stirring): hence English RUM-STICK.

Why Bicknell likes this explanation so much is hard to understand, as the neck of land in no way resembles a stick. But no matter. Having disposed of the “scholarly” theories, Bicknell went on to relate a pair of stories handed down over the generations:

Tradition tries to solve the mystery of so curious and equivocal a title, by saying that a barrel of rum floated high and dry upon the beach, and the treasure was considered of such great value that the event was celebrated by so free a distribution of the contents that the term high and dry could be truthfully applied for several days to all the dwellers thereabouts.

Another story goes, that while the Indians were removing the aforesaid treasure of “strong water,” for which they had a most wonderful liking, the hoops broke, the barrel burst, and the spirits of rum sank into the sand, while the Indians’ spirits sank within them, and in sad disappointment over their loss, they lifted up the mournful lamentation: “Rum stick here! Rum stick here!

This last, however little sense it makes, and notwithstanding how insulting it is to the character and intelligence of the native Wampanoag Indians, would seem to be the one that caught the imagination of Abbie Fessenden.

It should be noted as entirely coincidental that Barrington’s shores and inlets, possibly including Rumstick Point, played a part as landing places for rum runners during Prohibition.

The Rumstick Point marker has been repainted over the years by various public spirited individuals, so that we may continue to enjoy and wonder about it today.

The marker in 2014, in need of a touch-up.

The marker in 2014, in need of a touch-up.

While you’re on the Point, take a walk back along Chachapacassett Road, only a few dozen yards from the Rumstick Point marker, to find a boulder with a plaque marking the site of a spring that was known to be important to the Wampanoag Indians living in the area. The plaque calls it Massasoit Spring, after the Wampanoag sachem, but it’s probably the same “noted spring called Scamscammuck Spring” located “at the upper end of this neck” mentioned in Bicknell’s History of Barrington. A similar plaque marking the location of another “Massasoit Spring” can be found across the Warren River on Warren’s Baker Street.

Massasoit Spring plaque, as photographed in 2002 (left) and 2008 (right).

Massasoit Spring plaque, as photographed in 2002 (left) and 2008 (right).

As you drive back out along Rumstick Road, keep an eye out for number 66. Built in 1888, it’s known as the Fred F. Church House. But it was also the childhood home of the late monologist Spalding Gray. Gray moved from Rhode Island in the mid-1960s, and some of his earliest performance pieces were based on his memories growing up in the Ocean State. Known collectively as “Three Places In Rhode Island,” they include “Sakonnet Point” (1975), “Rumstick Road” (1977), “Nayatt School” (1978), and “Point Judith (an epilog)” (1979).

Fred F. Church House in 2006.

Fred F. Church House in 2006.

Our website architect, Dan Hillman, also lived on Rumstick Road from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, and lost a series of pet cats on that street. Imagine his surprise upon reading Gray’s memoirs of having also lost multiple cats to the crushing tires of speeding vehicles in the ’40s and ’50s. The Grays are long gone, but the house is still a private residence, so please be content to gaze in pleasure as you cruise past. And please be mindful of any perambulating cats.

If that isn’t enough to fulfill your local celebrity and morbidity quotients, double back to Nyatt Road and slink by the house at 1 Jones Circle. It’s the former home of Christopher Hightower, who, in 1991, brutally murdered the Brendel family—Ernest, Alice, and eight-year-old Emily. The story was featured in an episode of A'E’s City Confidential in 2005. Again, private residence; don’t be a douche.

There are a couple of notable architectural anomalies to be seen on the Point. One is the stone water tower at 3 Stone Tower Lane, looking somewhat out of place in an otherwise suburban (if upscale) neighborhood. The adjacent house is a renovated barn. Both are a reminder of Howard P. Cornell’s “massive summer estate,” Stone Tower Farm, where he resided circa 1875 to the 1920s. The farmhouse burned down in the early 1900s, but another barn and the chicken coop, both renovated into dwellings in the 1950s, still stand at 6 and 14 Stone Tower Lane, respectively.

Stone Tower (left), windmill-ish tower (right), both photographed in 2010.

Stone Tower (left), windmill-ish tower (right), both photographed in 2010.

Another is the tower at the corner of Chachapacasset Road and Lorraine Street. This one looks like a windmill without sails, and given the area’s former rural nature, perhaps a windmill is what it once was.


Cost: Free

Time required: Assuming an average lifespan of 78.7 years, it will only take approximately 1/41,392,186th of your life.

Hours: You may gaze upon the Rumstick Point marker twenty-four hours a day, but we wouldn’t advise lingering suspiciously.

Finding it: Coming from Providence, take exit 7 from Route 195. Merge onto Route 114 South (Wampanoag Trail) toward Barrington. After about 6.9 miles turn right onto Rumstick Road. Go another 8/10ths of a mile and turn right on Chachapacassett Road. The next left is Rumstick Road again. The marker is in the stone wall on the inside corner of the turn.

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Piazza Marconi   1 comment

The monument marking Piazza Marconi, at the intersection of Atwood Avenue and Plainfield Street in Johnston.

The monument marking Piazza Marconi, at the intersection of Atwood Avenue and Plainfield Street in Johnston.

A signal honor.
Corner of Atwood Avenue and Plainfield Street, Johnston

The father of wireless technology, Guglielmo Marconi, was born in Italy, and performed most of his experimental work in England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Massachusetts, and on ships at sea in the Atlantic.

So why is there a monument to Marconi in Johnston?

