LINCOLN – Renovations are complete at one of the state’s oldest homes, and it’s ready to hit the market.
The circa-1696 Valentine Whitman Jr. House is now positioned for its next 320 years, said Preserve Rhode Island Executive Director Valerie Talmage.
Talmage was joined by Town Administrator Phil Gould and Heritage Restoration Inc. founder Rob Cagnetta to cut the ribbon on the completed renovation of the house last Wednesday, Aug. 10, marking the end of one chapter of Valentine Whitman’s story and the start of a new one. For the first time in nearly 200 years, the property will be a single-family home again.
The town of Lincoln owned the home for several decades before turning the keys over to Preserve Rhode Island, a nonprofit committed to preserving the state’s historic places for future generations. With the help of Heritage Restoration, PRI launched a roughly $600,000 top-down renovation of the house last year.
The Valentine Whitman House at 1147 Great Road is a rare piece of history left largely untouched over the years, say those who know it well. It’s of the few surviving “stone end” houses left in R.I., named for a style of architecture in colonial New England where the stone chimney takes up an entire wall of the home.
“It’s like a 21st century house inside a 17th century house,” Talmage said. “It’s really a gem.”
Valentine Whitman Jr., a friend of Roger Williams, built the large home for his family in the late 1690s. The first town meeting of old Smithfield (which included Lincoln at the time) was held there in 1730.
Around 1820, the house was converted into three separate apartments, presumably used to house workers from the nearby lime quarries and mills. As the surrounding farmland turned into a residential neighborhood, the Valentine Whitman House remained relatively unchanged, except for minor upgrades in the 1950s.
The town of Lincoln took over ownership of the property in 1991, a decision Talmage said “saved the house from the jaws of a developer” and almost certain demolition.
“It’s really unheard of to do that,” she said, adding that the town saved the house a second time by replacing the windowsills, thus stabilizing the building.
A dedicated group of volunteers led by Pat Choiniere operated a historic house museum at Valentine Whitman for roughly 30 years, giving the public the chance to visit.
“Without Pat, we would not be here today,” said Talmage.
She said the town saved Valentine Whitman for the third time “when they had the foresight to recognize that continued town ownership wasn’t the best way to care for this historic property,” turning ownership over to Preserve Rhode Island.
Standing outside the home last week, Gould said this sort of restoration doesn’t happen without partners such as PRI, which demonstrated “commitment and heart” when they renovated the farmhouse at Chase Farm in the past. That project, he said, made the town feel comfortable bringing PRI on board to save Valentine Whitman.
“This was a stretch for our organization to take on,” Talmage said, thanking PRI’s board of directors for permitting them to borrow money to accomplish the project. “It’s been an adventure,” she said, culminating in the preservation of one of the state’s “most special places.”
“This 320-year-old building is now on a pathway to its next 320 years,” she said, thanking Lincoln officials and Heritage Restoration for their partnership.
Cagnetta spoke about the unique opportunity to touch a building that hadn’t been renovated in more than 200 years, adding that “those buildings don’t exist anymore.” Either they’ve been altered, or they no longer exist.
Renovations on the exterior included a new wood shake roof, cedar shingles painted black, storm windows and landscaping to make the home more visible from the road.
Inside, PRI and Heritage Restoration worked to make Valentine Whitman a single-family home again, while meticulously maintaining its historic features.
They installed new electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems; a custom-designed kitchen, renovated bathrooms and laundry space. The original wood floors, plaster walls and fireplaces were restored and repaired as needed.
Each change they made was discussed as a team, he said, calling PRI the “most amazing partner” as they worked through decisions “that really required a lot of faith on both ends.”
“I wanted to do the right thing for this house at any cost, but there are limits,” he said, adding, “to come through this with smiles on our faces; to have nailed it in so many ways … I’m really proud of what we’ve made from all of that.”
The house will now be sold as a private residence under a comprehensive easement that safeguards the property from demolition and major changes. There will be limited public access to the house as a term of the easement.