This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ledgers and land deeds

Last week I spent some more time at the RIHS Library. As well as having some interesting printed materials relating to the Arcade, they also have several feet of Arcade Company Records from 1829-1923.

These ledgers gave me an insight into the Arcade as business, as a source of revenue, as an investment. Lists and lists of names of stockholders filled the pages of one ledger as they signed off on paying for their shares and dividends. Many names re-appeared frequently; one that stood out because of his distinctive signature was Horatio Bassett. His signature was consistently larger than the others, and the ink was always darker for his name- maybe he pressed harder with the pen. Another of the ledgers documented the transfer of stocks and shares in the Arcade that were left to people in wills- as such, this ledger was full of death certificates.

In addition to the ledgers, the RIHS has a long box of loose and assorted manuscripts related to the Arcade, that have not yet been fully catalogued. There were some individual share certificates held by stockholders (1 share = $100). There were also 9 copies of a printed notice that must have been distributed to the tenants of the Arcade, dating from the 1890s. These 9 were blank, and must have been extras that were never used. Due to the photocopying policy of the RIHS, I opted to make a copy of it in my journal instead of photographing it:

Whether the "open yard" referred to was on the east or west side of the Arcade is hard to say, but if it was on the west side, that is the area that is now the alley way connecting Westminster Street to the parking lot and Tommy's Place. 

The box manuscript materials also contained the land deeds documenting the transfer of the lots that the Arcade was built on all the way back into the late eighteenth century. The Arcade was built on 4 lots of land- 2 that belonged to Cyrus Butler, and 2 that belonged to the Arcade Corporation. Cyrus Butler had purchased these 2 lots from the executor for the estate of WIlliam Lee in 1816 for a total of $3550. Unfortunately, it seems that when the lots were originally demarcated, a straight line was not among the dividers' priorities, and so an agreement from 6 May 1827 between Butler and the Arcade Corporation states the following: the present dividing line between the two said lots, owned by the said Cyrus Butler, & the two said lots, owned by the said Providence Arcade Company, is not...perfectly straight, &, consequently, not so convenient as it may be rendered;-- In order, therefore, to remedy that inconvenience, & to establish a perfectly straight line between the said lots, which is to be the center of the Arcade, to be erected...that the dividing line aforesaid shall be established by drawing a straight line...

A year and a half later, a land deed from November 2 1829 confirms the straightening of the (said) line:

...a straight line, beginning at the centre of the northerly Portico of the said Arcade building, on the southerly line of Westminster Street and extending through the centre on the main avenue of said Building to the centre of the southerly Portico thereof, on the northerly line of Weybosset Street...

In terms of thinking about what existed in the area before the Arcade was built, the west side of the river was not very built up at all, with mostly residential rather than commercial structures. Of the two lots bought by Cyrus Butler, both are described in the deeds as containing "a dwelling house and other improvements thereon"- a stock phrase used repeatedly in deeds that does not tell us too much about those buildings. The deed books do reveal, however, that the widow of William Lee, Anstis Lee, had right of use and occupation of the dwelling house on the second lot until she relinquished the land to Cyrus Butler in 1816.

So far I have not come across any documents that provide visual information about what these buildings might have looked like, but a place to start would be maps from pre-1828 that record building footprints. From research I have done for previous projects, I know that these are hard to come by-- building footprints did not start to be recorded consistently until later in the nineteenth century, but I will re-visit some of these early maps to take a look at what they have to offer.

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