Our nation’s smallest state is studded with landmarks with jaw-dropping pedigrees. One West Greenwich gem known as “Kit’s Tavern,” built around 1740, just sold through Coldwell Banker Realty by Tony Verdi, Associate Broker, offering a fascinating window into colonial life. The tavern was built along the Old New London Turnpike, the main route between Providence and New London, Connecticut and one of the first interstate highways in the United States. History has passed by Kit’s Tavern again and again on this busy and prominent road, and now the tavern has found its next steward.
The Kit Matteson House began its life as a farmhouse built by Silas Matteson. His son Christopher (Kit) transformed the house into a tavern during the Revolutionary War, providing travelers with “Entertainment for Man and Horse” well into the 19th century. Two stone fireplaces – one hidden in a small pantry – furnished food and drink for guests, who could dine in the main dining room or the private meeting room on the second floor. Legend has it that many of Rhode Island’s notables dined and drank and trod the wide-plank floorboards.
Captivating traces of the tavern remain in the Matteson House today. Magnificent wooden beams crown nearly every ceiling. The seams connecting Kit’s spacious addition to the main house – likely home to the tavern’s bar – are still visible in the living spaces. Hand-painted wall art, an early American craft, graces several walls: floral motifs and painted trompe l’oeil wood grain paneling reflect the Matteson family’s wealth and status. Wall painting was practiced by traveling craftsmen using the materials available to them: natural pigments derived from native plants and minerals, unusual paint mediums such as milk, and stencils made from leather and tin. It’s rare to see this vernacular art so well preserved.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Matteson House is its tasteful renovation: the house is eminently livable and tailored to modern taste without losing its period charm. Set on more than two acres, with expansive flowering gardens and an in-ground pool (not period appropriate, but a definite perk!), the house’s three bedrooms and two baths are meant to host a lively crowd again. Owning an old home such as this fosters a distinct sense of historic perspective: its new owners join a long line of Rhode Islanders who love this unique property.
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