In the early 2000s Johnston’s population was about 46% Italian American. One of those Italian Americans was Johnston Mayor William R. Macera, and he happened to be a fan of Marconi. So it didn’t take much prodding on the part of Vincent Frattallone of the Italian cultural society Comitato Tricolore per gli Italiani nel Mundo¬†(Tricolore Committee for Italians in the World (CTIM)) to convince Macera that Johnston should set aside a spot in town to honor one of Italy’s most celebrated native sons.

The suggestion was made in 1999, and within two years Macera turned the idea into reality. He chose the intersection of Atwood Avenue and Plainfield Street, on the border with Cranston, because the two towns share similar demographics. Because Atwood and Plainfield are both state roads he had to secure the approval of the General Assembly. Through that process he found out that the Cranston side already had a World War II memorial, so the scope of the project was scaled back to include only the Johnston side of the intersection.

Still, Macera had big plans, and he had a line on possibly the best possible dignitary to have at the dedication of such a monument, Marconi’s youngest daughter Princess Elettra Marconi. Macera met her in 1999 when she stopped in Johnston while touring the U.S. promoting a book about her father by her mother, Maria Christina Marconi, called Marconi, My Beloved.

The plans came together on April 25, 2001, the 127th anniversary of Marconi’s 1874 birth. The Johnston half of the intersection (really just a corner on the edge of a Walgreens parking lot), was dedicated as Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, reportedly the first “square” in the United States to be named for the inventor.

At the dedication speeches were made in both English and Italian, the American and Italian national anthems were played, and Princess Elettra, then seventy-one, spoke to the crowd via telephone from Bologna, Italy. Among the dignitaries present in the flesh were Johnston Mayor Macera, Cranston Mayor John R. O’Leary, Michele Frattallone of the CTIM, Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., state Senator Joseph Polisena, and state Representative Mary Cerra.

(Side note: In case you were wondering, Elettra Marconi got her princess title from her 1966 marriage to Prince Carlo Giovannelli, and decided to hold onto it after they separated).

The CTIM had earlier presented Mayor Macera with a plaque honoring Marconi, and Macera stated at the time of the dedication that he hoped it would one day hang on the wall of the proposed new Johnston Fire Station #1 on Atwood Avenue. The station, he said, was to have a state-of-the-art communications center to serve both the police and fire departments. Macera intended that it would be called the Guglielmo Marconi Communications Center. But although the station was completed in 2004, the communications center was not included, and the whereabouts of the plaque are currently unknown (or at least unknown to this writer).

The marker erected in 2001 was only a modest ten-foot pole bearing a sign that read “Piazza Guglielmo Marconi,” but a year later, amid similar pomp and circumstance (including another call from the princess) a more permanent monument was installed on the north corner of the intersection.

The monument is a low pyramid of dark polished granite topped by a small metal transmission tower, complete with blinking red navigation light. Designed by Vincenzo Frattallone of the CTIM, it looks like a transmission tower because it is one, albeit with a very weak signal. Originally you could tune your car radio to 94.9 FM while parked nearby and listen to a recording of Marconi himself speaking on an infinite loop.

This strange design element disappeared from the monument some time after 2005.

This strange design element disappeared from the monument some time after 2005.

A small, enigmatic sandstone design element was affixed to one face of the monument. An email sent to the CTIM failed to elicit an explanation of its meaning, so we’re left to make our best guess. The element, which disappeared from the monument sometime after 2005, appeared to depict two coasts connected by the barely legible words “Atlantic Link.” A committee with a similar name is listed on the monument under Patronage. Sketchy information online (much of it in Italian) leads us to understand this was an organization dedicated specifically to increasing awareness of the 100th anniversary of the first confirmed transatlantic transmission of radio signals from North America, in 1902.

The town didn’t have to pony up any money for the monument. The building and installation were organized by the CTIM, and materials and labor were donated by local Italian American businesses and organizations. Power came from the Walgreens and the transmitter was maintained by the Providence Radio Association.

The 1953 Marconi Monument at Roger Williams Park.

The 1953 Marconi Monument at Roger Williams Park.

In October 2006 the princess dropped by to see and listen to the monument in person. She was in the states to celebrate the 104th anniversary of the Atlantic Link. While here she visited another local monument to Marconi, placed on the shore of Pleasure Lake in Roger Williams Park in 1953. Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline met her there and presented her with a key to the city.

Mayor Macera left office in January 2007 and passed away in April 2010. In August 2011 a water main break flooded the intersection of Atwood and Plainfield, damaging the transmission equipment in the base of the monument. As is often the case, the priorities of one administration do not necessarily carry over to its successor. Politics are politics, Johnston isn’t immune from the economic troubles faced by the rest of the country, and the relationships that Macera built with interested Marconi boosters didn’t survive him. The upshot is that there seems to be little interest in fixing the monument’s radio equipment at this time (2013).

But while the monument stands mute, it does still stand. Be sure to include it on your next radio-themed roadtrip. And think of Marconi whenever you listen to conservative talk ¬†radio, download a funny cat video to your smart phone, or use your neighbor’s unprotected wi-fi.

PIAZZA GUGLIELMO MARCONI 1874-1937 The Father Of Radio Nobel Prize in Physics 1909 William R. Macera, Mayor Town of Johnston, R.I. April 25th, 2001 Designed by Vincenzo Frattallone

The Father Of Radio
Nobel Prize in Physics 1909
William R. Macera, Mayor
Town of Johnston, R.I.
April 25th, 2001
Designed by
Vincenzo Frattallone

Trustees and Sponsors.

Trustees and Sponsors.