Historic Reuben Mason House provides a portal to the past

Historic Reuben Mason House provides a portal to the past

The 18th century Dr. Reuben Mason House has benefited from thousands of dollars worth of grants. Today it more closely resembles its original gentility with a brand new coat of paint. (Breeze photos by Jackie Roman)

GLOCESTER – When the Glocester Heritage Society signed a 99-year lease with the Chepachet Cemetery Association in 2003 for the historic Dr. Reuben Mason House on Putnam Pike, some residents were skeptical.

The 18th century building was showing signs of wear – paint was peeling, side panels had been blown off by the wind, and the property as a whole was fading.

Nonetheless, the Glocester Heritage Society (GHS) insisted that its Colonial architecture remained solid and its historical importance was well worth the efforts of a long-term restoration project.

“It’s not only the history of Glocester,” current GHS president Marie Sweet said, “It’s the history of that time.”

The home got its name from physician Reuben Mason, who purchased it sometime in the late 1700s.

According to GHS, Mason became the surgeon to General William West’s brigade in the early battles of the Revolutionary War, during which time militia trained in Chepachet.

But Mason, for all his efforts, may not be the man most commonly associated with this historic home. That honor remains with Thomas Wilson Dorr, a wealthy man who sought to expand voting rights for all people, not just land owners – “a radical thought” for the time period, Sweet said.

In an act of defiance against then governor Samuel Ward King, Dorr convened a People’s Convention in 1841, during which he became the principal draftsman of the progressive People’s Constitution.

The constitution was ratified in a popular referendum and allowed constituents to elect Dorr as governor in 1842.

Consequently, the incumbent governor sent federal troops to meet Dorr and his supporters in Chepachet. The commander of the federal troops designated the Reuben Mason House as a field hospital in case battle ensued.

Ultimately, Dorr disbanded his supporters and fled the troops.

A glass case inside the Reuben Mason House museum holds a keyhole with a single bullet hole – a casualty from the evening troops raided Sprague’s Tavern, now The Tavern on Main, looking for Dorr.

Following the passage of a new constitution accepted by both parties, Dorr returned to Rhode Island and surrendered to the state, which prosecuted him for treason.

Though his story ends tragically, Dorr is seen as a leader of the enfranchisement movement that eventually swept the country and made America the symbol of democracy it is today.

For this reason, Sweets said, the Reuben Mason House is being restored as a museum commemorating the Dorr Rebellion.

“If we don’t know where we’ve been, we don’t know where we’re going,” Glocester historian Edna Kent said.

Kent describes the house as “a gateway to the village of Chepachet” and a gateway to local history.

“We’ve found that we have a very special house,” Kent said.

More than a decade into that 99-year lease and the Glocester Heritage Society has restored the centuries old home to its former gentility (aside from the second-floor, a more long-term project).

Gone is the chipped paint and weathered exterior. Instead the home dons a fresh paint job, new windows, new side paneling, a septic system, and a dutifully maintained medicinal garden, courtesy of URI Master Gardeners.

Inside, visitors can time-travel back to 1800s colonial life.

Several rooms in the home are dedicated to capturing the life of Dr. Reuben Mason, his wife, and their three children. Period furnishing and dishware discovered in the basement of the home give the museum a lived-in feeling.

Glass cases preserve nearly discarded Town Hall documentation of the Dorr Rebellion and chronicle the life of Thomas Dorr.

Outside, the medicinal garden bursts with French tarragon, useful for digestion, and wild indigo, once used for infections.

On Aug. 13 the site will host an antique and collectible sale from 1 to 3 p.m. and tours of the Reuben Mason House will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., including the garden.

For a few moments, under the shadow of Acote’s Hill, it just might feel like colonial times.

Marie Sweet is the current president of the Glocester Heritage Society, a local organization that works to preserve the history of Chepachet and educate residents on local landmarks.
The URI Master Gardeners maintain a medicinal garden on the grounds of the Dr. Reuben Mason House as an homage to the physicians who once lived there and its history as a designated field hospital during the Dorr Rebellion. Pictured here is Lamb’s ear, used for centuries as a wound dressing.