History of South County Museum
Founded in 1933, South County Museum was originally housed in a barn in Wickford, R.I., and after two more moves it eventually arrived at its present location in Canonchet Farm, a 174-acre public park owned by the town of
Narragansett. The Museum is an independent nonprofit organization funded through donations, grants and admissions.
Today the collections contain more than 20,000 items. They date from pre-European settlement to the 1950s. The main exhibit building, the Metz Exhibit Hall, was built in 1987 and the Carpentry Shop, Blacksmith Forge, and the Carriage Barn somewhat later, along with the small building, now the One-Room Schoolhouse, nestled between the Forge and the Barn. The grounds include the Living History Farm, featuring a heritage flock of Rhode Island Reds, the official state bird.
Canonchet Farm was the home of the 12th governor of Rhode Island, Col. William Sprague, and his wife Kate Chase, daughter of Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. Their 66-room mansion, which the Spragues named Canonchet after the grandnephew of Canonicus, the last great Narragansett Indian sachem (chief), was located adjacent to the present Museum property.
The mansion burned to the ground on October 11, 1909, after an ember escaped from one of its many fireplaces. Little survives from the Sprague era except the Robinson cemetery (a small family plot near the Museum’s entrance ), the stone ruins of the Sprague stables (which burned in 1950), a few tiles unearthed in 2003 during the construction of a nearby home, and a rather odd grandfather clock imported from Paris. The Visitors Center, thought to have been an icehouse, remains from that period. The Caretaker’s Cottage also dates from the Sprague period and was lived in or used by Gov. Sprague’s employees.