Generations in the Old Fieldstone House

The house was old, so old that it was lived in by a man who could have voted for Thomas Jeffeson for president, if he had been allowed to vote. It was built of fieldstone with small windows and a deeply slanted slate roof with a dormer built into it to give some light to the climb-up loft, upon which slept all the children in the family, and in those days families had an extra number of children to account for the ones who didn’t survive to become adults.

The house was built by Tobias Washington in 1801. He was a freed slave, the son of a man brought over on a slave ship and sold in Richmond, Virginia, in 1778, a slave known only as Sam. Tobias’ mother was Sarah, whose grandmother was sold by an East African tribe and brought to a Carribean island, later to be sold to a Pennsylvania merchant. Her daughter eventually met and married Sam, and they had two sons, one of whom was Tobias Washington, who was granted his freedom upon the death of his owner.

Tobias was a blacksmith who was able to open his own smithing shop repairing buggies, a much needed business. He became a successful businessman and hired four men to work in his smithery, two former slaves, one white man and a mulatto from Jamaica. Tobias’ brother was also a freed man who took that very name as his own and who also became a businessman, though somewhat less successful, but nevertheless, was seen as one of the community’s leading citizens. He too built a Fieldstone House on a street occupied primarily by freed slaves, a street they named Glory Be Told which eventually became known as Glory Street.

In 1842, with the death of Tobias Washington, who had survived his wife by five years, his son, Wallace, sold the house where he’d grown up to a prosperous white widow, Molly McCaully, who moved into the house with her four children, having been left a considerable sum of money, actually a wooden box of gold coins, by her husband who died of an infected arm after sustaining a cut by an ax while chopping logs for the fireplace, Widow McCaully, accompanied by her oldest child, Miles, made an annual trip to Philadelphia, driving her horse and buggy herself, during which time she traded a Spanish gold sovereign for American coins, at the same time putting another two gold coins in the newly established First Bank of Pennsylvania depository where she was to receive one percent annual growth. Each year she deposited another one or two gold sovereigns, being judicious with her coins, not completely trusting the new institution. By the third year she demanded a two percent annual return and got it.

By the time of her death in 1872, the widow McCaully left considerable wealth to her two surviving children, both now married, one established in financial trade and one a perennially unsuccessful merchant, having lost three retail stores over the years, being sustained by his inheritance. This youngest son had inherited the family’s Fieldstone House where he and his family of six lived comfortably, having added on a first floor bathing room complete with a bathtub on little claw feet, and indoor plumbing. All four of the McCaully children died during a flu epidemic and the house was considered to be haunted and was sold in 1888.

In 1888, the Markum family was looking to buy a substantial house and dismissed the suggestion that the stout looking Fieldstone House might be haunted. In fact, they thought they were getting a good deal. The family soon found themselves living in their substantial house which was set in the middle of the Market Street area, actually on Market Day Road, number 22, to be exact. Many of the streets in that little town received different names over the years, but Market Day Road survived, although the street number would change as more houses were built on the street. I have not mentioned the location of the town. It was in Rhode Island, a township having been named Lafayette, after the French general, a hero of the American Revolution.

The house was bought by a man who said he was a baker, but he was not. Instead, he was a successful businessman who had to expand his bakery to accommodate his increasing business. As a resourceful businessman, Mr. Markum saw the need and filled it, hiring two bakers to bake during the week and a third to bake over the weekend. The businessman was known as Mister Silas Markum. He was not a religious man and when asked why his bakery was open on Sundays, he said only that his men were inspired to bake bread seven days a week so as to allow religious women to take Sunday off by supplying her family baked goods. In that way, his logic insisted, he was doing God’s work. Silas considered himself an analytical and logical man, a modern man, even if his logic was not always clear to others. On one wall of his bakery he would place various sayings to help the good citizens live their lives with piety and good intentions, some having been embroidered by his unmarried daughter of nineteen who worked behind the bakery counter and who was the actual brains behind the thriving business. She thought her father to be a pompous gasbag, but then she thought all men to be so.

