By Carla Charter
LINCOLN, R.I. – The Moshassuck River crosses under Great Road in several places in Lincoln. This source of water helped many mills and factories develop along the river in the 1800’s, especially during the war of 1812 when there was an embargo on English goods. Among those building factories at that time was Stephen Hopkins Smith. Smith built a factory, since converted to a residence, known as the Butterfly House. This unique home with its unique story is now looking for a buyer.
Smith’s story of his settlement in Lincoln, then part of Smithfield, was one of love and heartbreak. The story began when Smith fell in love with a woman, possibly a wealthy socialite from Providence, who made it clear to Smith that love was not enough, she wanted to live in a mansion. Smith however, did not have any money. So, in 1810 when Smith won $40,000 in a lottery, he set out to build his love a mansion in Smithfield. “At that time Lincoln was part of Smithfield, the two towns separated in 1871. When the house was completed, he brought her to see the house. She said it was a beautiful home but who would want to live out here in the wilderness,” said Kathy Hartley, President of the Hearthside House Museum.
After her refusal, the couple broke up and Smith never lived in the house although his siblings did. Smith chose to live in a cottage a short distance away. Eventually the Stephen Smith House became the Hearthside House Museum, now owned by the town of Lincoln. The town has turned the Hearthside House and its property into a historical museum, which also includes a one room school house and a blacksmith shop and offers reenactments throughout the year. More information on the museum can be found at Hearthsidehouse.org.
While the mansion was being built, Smith also constructed a textile factory across the street. During construction of the factory, two stones were found which were darker than the rest and the workers noticed the two darker stones looked like a butterfly. Smith placed the two stones together between two windows on the second story and the building became known as the Butterfly Factory.
When Smith completed the factory, he purchased a bell and built a belfry to hang it in. “The bell became well known It was very clear sound piano tuners said it was the clearest bell they had heard,” Hartley said.
The bell originally hung in a convent in England until it was placed on the Guerriere, a British ship which attacked the U.S.S. Constitution in the famous battle where the Constitution earned the name Old Ironsides. The Guerriere sank and before the Americans set it on fire, they saved the bell. Two years later Stephen Smith bought the bell at a government auction and hung the bell in the factory where it stayed for 100 years.
At the turn of the century the factory became a riding academy. The family who ran the riding academy removed the bell, placing it and it in the Providence home of a family relation. There it hung in the family recreation room until the early 2000’s when it was donated to the USS Constitution Museum in Boston.
During World War II the riding academy was purchased and closed for renovations to become the Butterfly Factory Restaurant. During renovations the roof was not supported properly and during a heavy snowstorm the roof caved in. “It would have been too expensive to have renovated the second floor, so the second floor was taken off and the now one level building was made into a residence. The two butterfly shaped stones were saved and placed in the chimney of the house.” Hartley said.
This Butterfly Home is now looking for a new buyer. The home is offered at $1,249,900. It sits on 16.7 acres and the home has 5500 square feet of living space including 5 bedrooms and 4.1 baths. The listing for the Butterfly House can be found at https://www.rimonthly.com/house-lust-lincolns-butterfly-house/
As for Smith, along with the two buildings he left behind, there are also flowers and trees he planted which are now part of the nearby Lincoln Wood State Park, the first park in Rhode Island. “Smith was a lover of beauty and nature and planted flowers and trees,” Hartley said.