House For Sale: A Visit With the Rhode Island Lady Who Knows Everybody
We’ve lived heah fo-evah,” our longtime friend Carol Dugan told us when we first met in 1987, mimicking the proverbial “RhoDisland” accent that isn’t particularly apparent in her normal speech. And, yes, Carol is a true native, having grown up in Warwick, lived along the western shore of Narragansett Bay all her life, married (no longer) a man who ran a family jewelry business (how Rhode Island is that?), raised her two now-grown daughters in Rhode Island, and her family goes back many generations in the Ocean State.
Today, she still plays tennis almost every day–she was once ranked #1 in New England–and now particularly enjoys her five grandchildren. And because she knows everybody and everything going on in Rhode Island, she’s the person we call upon when we feel the urge to mosey into her world along the Bay.
“I do have a few properties you might want to see,” she said on the telephone recently, and within a week we were introduced to her constant companion, Katy (a poodle), in her office on Tower Hill Road in South Kingstown.
The first property she described to us was an 85-acre Girl Scout camp, complete with lodge, boathouse, docks, and so on, that’s been closed for three years. It was called Camp Nokewa, and it’s on Carr Pond, just outside the village of Saunderstown and right next to 23 forested acres that are part of one of our favorite historic places to visit, the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace & Museum, open from early May through mid-October. (If you’re not sure exactly why Gilbert Stuart is important in American history, take a look at the genuine Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington that you’re carrying around in your wallet!) She went on to say that The Nature Conservancy recently purchased Camp Nokewa and has plans to tear down most of the buildings and convert the property to a nature preserve with walking trails, picnic area, and so forth.
“So how might we figure into all that?” we wanted to know. Well, she said, it so happens that the Conservancy people decided that the home and guest cottage, used by the camp director’s family in season and the caretaker year-round, were way too nice to tear down for nature trails. So they’ve carved out almost two acres there on the water, with the home, the guest cottage, a dock, and a small outbuilding, and are offering it to some lucky family who’d like total privacy while still having easy access to ocean beaches, schools, and so on, for $595,000.
Of course we had to see it. So with Katy scrunched down on Carol’s lap while she drove, we were soon turning off Gilbert Stuart Road, a few hundred yards down from the entrance to the museum, onto a long, winding dirt driveway, with the Nature Conservancy forest on our left, the Gilbert Stuart forest on our right, until we arrived at the lakeside home and guest cottage. It’s a lovely, serene, silent setting within a few feet of the water. The main house, now empty of furniture, has three bedrooms, a dining room, a family room, kitchen, decks, a nice fireplace, lots of windows, an oil-fired heating system, a good septic system, and an artesian well. The guest cottage, located about 10 feet away, has a couple of bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a living room facing out to the pond. All in all, it’s a wonderful spot for a family with young children.
Speaking of kids, our next destination with Carol that same day turned out to have the reputation of being an absolute heaven for young children … oh, and grandchildren, too. It’s called Plum Beach, which is a little coastal community of older-style homes north of Saunderstown, mostly year-round, overlooking a lovely beach on Narragansett Bay. During the summer months, about 75 children take tennis and swimming lessons, lunch with their parents at an old-fashioned-style “club,” and run free with their dogs around what’s sort of like a gated community without an actual gate.
“Plum Beach is Rhode Island’s best-kept secret,” said Carol as we drove slowly along tree-shaded streets, avoiding occasional golf carts (which almost everyone buzzes around in), as she pointed out no fewer than six homes currently on the market, ranging in price from $379,000 (an attractive three-bedroom cottage on a small lot) to $2,700,000 (an absolute wow with guest cottage and three waterfront acres).
At one point, after passing the tennis courts, we were particularly taken with a white Victorian cottage above an expansive lawn, surrounded by beautiful trees and gardens. “That’s my house,” said Carol. “I’ve lived there for more than 32 years, but now that my girls are elsewhere, it’s a little more house than I need.” In other words, Carol’s beautiful home is for sale, too. Price: $795,000. We loved it–particularly the fabulous solar room/greenhouse off one end.