While driving in Westerly one day I discovered a “Lanphere Road” running between Beach Street (Route 1A) and the Pawcatuck River. It’s near the River Bend Cemetery. I was curious about whether that could be the approximate location of my last Westerly ancestor, Russell Lanphere Sr., born 1776, and his parents, Daniel and Nancy Lanphere. Locating Daniel and Nancy in Westerly might be a first step in finding the path of his descent from early Westerly resident George Lanphere.
I had previously investigated Daniel’s Westerly, Rhode Island deeds.
What the Deeds Told Me
My ggggg-grandfather Daniel Lanphere owned a farm in Westerly. He bought and sold various parts of it over his lifetime.
From Westerly Land Evidences, v. 13, p. 361, entered July 5th, 1808 (written just before Daniel’s death):
- “a certain tract of land situate in Westerly … containing … about sixty acres, the farm by me now improved”
- “bounded as follows, to wit. On the North by land belonging to David Lamphere, on the East by land belonging to Maxson Lamphere and land belonging to John Tefft on the South by the highway which heads from Pawcatuck bridge on the west by land belonging to Nicholas Vincent of New York.”
- “premises with the buildings thereon standing and all the appurtenances thereunto belonging”
I have seen some suggestions that Daniel owned some of the original George Lanphere property allocated at the time the town was founded in the 1660’s, but haven’t been able to find evidence of that yet. I do have evidence that in 1669 George Lanphere possessed Lot 32 (contact me for the citation) but I have never seen a map plotting those original lots.
What the Map Told Me
Looking at a modern map one is struck by some of the streets surrounding Lanphere Road which are named for the early Westerly settlers; names that I saw over and over in the Westerly land records: Clark, Greenman, State. This gives me the idea this area was settled early.
“The road that leads to the Pawcatuck Bridge” could be some version of what is today Route 1A, Elm Street/Beach Street or, obviously, an earlier iteration of the road. Today the bridge is in the middle of downtown, separating Westerly from Pawcatuck. It looks like the narrowest spot, and from the scanty evidence I’ve found, I think it was always in the same place.
A Visit to the Street
I visited Lanphere Road this week. As you can see on the map, the road ends at the river.
The area has a few older houses amongst more modern houses, but my husband said when he was a kid, it was mostly woods.
There were mid-20th century houses, and perhaps a few earlier, on Lanphere Road. Nothing looked very old … not that I expected to see my ancestors’ modest dwelling that was probably not new in 1810. The only thing that really struck me was that it would seem impossible to describe land in this area without mentioning the Pawcatuck River. And I did not remember any mention of the river itself in those deeds. And one other thing, when I returned home and studied the map: how could Beach Road road EVER make the south border of a property? It runs north/south.
Looking for Old Maps
I visited the Rhode Island Historical Society to see what older Westerly maps they might have. They had one from 1850 that covered the downtown (“village”) area only. They had a Beers’ atlas containing maps of each town in Rhode Island from 1870; I cannot reproduce that Westerly map here but it can be nicely viewed at HistoricMapWorks.com.
I talked to the librarian (which is always advisable when looking for maps at the RIHS; some cataloging of the maps is still ongoing). She asked if I had consulted Westerly and Its Witnesses by Frederick Denison (1878). I explained there were no Westerly maps in the book. She pointed out that my ancestor’s property might have been described. I knew it wasn’t, specifically, but the idea stuck with me to check it over again carefully. I read that book a long time ago.
Putting the Pieces Together … of Granite?
It was a string of clues in Westerly and Its Witnesses that ended up helping me.
First clue: A Lanphear cemetery on property owned by N.F. Dixon
A chapter on “Grave-Yards and Graves” listed a Lanphear cemetery described as follows:
Lanphear Ground (2). This is located on the pasture land of the Hon. N. F. Dixon, on the southwest slope of Cormorant Hill, about midway between the residence of Rev. A.B. Burdick and Lanphear Hollow, and within view from the Potter Hill Road.
