Save This Old House: The Capt. Stephen Olney House in North Providence
The home of a Revolutionary War hero needs rescuing.
Investing in a historic home is an act of bravery. And investing in one in foreclosure, well, that’s an act of bravery plus a bayonet to the gut.
Kidding! But let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
North Providence’s Stephen Olney, a Revolutionary War hero, “was among the first to respond to the call for the defense of his country against British oppression,” writes James H. Olney in A Genealogy of the Descendants of Thomas Olney: An Original Proprietor of Providence, R.I., who Came From England in 1635.
Olney “had so gained [Gen. Lafayette’s] esteem for coolness and bravery that he was chosen to lead the attacking column at Yorktown,” his descendant writes. “Moving at the head of his company, in the early morning, he completely surprised the British in their redoubt, who were at breakfast. He at once leaped down upon their table, his men immediately following him, and the redoubt was soon taken.”
Yikes. He really went for it. But heroism comes at a cost — in this case, the aforementioned bayonet to the gut, a wound thought to be fatal but from which Olney survived. After he recovered, he retired to his ancestral home in North Providence, where he purchased a track of pastoral land from a cousin and built this house on Smithfield Road for his growing family. Eventually, though, he was called back to duty and served on the North Providence Town Council and in the general assembly.
The house on Smithfield Road was owned by the Olneys for more than a century, even as its acreage was sold in bits and parcels. In the 1960s, it finally left the family following the death of Captain Olney’s granddaughter, Mary Olney. In her will, Mary bequeathed forty-two acres of family land to the town of North Providence to preserve the Olney burying ground — a.k.a. Olney Park, which abuts the home — where Captain Olney and his descendants rest to this day.
The house was sold once more in 2004, according to the North Providence tax assessor database, and entered foreclosure proceedings late last year.
Even the daydream of restoring this home, which claims a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, feels like a risk. Before you know it, you’re closing on an as-is Colonial with patched ceilings and shag carpeting. But let’s take a page from Captain Olney’s playbook. Wielding a puny espontoon in the face of six bayonets, he leapt in — literally! — and came out alive. In war and in real estate, some things are worth fighting for.
Won’t somebody save this old house?
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