Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Will Build My House Upon A Rock And Call It Clingstone!

One of my favorite bible verses is from Matthew 7:24 and says: "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:"  I once saw a television show about a man who did just that....built his house upon a rock....and anyone who’s ever sailed out of Newport, RI or driven over the Newport Bridge will recognize the the house on the rock in the photo below.
When we were in Newport last weekend and looking for a lighthouse you can imagine how thrilled I was to turn toward the Inn and see Clingstone, the house on the rock.  When I got home and told people about seeing this house several of my friends had no idea what I was talking about.  So I decided to spend a little time and research the house and blog about it.  The New York times was most helpful.  Believe me....if you ever go to Newport....and don't see anything else (which would be crazy) you MUST see this.  Clingstone was built in 1905 at the cost of $36,982.99, the house was basically abandoned in 1941, and then purchased by Mr. Wood in 1961 for $3,500 in derelict condition. With 23 rooms and 10 bedrooms, life on the rock is not exactly luxury.Through a great deal of hard work today, solar panels heat the water, and a wind turbine on the roof generates electricity. Rainwater is collected in a 3,000-gallon cistern, then filtered, treated and pumped through the house for cleaning purposes only. After years of using an activated seawater system that draws in seawater, then treats and filters the waste before releasing it back into the ocean, Clingstone now has the latest generation of composting toilets.  Clingstone is honestly a faded, shingled and, yes, very rough 103-year-old mansion set on a rock in Narragansett Bay just off Newport, RI.  For nearly half a century, the current owner, Mr. Wood, has kept the house (more or less) intact, and the house is still standing, through his own hard labor and that of others. He and a crew of family and friends who share his passion for the place’s “deep bohemian funk,”  have dedicated their time and skills (plumbing and wiring experience are always particularly welcome) to keeping the place from slipping into the water forever.  In 1961, when Mr. Wood bought the house with his ex-wife Joan, who is also an architect, for $3,600, it had been empty for two decades. All of its 65 windows were smashed, and its slate roof was wide open to the sky. Vandals had been creative: on the second floor, the interior shingles were embedded with marbles (they still are), which had been blasted there by some sort of firearm.  On three sides there were four-by-eight-foot plywood signs proclaiming: “For Sale. See Any Broker.” That is exactly what Wood and his wife did and they were told that the owners were asking a mere $5,000, but would take considerably less. The house was actually built by a distant cousin of his, J. S. Lovering Wharton, from Philadelphia, who had a summer house in the Fort Wetherill area in south Jamestown. (Newport tended to attract New York society; Philadelphians summered in quieter Jamestown.) When the fort was enlarged at the end of the 1800s, the government seized his land, and Clingstone was Wharton's rebuke. “He said, ‘I’m going to build where no one can bother me.’ ” Together with artist, William Trost Richards, Mr. Wharton designed a shingle-style house of picture windows, with 23 rooms on three stories radiating off a vast central hall. Wharton built it like a mill, with wide planking, sturdy oak beams, diagonal sheathing and an odd flourish: an interior cladding of shingles, put there, possibly because Fort Wetherill’s cannons went off so regularly in training exercises that they cracked the plaster in the neighbors’ houses.The neighbors, it seems, were skeptical of Mr. Wharton’s project. A society item in The Philadelphia Press in August 1904 reads, “Everyone is of the opinion here that Mr. Wharton will not stay in the house more than one season, and they say one nor’easter will settle it.” But Mr. Wharton loved his new house, and spent every summer there until his death just before the hurricane of 1938, which the house survived with little damage. After his widow died, in 1941, the house stood empty until Mr. Wood and his wife came upon it. The story, Mr. Wood said, is that Mr. Wharton’s three sons disliked one another so much, they couldn’t agree on who to sell it to. “I think they only sold it to me because I was a relative,” he added. Every spring for a decade or so after the sale, Mr. Wood said, he cursed “this albatross,” his roofless, windowless, floorless, powerless, waterless house. Wrangling what had been a rich man’s plaything, attended by servants and even its own shipyard, into a working couple’s weekend getaway turned out to be much more than a working couple could handle. Eventually, though, as the Woods mustered the talents of their friends, Clingstone and its maintenance evolved into a communal lifestyle, and ultimately a kind of religion. One year Mr. Wood put an ad in The Harvard Crimson: “Island occupant wanted to live in 23-room house. No charges. No duties. Ready now.” Somehow, The Crimson printed that last line as “Leaky now.” Still, Mr. Wood was able to “hire” his first caretakers, a doctoral student and his wife, who would stay at Clingstone during the week and head back to Boston when Mr. and Mrs. Wood arrived on the weekends with their three young sons.  At that time power in those days came from a balky portable generator for the tools, and lighting from boxes and boxes of candle “seconds” bought by Mr. Wood. Drinking water was brought over from Jamestown, as it still is. During its earlier days the toilets flushed directly into the sea.(Gross).  Bartering access to the house has yielded all sorts of boons, like the yearly services of the Jamestown Boatyard (formerly the Wharton Shipyard, built just for Clingstone), which hauls the family’s boats and floating dock and stores them each winter in return for a week’s use of the house in the summer. The annual Clingstone work weekend is held every year around Memorial Day and it brings 70 plus friends and Clingstone lovers together to tackle jobs like washing all 65 windows and scraping and painting their frames and sills. There are, in fact, usually 215 or more to-do projects in the database that is maintained by Anne Tait, an artist and professor, and well-organized by theme and skill.  “Replace sewage line in basement, or offer moral support,” reads one of the project listings in this year’s schedule, under Plumbing. Under Cleaning, you’ll find, “check and maintain ‘No Bush’ sign.” (Since the 2004 election, this painted bedsheet has been hanging from a window.) After driving around Newport and seeing all the magnificent mansions there the house on the rock, Clingstone still was the one that held my attention the longest.  It was amazing!  Happy Thursday!

1 comment:

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I think I forgot to mention this house on your post the other day.
When I saw the pictures I thought it was amazing. I can't imagine living on a rock.