The bakery was known as The State’s Best Bakery, that being the actual name on the front window. When a patron entered the store a little bell jingled and the unmarried daughter would welcome the person to The State’s Best Bakery. The businessman was becoming wealthy and he looked to expand his riches, so he decided to build a second store in a nearby town which he called The State’s Other Best Bakery. It was closed on Sunday because the town was composed of too many pious people for him to debate and also because he could not find a baker to work Sundays. He made up for the closing by offering special prices on baked goods after four each Saturday afternoon, having the baker make extra rolls and fruit pies to sell to the line waiting to enter to buy their Sunday goods. As you might surmise, the Other Best Bakery was a success. At the same time, Silas engaged a builder to enlarge the Fieldstone House. A prosperous man should have the right house to live in. After all, he had a reputation to uphold and his way of living was an example he needed to maintain.

There was a woman, a widow named Hanna Houseman, who lived with her son who had sustained a head wound in a Civil War battle, neither he nor she remembered which one. Widow Houseman made extra loaves of country bread during the week which she sold to neighbors from her home to help support herself and her adult son. Silas Markum heard of the widow’s bread sales and considered her competition to his Other Best Bakery. He offered to hire her as his Sunday baker. The pious widow forced herself to give up going to Sunday church services in order to better support her son and herself. She began work at four on Sunday mornings, baking her special meat and cheese and vegetable turnovers, making and baking an astounding eighty-five turnovers by hand during a six hour time, having them ready to sell at ten o’clock to people coming out of church. They sold out by one o’clock. She always made three extra turnovers to take home, one for herself and two for her son, Benjamin. The widow figured she deserved the turnovers and God would understand.

Silas’ unmarried daughter searched high and low for the right mate. She considered a man’s prime asset to be high intelligence and high drive. In addition she would want her husband to be relatively well educated. She rejected several offers, actually five, she being considered a prime candidate for marriage, with her father being one of the township’s leading citizens, or at least, one of the wealthiest. It was well known that Silas’ unmarried daughter, who we will call Isabel, was his favorite among three daughters. On her twenty-third birthday, Isabel said yes to her latest suiter, who she had chosen because of his handsome face. He was an uneducated, unskilled man with a red handlebar mustache and twinkling blue eyes, a dandy-dressed man seeking his fortune in life. Isabel considered his potential and especially his overall appearance and set out to mesmerize the poor lad; he asked her three times before she said yes, giving herself a secret birthday present.

The couple had a lavish wedding, during which both of Isabel’s younger sisters met their future husbands, leading to Silas eventually being alone in the Fieldstone House. This story had a surprising and happy ending, for Silas, being lonely and fearing his approaching old age, married the widow, Hanna Houseman, and she and her son, Benjamin, who was to reappear later in this telling, moved in with Silas.

Isabel demanded ownership of the Other Best Bakery, threatening to leave both bakeries unless her father accepted her offer to take the second store off his hands for the sum of one dollar. He accepted, considering it her dowry, but offered her the original business, keeping the Other Best Bakery for his wife and her son to run. It turned out that Benjamin’s head injury had healed long ago and he took over the business of the Other bakery which he expanded and renamed The Rhode Island Bakery Emporium. He offered a large glass display of penny candies and also allowed his bakers to make their own specialities which were labeled as the daily specials. People came in early wanting to learn that day’s special treats. Later Benjamin opened the state’s first soda fountain offering the sensational new treat, iced cream.

Silas was initially jealous of the new bakery’s success, but soon found a new interest, horse racing which so intrigued him that he considered moving to Long Island, New York, but then settled for daily gambling on races. Hanna gave her husband a weekly stipend with which to bet, a rather handsome amount that he always lost, forever looking for the sure thing. One day he won the trifecta, having bet his weekly allotment of twenty dollars on one race.. Two days later when he read the “New York Chronicle” and he discovered he had won eight hundred dollars, he suffered his first heart attack. He lived for another fifteen years, swearing off gambling for fear it would kill him. He never found a new passion, and for the last five years, he was content with living in his past, for he had lost all of his memory for present events. Before he died at the age of sixty-eight, he thought he was sixteen years old with his whole life ahead of him.

Hanna died in her sleep in the spring of 1910, and Benjamin lived alone for several years in the old Fieldstone House, until at age fifty-five, he was married for the first time. He married a much younger woman, a spinster teacher who had hated being considered a spinster at twenty five and hated teaching as well as she disliked children. She and Benjamin moved to New York City where he became a state representative to the New York State Legislature. He attended annual Civil War Veterans Conventions, one time going to a convocation at Gettysburg, never remembering that he had been wounded at that storied and pivotal battleground.

