Colonial Meetinghouses Featured in this Project
Name of Meetinghouse: Old Narragansett Church
Year(s) Built: 1707
National Register of Historic Places Designation: 1950
Rhode Island State Register of Historic Places: ?
Organization responsible: The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island
Organization's address: 275 North Main St., Providence, RI 02903
Organization's web site: Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island
Town Information: Part of North Kingston, Rhode Island
Tax status: 501 (C)(3) - tax exempt
Contact: Joseph W. Beckwith, 90 West Main St., North Kingston, RI 02852
Telephone: (401) 294-6365
This page was last modified on: Sep 09, 2013
Acknowledgements: The following text has been taken from the pamphlet The Old Narragansett Church, the pamflet Old St. Paul's in Narragansett, and from personal correspondence from Joe Beckwith, and is used with permission.
One of the most interesting buildings in Wickford, Rhode Island, and certainly the most famous, is the Old Narragansett Church, known as St. Paul's in Narragansett. Originally, the parish boundaries included the whole of the Narragansett Country. Among the early settlers of this region were a number with leanings toward the Church of England, and from time to time Episcopal services were held in this section.
In 1706, St. Paul's Church was established by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. This organization was organized in England to promote the Anglican (Church of England) faith in the English colonies. The Rev. Christopher Bridge was sent to this Parish as its first regular rector.
The current structure was built in 1707 on land donated by Capt. Benoni Sweet near his home on Shermantown Road in the Narragansett country. It was described as a "plain oblong structure with curved ceiling, many windows, some of them arched, and all with innumerable small panes of glass... The chancel and altar were in the east end apart from the place of Common Prayer and preaching. Square box pews surrounded the sides and were in the center." This still accurately describes the interior of the building.
Towards the end of the 18th century, it was decided that the Parish should be divided. At this time it was felt that the location of the church was too distant from the people who regularly worshiped there. In 1800 by vote of the vestry, the building was moved 5 miles to its present location, to land that was donated by Lodowick Updike on Church Lane, in the village of Wickford.
There is a story which, like many old Rhode Island legends, is belied by the records; nevertheless, it is too interesting to omit. According to the story, there was a quarrel between the northern and the southern parts of the Parish for the possession of the old church building. The inhabitants of the northern section, being the best schemers and the more energetic, rounded up 24 yoke of cattle on a clear night in January 1880, when the ground was covered with a heavily crusted snow, and with the aid of some stout timbers used as runners, hauled the church down hill to Wickford. Thus the Wickford element stole the church from the South Kingston people and settled the question forever.
The old church was used as the parish church until 1848 when the "new" St. Paul's Church was consecrated. From that time until the close of the 19th century the old church was neglected. A movement to restore the old church was started in 1885, and the building was finally restored in 1914.
In 1914, ownership of the Old Narragansett Church and grounds was transferred to the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. Worship continues at The Old Narragansett Church, with services each Sunday in July and August, and four Evensong services during the year. Schedule information is available by calling St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wickford: (401) 294-4357. The building is open to the public, and staffed by Docents, Thursday through Monday, 11 AM to 4 PM, in July and August. The church is also available for weddings.
The Old Narragansett Church is the oldest Episcopal church building north of the Potomac River. Among its interesting features are its box pews, Palladian windows, oversize reading desk, and old fashioned wine glass pulpit. The galleries, including the choir loft, were added in 1723, and are supported by six round pillars. The organ was built by Bernard Smith in England circa 1660, and it has been restored to this state by Richard Hedgebeth. It has 196 speaking pipes, all of wood. It is believed to be the oldest church organ in use for church services in the United States.
And this update about the organ from Richard Hedgebeth, restorer of the organ, received in September, 2013:
The information [above] on the organ reflects some early conclusions, current at the time of the installation of the organ at ONC. Many of my preliminary conclusions have proven to be inaccurate, and indeed of less interest than subsequent investigation.
Current state of research of the organ suggests: