Arnold House stair removal promotes accuracy, safety

Oct 29, 2012

Historic New England’s property care team removed the stairs leading from Great Road in Lincoln, Rhode Island, up the embankment to Arnold House over a two-day period in late August. The stairs were added after Historic New England acquired the property in 1918. Although they were not part of the interpretation of the site, they were added as a visitor amenity in response to the widening of the road in the 1930s.

Many of the properties along the road received a similar treatment. Today, this amenity creates a safety concern. At the time of construction, it was reasonable to think that pedestrian access from the street was safe and logical. However, in today’s busy and congested world of heavy vehicle traffic, we do not want to encourage pedestrians to walk along Great Road. The stairs indicated to guests that they should enter the property from the street.

The first stage of removal involved a great deal of elbow grease as staff dislodged the large stone treads and stringers with a long pry bar. Once free, the stones were carried – or, if too heavy, rolled – across the lawn for temporary storage until they can be housed permanently in the Arnold House basement.

A few days later a backhoe “finessed” from the landscape the remaining brick-and-cement support structure upon which the stone treads rested. A landscaping crew came to restore the lawn in late September, filling the hole left by the stairs and covering this and the surrounding area with seed. By October 2, grass began to appear. Now the lawn looks better than new.

In keeping with Historic New England’s preservation philosophy, this project was heavily documented. The stairs and a sampling of bricks are being retained so that we can reinstall the stairway if conditions change or interpretation warrants it.

Historic New England wishes to thank all who assisted in this project, especially the State of Rhode Island’s road construction crew, who generously lent a hand while they were working in front of Arnold House on Great Road.

To support essential preservation projects at our historic properties, please consider donating to the Preservation Maintenance Fund.