The Fieldstone House on Market Day Road was sold to a man named Archie Murmur who occupied it with his long-time friend, Peter Poufaul, or Peety as he told everyone. Both men considered themselves writers, with the long-time friend writing epic poems while Archie wrote what would now be called romance novels, only the characters could not be discussed in proper company in those days.

The year was 1914, and the country was once again at war, this time on foreign soil. Much to the astonishment of Archie, Peety enlisted in the Army, looking to escape what he considered a parochial life with Archie, living in a small Rhode Island town. He wanted to see the world, planning to move to New York City after the war which was supposed to be a short one. He died soon after arriving in France, at the Battle of Verdun.

Archie soon had a new long-time friend living with him. Both men made periodic trips to New York City for weeks at a time, visiting with their long-time New York friends. Peety’s epic poem called,”Manifest Memory,” was published by one of Archie’s New York publisher friends and became a literary phenomenon, appearing in a national magazine and in a poetry anthology taught in most colleges. Archie himself made good use of his former long-term friend’s success by attaching his name to the end of the manuscript: curated by his long-time friend, Archie Murmur, the novelist. He published two books under the pseudonym, Perciful Archibald which sold well in Europe, and was translated into Greek and Italian. Archie became a New York legend when after selling the Rhode Island house, he married a rich Jewish widow and moved into her Park Avenue Townhouse, located across from the Vanderbilt Mansion. He was soon listed in the Society List of four hundred, although his wife was not. She was not suitable and she knew why.

The fieldstone was vacant for several years, Archie having forgotten about it until he received a delinquent tax bill for those several years and he sold it at a loss to a young couple moving up from Alabama to escape the racism they had lived with their entire lives. They thought they were moving up in life, moving onto what turned out to be a White street, and after a series of threats, they woke up one night to find a fiery cross on their front yard. They moved north within two months. The man’s elderly parents moved with them.

They were the Millers. Simon Miller was a barber and found work in a barbershop which advertised itself as catering to colored gentlemen and boys, located off the main shopping district. His father worked off-and-on shining shoes in the same establishment while his wife, Sally Lynn, worked Wednesdays thru Fridays for two elderly sisters, both widows, who attempted with great difficulty to maintain their grand familial home, a six bedroom two story brick Georgian style home with three chimneys, built in 1801, the same year as the old Fieldstone House was built. The grand Georgian house was refurbished in 1877, and again in 1910. It was brimming with colonial era and Victorian era furniture. The two car garage behind the house contained what the sisters called their daddy’s old car, his Model T Ford. The sisters, approaching their nineties, said they were comfortable having a colored lady in their home, for afterall, they often heard their mother say often enough how she had grown up having house slaves. In fact, their last house slave came back to haunt the house. Her name was Minnie. The sister’s mother had seen the ghost. The widowed sisters themselves swore they had heard the ghost on many a winter’s night.

Lincoln declared the end of slavery and the last slave left the grand Georgian house suddenly in the dead of night without a word of goodbye. At least that is what everyone suspected. Afterward the family always hired colored help. For some reason of which they remained unaware, they consistently paid their colored help more than the going rate. The family always said the Coloreds were the best workers and were always so polite. One day at an afternoon tea visitation, Belle revealed a long-held family secret that their grandpapa fathered a colored child who lived in the next town over. “If you stay on Grady Road, you get right into the part of the town which still has a considerable colored area called Maupintown,” Belle added. They had actually made the drive twenty years ago, looking for someone light skinned who looked like she belonged to their family. They tried once more, fifteen years ago.

The widowed sisters, Belle and Cordelia, invited the Millers and their elderly parents, who lived with them in the old fieldhouse, to Sunday tea most weekends. They turned out to be the only friends who visited the sisters with the exception of their long-time family lawyer they always referred to as ”Mr. Whitesell, our father’s attorney.” He kept reminding them they needed to make out their wills and they always delayed, having no further family to whom they could bequeath the house.

The years went by. The Millers had two children which the grandparents lavished with love and attention every day of their childhoods. Sally Lynn was now working five days a week in the large Georgian house, many days bringing her young children to spend their days with her and with Belle and Cordelia who delighted in having what they called youngin’s in the house. Sally Lynn was cooking daily meals for the sisters, making enough for Saturday’s dinner and bringing casseroles when they came for Sunday afternoon tea.

Cordelia died first, at the age of ninety-eight. Her bed-ridden younger sister died later that same year, 1938. The will the sisters got around to signing left the house, its furnishings, and a bank account worth two hundred and forty eight thousand dollars and eighty-four cents to Simon and Sally Lynn. Two months later they had sold the old house on Market Day Road and the six of them had moved into their 1801 grand Georgian home. Minnie stayed around for two winters and then left for good.

The next owners of the Fieldstone House were two sisters of Scandinavian descent, both beauties who had lost their several husbands at early ages, one of whom was rumored to have poisoned her mate. With no direct proof, she got away with it, inheriting his considerable estate. She was Estelle Rendall, while her twin was named Urbanna Durbanne. The sisters were identical twins, and had they lived in a different time, they would have become internationally revered for their striking beauty and their intellect. No one could ever understand why they chose to live in Lafayette, Rhode Island. More than one intrigued newsman from the big city attempted to interview the sisters, one going so far as to appear to move to Lafayette and befriend the women at the Catholic church they attended. He appeared too needy for information and was soon rebuffed, leaving the writer adrift to write his story which he essentially invented. Being written in a big newspaper, his story became part of the sister’s legends which became legion, to coin a phrase.

The actual story was revealed some years later by Urbanna’s daughter, Portia Durbanne, who decided to tell her mother’s truth to counter a mountain of speculative reports over the years. The sisters had grown up in Chicago to Norwegian immigrants who had moved from a small town in Minnesota to the biggest city in the midwest. Contrary to expectations, their father, known as Big Knut, was in the Chicago mob run by Alphonse Capone who did not restrict his top men to a certain nationality. The year was 1923, and the strikingly beautiful eighteen-year-old twins had just graduated from the Protective Sainted Mary Girls High School run by the Nuns of Mary the Sainted, and Big Knut feared for his girl’s safety (from kidnappers) and for their purity. He bought a house for them in St. Louis and had them change their last names, which they were glad to do so they would have American-sounding names. He moved them to their new hometown along with their aunt, Big Knut’s older unmarried sister, Bigand, telling no one of their location. Big Knut was to die in an accidental drowning while bathing in the Old Chicago Bath House pool, an actual accident, although no one believed it.

The sisters each picked out the man she wanted to marry, mostly to get away from their Aunt Bigand, and to begin their adult life, figuring picking first husbands to be their first adult decisions. Two years later came the unfortunate mysterious poisoning of Estelle’s rich first husband who by the way had been known as Lucky Morgan, second cousin once removed to J.P. Morgan or so he swore.

Urbanna had fallen in love with her husband several years into their marriage. The first of her miscarriages occurred, each taking an increasing toll on the woman. Her husband, a Jewish stockbroker named Borris Lowenthal, was less in love with his lovely wife than in continual lust. Unfortunately after each miscarriage, he lusted after other women. After the third miscarriage, which sent Urbanna into a deep depression, Borris became overly infatuated with his latest lust and became so careless that Urbanna was forced to face the truth that her marriage was over. This unexpectedly lifted her depression as she came to the realization that she had loved the idea of being a mother more than of being Borris’ wife. She knew to hire the right sharky lawyer and came away a woman with both cash and bonds along with two thousand three hundred shares in J.P. Morgan Company. She was to lose the bonds during the Great Crash but fortunately sold the Morgan stock at the height of the Great Build-Up and survived the Depression as a wealthy woman.

Both women were to remarry, Estelle’s second marriage being successful until the premature death of her husband of eight years, Robert Rendall, due to a botched operation, resulting in Estelle becoming even more financially comfortable due to her inheritance plus the proceeds from the medical malpractice lawsuit. Urbanna divorced her second husband after discovering his deep-seated stupidity and quickly married Dick Durbanne who had been a friend of Estelle’s second husband. They had two children, Portia and Desmond, and were exceptionally happy which made Dick’s sudden decline and death especially dreadful. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer for which there was no cure at that time.

