Passing the keys: Lincoln’s oldest home gets second chance

Passing the keys: Lincoln’s oldest home gets second chance

Grace Gielink, program and property coordinator for Preserve Rhode Island, stands beside one of several hearths inside the Valentine Whitman House, pointing out some of the home’s significant features that will be restored. (Breeze photos by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – It has been several decades since anyone called the Valentine Whitman House home.

Excluding a small group of dedicated volunteers and the occasional visitors stopping in for a tour, the halls of the Colonial stone-ender have sat empty and silent. Though it has fallen into disrepair over the course of its 300-year history, the house remains standing in much of the same condition it was in when it was abandoned as a residence. And, as the saying goes, the bones are good.

Activity has returned to the aging home, and its rooms may not sit empty for long. The property’s new owner has committed to a $500,000 renovation project, bringing the old property back to its former glory.

After years of negotiations and behind-the-scenes work, the town of Lincoln has officially handed over the keys of the Valentine Whitman House to Preserve Rhode Island, a local nonprofit that specializes in the protection and restoration of historical properties.

The partnership has been hailed by several town officials and members of the PRI team as a needed move that will save the one of the state’s oldest homes before it’s too late.

The house was built around 1696 by Valentine Whitman Jr., grandson of the last person burned at the stake in England. The building featured embellishments considered elaborate and elegant for the time; many of which stand untouched today. Its stone-ender architecture is considered unique to Rhode Island, where a stone fireplace extends across nearly the entire western facade of the home.

In the early 19th century, the single-family home was converted into three separate apartments. It passed through many hands before the town of Lincoln purchased the property in 1991, rescuing the house from impending demolition.

During a small ceremony on July 15, town officially transferred ownership to PRI. Representatives for the nonprofit said their plans for the building add up to possibly the most ambitious Revolving Fund project they’ve taken on to this point.

Heritage Restoration Inc has been tasks for the rehabilitation, which includes comprehensive exterior and interior repairs along with installation of modern systems.

A top-down transformation is planned, starting with a new roof.

Valerie Talmage, executive director of PRI, noted that historic house museums nationwide face challenges with their business models, and that financial issues were exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Municipalities face difficult budget choices, admission fees and event rentals have evaporated, and the public is questioning which historic properties are worth preserving,” she said.

“Preserve Rhode Island is proud to help municipalities navigate these complicated choices, finding new life for historic properties and preserving their historic significance while ensuring their usefulness for generations to come. With this change in ownership, the historically important Valentine Whitman House is guaranteed to be part of Rhode Island’s landscape for generations to come,” Talmage continued.

Heritage President Rob Cagnetta said the repairs will set the property on the course for its next 300 years.

When the restoration is complete, the home will be opened up as a short-term vacation rental property or as a permanent residence, depending on market conditions.

Construction is expected to begin in September, and last for roughly six months.

Guests stand in the shaded backyard of the Valentine Whitman House in Lincoln as the town prepares to pass the keys to the home over to Preserve Rhode Island.
Lincoln Department of Public Works Director Michael Gagnon passes the symbolic key to the Valentine Whitman House over to Valerie Talmage, executive director of Preserve Rhode Island, and Rob Cagnetta, president of Heritage Restoration Inc.