House Lust: A Schoolhouse-Turned-First Catholic Church in RI

The schoolmaster was quite the swindler — and the priest, a dupe — in its nineteenth-century sale. Now, the historic Colonial is on the market for a much savvier buyer.

Just think of the dinner party conversations you could lead in this eccentric little cottage — 680 square feet, to be exact — in Newport’s historic Point neighborhood.

The Eleazer Trevett Schoolhouse, located at 71 Third Street in Newport, was originally constructed on Barney Street in the mid-1700s. But by the 1820s, Newport began offering free public education for all children and schoolmaster Trevett was out of a gig. He leased the property for a while, but eventually decided to sell. In the 1899 text, History of the Catholic Church in the New England States, Reverend W.M. Byrne describes the misfortune met by the schoolhouse’s buyer, Father Robert Woodley, a Southern Catholic priest sent by the diocese to develop a parish in New England:

“Indeed he was so elated by the experiences of the past two months in his new district that when some sharp customer, perhaps in the inn where he lodged, offered to sell him a schoolhouse and lot for $1,100, he jumped at the offer and wrote to the Bishop [Fenwick] for permission to buy at once,” writes Byrne. “It was centrally located he said and a congregation of four or five hundred persons — far more than he had then or might hope to have for many a day — could be easily accommodated in it.”

Poor old Woodley. This is why you never buy sight unseen — a real estate rule for the ages. The teeny schoolhouse could barely house forty schoolchildren, never mind 400 parishioners. It was the first property the Catholic church bought in Rhode Island, and Woodley blew it. Instead of setting up his home base in Newport, Woodley lived in Providence and commuted every other week to preach to a growing congregation in Newport.

“It was small and mean and situated on a neglected street, now Barney Street, and it excited nothing short of disgust in Bishop Fenwick when he saw it on his first visitation to Newport on All Saints Day in 1828,” Byrne writes. “He could only think that some shrewd Yankee had tricked the simple Father Woodley into giving two prices for a lot with a frontage of fifty feet on an out-of-the-way street in a declining town like Newport.”

By 1837, the church built a larger chapel on the land, then constructed St. Mary’s Church on Spring Street.

In the mid-1800s, the schoolhouse was moved to Third Street, where it resides today. For the last four decades, it’s served as a private residence for a single family who, based solely on their decor of choice, are worthy of a story on their own. Unfortunately, the eccentric knick-nacks and furniture won’t be sold with the property — which is offered as-is — but the good bones, the gorgeous backyard and the centuries of lore are all included in the sale price.

Here’s your House Lust:

For more information, contact Hogan Associates’ Holly McLear at 401-855-0485 or visit hoganassociatesre.com.

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