Clingstone - Off The Grid And On The Rocks For $3600.00


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Categories: Life Stories

“THIS house is always going to have rough edges,” said Henry Wood, resting his frayed sneakers on a splintered pillar. “It’s never going to look like the Breakers.”

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Clingstone, an unusual, 103-year-old mansion in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay, survives through the love and hard work of family and friends.  Be sure to watch the fabulous video on page 4 of this series.

It was another indecently beautiful day at Clingstone — a faded, shingled and, yes, very rough 103-year-old mansion set on a rock in Narragansett Bay — and Mr. Wood, its owner, was musing on what the place is not: specifically, that grander turn-of-the century folly in nearby Newport, a limestone-and-gilt palace built by a Vanderbilt in 1895.

But in fact it’s the rough edges and salt-encrusted surfaces that Mr. Wood, a 79-year-old Boston architect, treasures most about Clingstone. For nearly half a century, he has kept them (more or less) intact, and the house standing, through his own hard labor and that of others. He and a crew of family and friends who share his passion for the place’s “deep bohemian funk,” as Nicholas Benson, a stone carver from Newport, put it, have dedicated their time and skills (plumbing and wiring experience are always particularly welcome) to keeping the place from slipping into the water forever.

In 1961, when Mr. Wood bought the house with his ex-wife Joan, who is also an architect, for $3,600, it had been empty for two decades. All of its 65 windows were smashed, and its slate roof was wide open to the sky. Vandals had been creative: on the second floor, the interior shingles were embedded with marbles (they still are), which had been blasted there by some sort of firearm.

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Henry Wood, the owner, runs the house like a camp: all skilled workers welcome. The Jamestown Boatyard hauls the family's boats and floating dock and stores them each winter in return for a week's use of the house in the summer.

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Mr. Wood, a 79-year-old Boston architect, bought the house with his ex-wife Joan in 1961 for $3,600. It had been empty for two decades.

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Clingstone had been built by a distant cousin, J.S. Lovering Wharton. Mr. Wharton worked with an artist, William Trost Richards, to create a house of picture windows with 23 rooms on three stories radiating off a vast central hall.

On three sides, four-by-eight-foot plywood signs proclaimed: “For Sale. See Any Broker.” “So we did see any broker,” Mr. Wood said. “And he told us the owners were asking $5,000 but they’d take much, much less.”

The house, he learned, had been built by a distant cousin, J. S. Lovering Wharton, from Philadelphia, who had a summer house in the Fort Wetherill area in south Jamestown. (Newport tended to attract New York society; Philadelphians summered in quieter Jamestown.) When the fort was enlarged at the end of the 1800s, the government seized his land, and Clingstone was his rebuke, Mr. Wood said. “He said, ‘I’m going to build where no one can bother me.’ ”

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The total cost of the construction, which was completed in 1905, was $36,982.99.

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