While most students have never been inside and cannot tell you what the Oliver Watson House is, one Ph.D. student has dedicated her time to teaching others about the historic site.
Alanna Casey, one of the few students chosen to be a caretaker, has been residing and providing tours at the Oliver Watson House since the fall of 2013. While tours do not occur every day, Casey keeps a close eye on possible maintenance issues and the day-to-day workings of the home. Incidentally, this ended up benefiting Casey’s studies.
“My research for my Ph.D. is on climate change effects on historical sites, so this was a pretty good fit, [and a] pretty good match,” Casey said.
When Casey first applied to be a caretaker for the Oliver Watson House, she was working toward a dual master’s degree in history and a Ph.D. in marine affairs. Since then, she’s finished her master’s, but is still working toward a doctorate.
Although the house was built between 1792 and 1796, Casey said she’s not lacking modern day comforts and conveniences. The house does have electricity and heat throughout the house, but heat is a recent feature since Casey began living there. However, Casey said that living in an old house can still be “creepy,” despite all the updates.
“I can usually place most of the noises,” Casey said. “Every once and awhile there’s one that I can’t figure out for a while, and it’s a little creepy until I’m like ‘oh, that’s what that is.’”
The Oliver Watson House is a two-story home, featuring an additional one-story annex and a number of rooms and artifacts within it. Some of the home’s most important rooms were the hearth room, where the family would have gathered most of the time around an always burning fire, and the small, adjacent borning room, where family members were kept while they were sick or giving birth.
The home also has a formal parlor that would have been used for entertaining guests, as well as a formal dining room, which was rare for houses at the time, according to Casey. Upstairs are three bedrooms, one of which is used as a loom room.
According to Casey, the loom was donated by the late Weaver Rose, a famous Rhode Island weaver credited for bringing back many colonial blanket pattern designs and creating many of his own as well.
“Occasionally, it hasn’t happened in the past few years, but someone will come in from the textile department and weave on the loom,” Casey said. “It’s still functional. I’m hoping I can get someone to come in and do that at some point.”
Friend and archivist to Casey, Esme Rabin, said that her research into visual materials at the Oliver Watson House has brought them into close contact.
“She’s shown herself to be very dedicated to the running and upkeep of the house, working with the URI facilities team to maintain the historic house, reestablishing a heritage garden (with plants that would have been grown in its history by its residents), and offering tours and opening the house to students, faculty, and staff so that the history of the house can be shared with the URI community,” Rabin said. “Each time I’ve been there, she’s been doing something new to promote and preserve the history of the house, and I’m always impressed.”
Unfortunately, Casey broke her leg this past weekend while hiking (and had to be carried 5 miles out of the woods by her friends), so her work and living situations will be temporarily strained until she recovers. She said the worst part about being on crutches is that the bathroom and her bedroom are on separate floors.
For upcoming tours, Casey said she plans to explain the upstairs rooms to visitors on the lower level and explore the rest of the house themselves. Luckily, apart from a number of visitors for parent’s weekend, Casey has only had to give a handful of tours.
If you are interested in taking a tour of the Oliver Watson House, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for a schedule of upcoming tour options.