Early Years: 1887
Prominent at the northern gateway to Bay Street, Lanphear Livery was built and enlarged in several stages beginning in the late 1800s to serve the Watch Hill summer hotels and cottages. Henry C. Lanphear built the first livery on the site in 1887. The “Livery Stable” sign painted on the roof still exists, buried within the present building.
Livery stables were valuable assets in resort communities in past years, just as car rental and repair shops are today. In the 19th century, resort guests arrived in Watch Hill primarily by steamship from the nearest train depot in Stonington, Connecticut. Horses, wagons, and later, automobiles were hired at the livery for local transportation. When the road from Westerly was made passable, guests could bring their own carriages and automobiles. The livery stable was then used to board horses, and store equipment, and later, autos while guests stayed at hotels or nearby cottages.
Lanphear Livery Expands
By 1910, the Lanphear Livery had been substantially enlarged with construction of the rear barn wings and their shed-roofed perimeter stables. The south section of the expanded building was a separate structure, perhaps moved to the site in the early 1900s. Within a few years the middle section was added, which contains the large open space, which is now an atrium. The expansion was undertaken by H.C. Lanphear’s son, Frederick O. Lanphear. Included was an apartment for the owner on the second floor in the south wing and boarding house rooms for groomsmen and chauffeurs on the third floor. These spaces still exist and have been restored with their painted wooden floors, paneled doors, and painted plaster and bead board walls and ceilings. The third floor dormitory is now a large single apartment.
Life at Lanphear
Life at Lanphear Livery had many facets. Grooms and chauffeurs boarded in rooms on the upper floors. Lanphears and later Holdredges (who last owned the livery) occupied the second floor apartment. The ground floor was a community gathering place and many issues concerning Bay Street were worked out in this space. Before radio dispatch, the local police used the livery as communications hub. In the off hours, workmen played cards and threw darts to pass time. According to oral history, the decision to save and restore the famous Watch Hill Merry-Go-Round was made here in the 1970s by Harriet Moore and Jessie Holdredge. For many years the building was known as Holdredge’s Garage.
Lanphear boasts one of the earliest water-driven car washes in the region. The car wash consisted of an old Lanphear wagon hoisted to the second floor rafters of the Reading Room (the NW barn wing) to serve as a cistern. Fresh water was pumped to the wagon by a small windmill. Gravity created pressurized water spray for rinsing vehicles. The old wagon cistern is still in place. Lanphear also has a balanced hand-operated small-vehicle lift. This allowed workmen to lift materials and vehicles easily to the second floor for storage. The gears for the lift are now visible in the Atrium at the second floor level. During the restoration, they were relocated just below their original concealed location on the third floor.