Asa Potter House in Kingston, Rhode Island | House For Sale
Yankee Plus Dec 2015
TABLE OF CONTENTS
George Washington slept here. So did Marilyn Munro and her husband, Joe. No, not Joe DiMaggio. Sorry. We’re referring to Joe Munro (with a “u” and no “e”), current owner of the historically important Asa Potter House.
The house is on Kingstown Road in the village of Kingston, which is part of South Kingstown, Rhode Island. And, yes, Joe and his wife, Marilyn — whose parents in 1936 became only the second family to own this house since 1739 — were married for many years, had three sons (now with families of their own), and had lots of laughs over their names.
Actually, many years ago, their names briefly made them world-famous. It seems that their son Jay came into the world in the backseat of a car — Marilyn’s mother’s brand-new Olds — hastily pulled over at the corner of Dean and Fountain streets in Providence. When the police filed their report of this unexpected but happy event, the Providence Journal got wind of it (and got the story slightly wrong). Their headline: “Baby Boy Born to Marilyn Munro and Joe in a Taxi in Downtown Providence.” The Associated Press picked it up, and within a day it had gone worldwide.
We laughed about all of this last spring while sipping coffee in front of the brick fireplace in the kitchen, located in the comparatively small “old” part of the Asa Potter House, built in 1739, as opposed to the “new,” much larger part, built in 1820. Across from us were Joe, now 78 and living alone — Marilyn passed away last year — and one of his sons, Chip (born in a hospital elevator), a well-known former restaurateur and currently a real-estate agent. Chip will continue to live in the Asa Potter House with his wife, Heather, and a grown son, Chip Jr., until it’s sold.
The Munros are asking $649,000, which seemed a bargain to us, especially when you consider the historical significance of the place, the excellent restoration work (currently nearing completion), the value of its one acre (including a separate building lot in back) in Kingston, and, well, simply the charm of this four-bedroom Georgian. It has two and a half fully restored, modern bathrooms; five lovely old fireplaces; a kitchen (old but up to date equipment-wise, including custom oak butcher-block counters); a sunny living room with impressive woodwork and moldings (seen throughout the house); and a dining room with French doors opening onto a wrap-around porch.
The expansive lawn is filled with old trees, including a huge horse chestnut, and lined with old-time granite hitching posts. And the widow’s walk railing all around the main roof area is truly charming. Although they probably wouldn’t be included in the asking price, the home’s dozens of 19th-century photographs of Indians and cowboys, collected by Marilyn’s grandfather and only recently discovered in the house, are alone worth many thousands of dollars. (Maybe that’s something to dicker over.)
When we discuss the historical importance of the Asa Potter House, we’re not referring only to its age or even to the prominence of the many generations of Potters — lawyers, legislators, ministers, teachers, and physicians — who lived within these walls, followed more recently by Marilyn’s parents, Dr. Charles and Marie Fish, and their family. We’re talking about the man who, more than anyone, succeeded in winning our independence from Great Britain five years after we declared it in July 1776. You see, on the night of March 5, 1781, none other than George Washington slept in the old part of the Asa Potter House, probably within a few feet of where we were drinking our coffee with Joe and Chip. And surely he must have visited the now fully restored three-holer out back.
Why was he in Kingston? Well, he was traveling with some of his officers and his personal slave, William Lee, from New Windsor, New York, on the Hudson River, to Newport, Rhode Island. He was to meet with the Comte de Rochambeau in hopes of convincing him to commit the French army to the fight against the British. Of course, we all know the French did, indeed, play a crucial role in General Washington’s victory at Yorktown, Virginia, six months later.
Some accounts maintain that General Washington may have slept in a different building, referred to as a tavern, on the corner of the Asa Potter House property. But searches have uncovered no evidence of a building’s ever having been there. Besides, we have a historical witness: Elizabeth Potter, the 11-year-old daughter of Thomas Potter, the home’s owner at that time. For the rest of her life, Elizabeth enjoyed remembering Washington’s visit. “General Washington came to my father’s house [and] took me on his knee,” she once wrote. She went on to describe his uniform as “patched at the elbows and all the American officers badly clothed.”
Marilyn’s mother liked to say that not only had George Washington slept in their house but that he also had had his hair cut there. She was hopeful, she would say, of “finding one of his curls” someday. Historians don’t buy that, however, although they do admit that Washington was shaved in the house next door (still there) by a William “Major” Lunt, a barber who forever after told his customers that they were “being shaved by the same razor that had been applied to the face of General George Washington.” That rings true, and we believe Elizabeth Potter’s account, too. But we doubt Marilyn’s mother was ever going to find one of Washington’s curls. Anyway, didn’t he wear a wig?
Nonetheless, if you’re a member of the lucky third family to own the Asa Potter House and you’re rummaging around the two-room shed out back, or maybe behind a wall in the two newly restored rooms on the second floor of the old section — once the “servants’ quarters” and now a laundry and a potential office, both with overhead beams and exposed floorboards — you might keep an eye out for a few hairs.