I suspected right away the name “N.F. Dixon” had somehow survived most of the 19th century. A Nathan F. Dixon (in 1810) was the purchaser of all of Daniel Lanphere’s property. His name was mentioned over and over again in the deeds. I went looking for him, and I learned that Westerly resident Nathan Fellows Dixon was at one time a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, and his son and grandson, with the identical name, also had successful political careers. The eldest Nathan Dixon, an attorney, moved to Westerly around 1802, according to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. It only makes sense that he would purchase local property as he established himself in Westerly.
Nathan Dixon appeared several times on the 1870 map, and one of the locations was near “Rev. A. B. Burdick” and Potter Hill Road, although I have never located anything called “Lanphear Hollow” or “Cormorant Hill.” I checked the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries site and it claims the Clark-Lamphear cemetery is on Route 3, Ashaway Road, “50 feet N of telephone pole #6248″. I will check that out in the future; most historic cemeteries have a marker. The N.F. Dixon property could, at one time, have had a southern border of the “road leading to the Pawcatuck Bridge.” The “Potter Hill Road” location for the cemetery confused me, but perhaps “High Street” had previously been part of Potter Hill Road.
This was my idea after the first clue:
The second clue: finding landmarks that ARE on the 1870 map, in this case, granite quarries.
There was another cemetery description in Westerly and Its Witnesses that led me to investigate quarries:
AUSTIN GROUND: A few rods northeast from the Lanphear Ground, across the path leading to the quarry on Cormorant Hill …
OK, now we have a mention of “Cormorant Hill” as the site of a quarry.
The third clue: I looked for more information on the quarries and found them in the 1870 map.
One quarry was described as “opened by Mr. Jonathan Lamphear and Mr. Ephraim Lamphear on Cormorant Hill, north of Lamphear Hollow.” While it is not on the map (I believe it may have been opened AFTER 1870), based on the quarry locations preceding this one, it could easily be in the location I mapped, above.
One of the quarries was on “Vincent Hill” – there is a good chance this was named for the neighbor mentioned in the deeds, Dr. Vincent (Dr. Vincent had come from New York, and was likely the first Vincent in Westerly). The location of Vincent Hill (that quarry WAS on the map) is near one of the “N.L. Dixon” spots marked on the map. Knowing Dr. Vincent was to the west of Daniel Lanphere, and the road was to the south, I can now narrow down the property location.
I now feel fairly confident that Daniel Lanphere’s property was here:
My husband will be surprised when he sees this map. When I met him, he was living a block away from there.
I would like to find evidence of Cormorant Hill, and Lamphear Hollow, to clarify this further. The only clue that is NOT matching is that Potter Hill Road should be near the cemetery; however “High Street” (sometimes called “Upper High Street”) could have been part of Potter Hill Road at an earlier time.
I have to say good-bye to Lanphere Road. George Lanphere and two of his sons had original lots in Westerly in 1669: George had #32, Richard Lanphere had #11, and Shadrack Lanphere had #24 (contact me for this citation). Perhaps Lanphere Road originally belonged to one of those sons.
One New Connection
Westerly and Its Witnesses mentioned that there were about forty ancient unmarked graves in the Clark-Lanphear Cemetery. It also listed six grave markers that were readable; among them, graves for Capt. Clark Lanphear and wife Wealthy, and second wife Keturah.
Hmm, Clark and Keturah Lanphear? Why did I recognize those names? Oh that’s right. I have their son Reuben’s family bible sitting right beside me on the table. But that’s a story for another day.
- Use this valuable Westerly Deed index on USGenWeb to identify Westerly deeds I would like to see.
- Check out other Westerly maps by consulting a librarian at the Westerly Public Library.
- Look for more information about the original lots, and settler George Lanphere’s lot #32, and what happened to that.
- Pursue the hunt for “Lanphear Hollow” and “Cormorant Hill.”
- If necessary, use further resources about the Westerly granite industry to pin down the location of the Lanphere quarry.
- Finish the blog post about the Lanphear family bible.
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