Quaker Lane (1975—1984)
The new museum building was built on the west side of Quaker Lane, near the intersection of Quaker Lane (Route 2) and Stony Lane, by Grinnell Phillips, contractors, under the direction of John Ward, Museum President. The cost of the new building was $63,000 (about $299,000 in today’s dollars). It was opened to the public in May of 1975. The building design was patterned after the Charlestown Gift Barn, Charlestown, RI (still in existence and located just west of Route 1 in Charlestown). The exterior lettering was hand-made using sixteenth century Bookman typeface. The ground floor of the new building was constructed largely of cement block, making it more fireproof, with a second floor loft made of timber. The building was topped with a gambrel roof.
The ground floor housed the heavier artifacts: transportation, blacksmithing, farming, and other “manly pursuits” while the upper level housed dresses, weaving and sewing apparatus, children’s toys, and furniture. Admission in 1975: adults, one dollar, children, fifty cents. “Touch, try, feel!” was the mantra put forward by Director Peter Crolius. Crolius’ vision was for a “…museum not only as a center of historical interest for Rhode Island, but also as an important contributor in the fields of entertainment, recreation, and education.” During Crolius’ tenure, a large variety of Historical Skills Workshops were offered, sometimes with content diverging from the original South County Museum mission of preserving and teaching crafts from RI history. A sampling of offerings included: Forgotten Rhode Island (lost aspects of early RI culture, tours of “forgotten South County historical sites”); authentic miniature houses—doll house construction; all season backpacking; how to start and operate an antique shop; scrimshaw; chair reseating; beginning letterpress printing; leather craft; spinning and dyeing; whittling and carving; doll and soft toy making; quilting; rug braiding; silver jewelry; jewelry from found objects; basketry; Taaniko jewelry; four-harness weaving; dulcimer-making; stained glass; calligraphy; furniture refinishing; and furniture restoration.
In the mid-1970s, the Museum Trustees decided to sell the remaining two acre Scrabbletown property containing the farmhouse and surrounding outbuildings that had been retained by the Museum after moving to their new location on Quaker Lane. It was also decided that the Museum’s collection contained a number of surplus items. Surplus artifacts were first offered to other historical organizations. The remaining surplus was to be offered at auction, including several carriages, vehicle parts, and a two-seated sleigh. The Museum did not have adequate or appropriate space to store books, and these were given away as a good-will gesture. Other items would be given away for public relations purposes.
In 1976, a pole barn for outdoor events and activities (aka the “Barn-on-the-Hill”) was built on an adjoining five acre field near the main museum building. Agway, Inc. was the contractor. Not only was the pole barn used for Museum events, but it was also rented to the public for community events, providing an additional much-needed source of revenue.
The success of the new South County Museum continued at this location until the Rhode Island State Department of Transportation extended Route 4 through North Kingstown. The Route 4 extension would pass through a corner of Museum property and would directly affect the Museum building. It was originally thought that the Museum building could be moved to a better location, but, unfortunately, because the first floor was constructed of cement block and concrete, it proved impossible to move. Several new sites were considered: Canonchet Farm in Narragansett, Smith’s Castle in North Kingstown, Casey Farm in North Kingstown, Charlestown Gift Barn in Charlestown, and Paul Lischio’s proposed South County Village, near the corners of Routes 4 and 102 in North Kingstown. Ultimately, it was decided that Canonchet Farm should be the Museum’s new location. The Museum’s collection of approximately 10,000 artifacts was relocated to Canonchet in 1984 and the Stony Lane building was condemned and demolished.