Clingstone - Off The Grid And On The Rocks For $3600.00
Categories: Life Stories
An early sketch of the house. Mr. Wood is as proud as any parent of his house, and keeps a fat scrapbook of photographs and newspaper clippings that document its best moments.
Many of the historic photos he has were provided by the company that insured the house for its original owners.
The Newport Bridge is visible from the windows of the Ping-Pong room, to the left of the fireplace.
Working with an artist, William Trost Richards, Mr. Wharton designed a shingle-style house of picture windows, with 23 rooms on three stories radiating off a vast central hall; its plan is less a blueprint than a diagram of arrows indicating sightlines.
He built it like a mill, Mr. Wood said, with wide planking, sturdy oak beams, diagonal sheathing and an odd flourish: an interior cladding of shingles, put there, Mr. Wood conjectured, because Fort Wetherill’s cannons went off so regularly in training exercises that they cracked the plaster in the neighbors’ houses.
Those neighbors, it seems, were skeptical of Mr. Wharton’s project. A society item in The Philadelphia Press in August 1904 reads, “Everyone is of the opinion here that Mr. Wharton will not stay in the house more than one season, and they say one nor’easter will settle it.” But Mr. Wharton loved his new house, and spent every summer there until his death just before the hurricane of 1938, which the house survived with little damage.
After his widow died, in 1941, the house stood empty until Mr. Wood and his wife came upon it. The story, Mr. Wood said, is that Mr. Wharton’s three sons disliked one another so much, they couldn’t agree on who to sell it to. “I think they only sold it to me because I was a relative,” he added.
The house is maintained by an ingenious method: the Clingstone work weekend. Held every year around Memorial Day, it brings 70 or so friends and Clingstone lovers together to tackle jobs like washing all 65 of the windows. Anne Tait, who is married to Mr. Wood's son Dan, refinished the kitchen floor on one of her first work weekends.
Every spring for a decade or so after the sale, Mr. Wood said, he cursed “this albatross,” his roofless, windowless, floorless, powerless, waterless house. Wrangling what had been a rich man’s plaything, attended by servants and even its own shipyard, into a working couple’s weekend getaway turned out to be much more than a working couple could handle. Eventually, though, as the Woods mustered the talents of their friends, Clingstone and its maintenance evolved into a communal lifestyle, and ultimately a kind of religion.
Mr. Wood is now as proud as any parent of his house, and keeps a fat scrapbook of photographs and newspaper clippings that document its best moments. He has been known to buttonhole strangers on planes who express a knowledge of Rhode Island and say, ‘I think you know my house,’ and then fall silent, waiting for them to exclaim: The house on the rock! Once, he persuaded an airline pilot on a commuter flight from New York City to Boston to alter course to the east so the plane would fly directly over Clingstone.