Regarding this flooding problem in Arnold Mills, I would suggest that the RIDOT might need to dig a bit deeper in their records beyond 1961.

Sneech Pond Road through Arnold Mills is one of the oldest roads in Cumberland. Originally perhaps a simple east-west path used by indigenous peoples, it became much more traveled with the establishment of mills on the Abbott Run in the 1730s which supplied grain, lumber, and iron products to a growing community of European settlers. In time, more folks settled to the east and west of these mills along what would become “Main Street” Arnold Mills.

One of the first to establish this as the civic and economic center of the area was a Dr. Halsey Walcott who sometime around 1810 built a finely fitted house on the north side of this road. About the same time, (or soon after) he constructed his doctor’s office, a general store, and eventually, a livery stable, all connected to his home by an additional structure leading directly off his back stairs to allow him to go directly from house to horse without putting on a hat. (All structural evidence of this system, along with some of the original features of the house, was removed in a 2008 remodeling.)

Behind Dr. Walcott’s house stretched acres of woods, farmland and pasture, through which ran a number of spring-fed brooks all in need of access to the Abbott Run. One of these springs continues to feed the small pond directly behind this property in question. (Stone walls submerged beneath the water can attest to its previous history as usable farmland prior to changes in water table levels after construction of Arnold Mills Reservoir in the 1920s. And how this rise in water levels over the years has contributed to this current situation? Who’s to know?)

No one can know exactly how drainage from north to south side of the road was accommodated in the earliest days, but I think it is safe to assume that as the present contours of “main street” took shape, with all of the raising and filling, leveling and grading to where it is today, some accommodation must have been planned by someone along the way to allow for one side of the road to drain to the other. I also think it safe to assume that, by the time Dr. Walcott obtained his license to operate his recently constructed general store in 1816, this system of drainage was already in place at (or beneath) this location. Whether or not Dr. Halsey obtained the proper permits from the RIDOT at that time I think will be difficult to determine and I would doubt that much consideration was given to whether or not materials used in its original construction met with “conformance to past or present RIDOT standards.”

I do not claim to know what owners in the past have done to add or remove pipes, drains, or devices to deal with similar situations at this location, but I do believe the Barrys (of 304 Sneech Pond Road, the former general store) free of the charge of any illegal doings in this matter. The suggestion that they could possibly have re-worked a drainage system under this roadway in the past few years, especially with RIDOT blocking egress at the other end of the street with the closing of our bridge (another discussion, perhaps?) for most of that time? Yes, I do believe someone in this neighborhood might have noticed.

But just as absurd, and far more troubling, is the suggestion of possible actions to be taken by RIDOT against these current owners and holding them “financially responsible for repairs of the road,” in essence, holding the Barrys liable for all such previous infrastructure decisions made at this site. If such be the case, should not more of us be concerned?

In this old neighborhood by the Abbott Run, with its innumerable structural quirks and anomalies accumulated over the past 300 years, and Gawd-knows-what lurking (or draining) beneath our feet, I would ask for some patience here, some common sense, and help from the town of Cumberland in supporting these neighbors in enjoying their historic home after what must be a pretty miserable episode of their residency.

Craig Johnson

Arnold Mills

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