The twin sisters decided they needed to move and start over, and they continued to be fearful of being found out by the Chicago mob who falsely believed Big Knut had cheated them or turned against them or was going to talk with the Feds. The twins were in contact with their spinster aunt who suggested another move, this time far away from Chicago. She suggested New York and the sisters thanked her for the advice. They then chose an isolated place near but not in New York City. They moved to Lafayette because no one had ever heard of it after they had asked around, plus it was near all the major eastern cities.

The sisters doted on the two children who lived a charmed small town life, far from threats or other big city pressures. Estelle never remarried but had a series of New York City friends, including one high society man named Archie Murmur, with Estelle and Archie remaining oblivious of their Lafayette connection. She was a long time friend with a Broadway actor of some renown.

Urbanna loved being a mother, just as she had always believed, and considered marrying a local man who she grew fond of, but she could not help but compare him with her beloved Dick who grew closer to sainthood with each passing year. She and the local man remained an off -and -on- item for years as they grew into their maturity. Portia and Desmond came to consider the local man as the closest to a father as they would know,

The twin sisters lived to the age of seventy nine, each dying from heart disease within three months of the other. Brother and sister sold the Fieldstone House on Market Day Road in 1985, to the Potholder family who had moved to Lafayette from Jackson Hole, Montana, where the parents were involved with running a small ski resort for the ten years of their marriage. They were tired of always being exhausted and “all the damn snow,” and they decided to return back East where both had been raised. The Mr. went by the name of Joe Glass and the Mrs. was known as Catalina Glass, formerly Miss Catalina Converter who had been crowned high school prom queen, followed by her coronation as Miss Jefferson County Beauty Queen of 1968. She always laughed at the crownings, most vividly remembering neither crown to fit over her stiff and towering beehive hairdo.

Eastern small town life was just what the couple had hoped it would be and the Potholder family thrived. Joe used his physical education degree to become a phys ed teacher and a high school baseball coach while Catalina taught Spanish at the community college located in a nearby community. The couple considered themselves lucky to be living the small town American dream.

The years went by with little cloudiness until fifteen-year-old Leonardo went off the rails and became enamoured of pot and less enamoured of school and family. There followed two years of living hell for Joe and Catalina and for their daughter, Rose Ann. The situation was finally resolved when the seventeen-year-old boy entered an inpatient rehabilitation program for five months. Both parents thanked God for the county’s excellent health insurance. Joe returned home a sobered and as he put it, a reformed drug addict. His sister, who looked a lot like their Beauty Queen mother, was a knockout, and a bit promiscuous. By her senior year, she was pregnant; then before an abortion could be arranged, she miscarried. The Glass parents were profoundly grateful when Rose Ann joined her brother at the University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown where both siblings thrived. Rose Ann majored in English and Women’s Studies while Joe was studying to become a biologist, actually a botanist, or a zoologist, or even a meteorologist, some kind of “ist.”

When their children graduated college, the Glass parents decided to move west again, this time to California where they opened an Orange Julius stand in a large mall. In June of 2005, after having to do substantial remodeling and updating, they had sold the old Fieldstone House to the Sanduskys: Marian and Micky, and their two golden retrievers, called “Number One,” and “Number Two,” When they had their first child, they named him Richard, calling him Richard The First. Their daughter, born four years later, was named Mona Elizabeth Sandusky, called Monie by all. After Number Two died unexpectedly, the Glass’ bought a Havanese puppy they named Rex. They were done with cuteness until Monie named her goldfish, Empress Queenie Cutie Pie. It was the last pet to come into their house.

The Glass family lived in the Fieldstone House, updated a few years ago, through the Obama Years; and during the Trump years they laughed about moving to anywhere else in the world, let’s throw a dart at a map, oh crap, the worldwide covid pandemic squashes that plan!

That brings us to the present day and our trip through time, having looked at the human beings who made up the history of one particular house in one particular town, a house old enough to have a history worth knowing about. The house was but a vessel within which various families lived at various times during the past two hundred and twenty years. I count thirty eight people in ten families having lived in this particular house over all those years. The families were mostly small but consider this: the little Fieldstone House was built as a first house for a freed slave during colonial times. The house had witnessed much of the common citizen’s history of this country. As you have heard, this is a storied house and you are now privy to its stories. The house stands yet ready for more generations of stories to be lived.