A haunted history: Northern RI stops attract crowds of the curious, Part I

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Editor’s note: The below content is the first installment of a series on local ghost stories, offered as part of our Fall Guide . A printable pdf of the complete guide is available here, and can be accessed through the “Fall” tab above, where it will remain through October 31.

With structures that hold centuries of history, it should be no surprise that the farmhouses, former mills, taverns and abandoned buildings of northern Rhode Island have spawned more than a fair share of ghost stories, including some that have attracted national attention. 

While skeptics may doubt the legends of hauntings and otherworldly visitors, believers continue to flock to the sites with cameras in hand in hopes to catch a glimpse of unexplained phenomenon. 

Whether true, imagined, exaggerated or simply made up, the reality is these stories will likely always draw curiosity, especially as the days grow darker in northern Rhode Island. 

Because let’s face it: silly or not, the search for something unexplained can be a lot of fun. 

To that end, our goal here is neither to confirm or debunk the tales of sightings, myths and ghost-laden rumors, but to lay out the history and legend surrounding the properties, and let readers use the information as they choose. We only ask that those who visit respect the law and the neighborhood – and get permission from private property owners as needed.       

We can’t guarantee a ghostly experience, but with a little luck, you may get the chance to learn something new about northern Rhode Island, or to patronize a business as you explore its unique history. 

Keep your scares local this season – and test the legends – at these notoriously ghostly stops.

Tavern on Main

Where: 1157 Putnam Pike, Chepachet

The legend: Paranormal researchers have called this village restaurant the most haunted spot in Rhode Island and some claim the place is crawling with strange activity. Former owner Jedidiah Sprague is said to haunt the building, and patrons and staff have reported seeing a woman sitting in the back booth. The ghost of a little boy has been spotted near the ladies’ room and near the oven, and ghosts are sometimes seen sitting in or lingering around the “King’s Chair.” Some say the list of ghosts to frequent Tavern on Main could even include historical figure Thomas Dorr.

The history: The restaurant was built in the early 1700’s, and was originally a two and a half story colonial dwelling. And in 1842, it hosted one of the most controversial political upheavals in Rhode Island’s history. 

Dorr, a well respected lawyer and Chepachet resident, was elected Rhode Island governor that year, but incumbent governor, Samuel King refused to step down. Dorr called the state general assembly to convene in the tavern on July 4 that year, prompting King to order a general call to arms. The conflict that followed saw Dorr’s troops withdraw before King’s forces arrived to do battle. King and his men fired into the front door of the building and patron Horace Bordeen was struck in the thigh. Sprague, tavernkeeper at the time, was forced to submit to King’s troops and allow them lodging. 

The occupation of troops continued throughout the summer, much to Spargue’s dismay. One 1844 volume states that the troops consumed 37 gallons of brandy, 29 gallons of West India Rum, 34 flasks of liquor, dozens of bottles of old Madeira and Sherry, 12 dozen bottles of Champagne, and two dozen bottles of cider. The group used 820 bushels of oats, 17 tons of hay, 50 bushels of corn, 16 bushels of meal, and a quarter ton of straw. Some 2,400 dinners were served, and soldiers smoked 11,500 cigars. Sprague reportedly never collected a penny for the bill.

Get there: If you visit for the ghosts, you will likely return for the food as the popular restaurant now offers a wide array of seafood, chicken, beef and pasta dishes. The menu features a martini list along with a selection of wine and beer. Owned by the Lumnah family, the business still features an atmosphere suited to the1800s, and is open Wednesday and Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 8:30 p.m; Sundays from 1 to 7:30 p.m. and closed on Mondays.

The Farm on Round Top Road

Where: 1677 Round Top Road, Harrisville 

The legend: The house that inspired the 2013 hit horror movie The Conjuring is “likely the most haunted house in America,” at least according to the current owners. Described by former resident Andrea Perron as “a portal cleverly disguised as a farmhouse,” the property now attracts ghost hunters from across the globe, hosting regular investigations in recent years, including televised events and movies. Some have said the farmhouse was the site of several murders and suicides, and haunted by Bathsheba Sherman, a woman born in 1812 and related to Mary Towne Eastey, who was executed for witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  

The history: Built in 1736 and known as the Arnold Estate, the house was never actually Sherman’s home according to historians who have sought to clear her name. Famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren visited in the 1970s, and it was their reports that would later inspire the hit film, along with accounts from members of the Perron family, who lived there at the time. Residents who owned the property from the late 1980s until recent years ran a daycare in the house, and have said they did not experience anything unusual. Local historians have also disputed the reports of murders and suicides, stating that none actually happened at the house. Members of the Perron family continue to say otherwise, as do the current occupants.

Get there: Cory and Jennifer Heinzen, paranormal investigators from Maine, purchased the property in 2019, and now offer tours along with overnight stays. As of September, overnight investigations were booked through the end of 2022, One hour day tours, meanwhile, remain available, and are offered at a cost of $25. Book yours at https://theconjuringhouse.com.

The “vampire grave”

Where: The Union Cemetery Annex

The legend: The epitaph on an old gravestone reads, “Altho’ consumption’s vampire grasp had seized thy mortal frame, thy ardent and inspiring mind, untouched, remained the same.” Some believe Rhode Island was notorious for such vampires, pointing to stories like those of Nancy Young, a Foster woman whose body was reportedly burned on a pyre in 1847, and Mercy Brown, whose corpse was exhumed in Exeter in 1892 in order to perform rituals to banish an undead manifestation. 

The history:  The grave belongs to Simon Whipple Aldrich, the son of Dexter Aldrich, a banker who owned a farm in Smithfield, and Margery (Smith) Aldrich, whose family came to Massachusetts in 1630. His brother, Cyrus Aldrich, was a popular Congressional representative from Minnesota and a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s. Aldrich is believed to have served in the military as an ensign. He died in 1841 at the age 26 or 27. Historians have speculated the word, “vampire” is a figure of speech for the condition of consumption, known today as tuberculosis, a illness that causes flushed cheeks, bright eyes, fever, loss of appetite, and a cough.  

Get there: To the left of the larger and better-known Union Cemetery on Smithfield Road, the Annex is actually several historic cemeteries that occupy three acres between Union Cemetery and Buell Avenue. The North Smithfield Heritage Association often offers tours of the town’s historic cemeteries and is always looking for more help with cleaning the facilities. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/northsmithfieldheritage.

                                                                                                                                                       

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