They say that love was the reason the Taj Mahal was built, but what about the construction of a 2½ story mansion made of fieldstone situated in Lincoln, Rhode Island?
The love story behind Hearthside House, like other legendary stories of love, is rife romanticized elements that no one really questions. The stories are often just accepted as fact. People just seem to enjoy a good love story, especially around Valentine’s Day, a “holiday” whose own history is bound in myth.
While Saint Valentine himself has become canonized as the official patron saint of lovers, this third century Roman priest was known for performing Christian weddings for soldiers during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, who issued an edict prohibiting the marriage of young people. His decree was based on the belief that unmarried soldiers fought better because they did not have families to worry about.
Though forbidden to conduct marriage ceremonies, Saint Valentine did so anyway, and he was eventually imprisoned for his actions. According to the legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the blind daughter of his jailer. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter and signed it, “Your Valentine.” While no one can be certain of these accounts, it no longer seems to matter as chocolates, flowers, and especially Valentine’s cards continue to be exchanged in many countries around the world on February 14th each year.
The story about how Hearthside House came to be has all the elements of any other fable of love.
The popular folktale surrounding Hearthside House begins with its construction in the early 1800’s, when Stephen Hopkins Smith was courting a young woman of means from Providence. Making it all the more mysterious, no one even seems to know the woman’s exact name or very much else about her. The love-bitten Smith did not see the difference in social status as an obstacle. While he was a member of a noted Lincoln, RI family and lived a comfortable life, he was far from wealthy. He was a Quaker, who lived a simple lifestyle.
It is believed that the woman was more than a little cautious about any future with Smith and told him this directly. Accordingly, she revealed to him that she enjoyed spending time with him but in a suitor, she was looking for someone of substantial wealth who could provide her with the lifestyle she was used to.
Then one day, as if in answer to his prayers, Smith won a lottery. He netted an estimated jackpot of $40,000, the equivalent of about $9 million in today’s money.
Keeping his winnings a secret from the woman he hoped to marry, Smith schemed to build a breathtaking home to sweep her off her feet. What is not in dispute is that construction on Hearthside got underway in 1810 and was completed in 1814. The stately mansion was considered to be one of the finest examples of early 19th century federal-style architecture in the state, unique with its curved roofline and totally stone construction. The design included a gable roof with impressive ogee curves above circular attic windows, four wooden front entrance pillars supporting a top floor balcony, and each of the ten rooms in the mansion boasting its own fireplace, hence the name by which it would come to be known; Hearthside House.
The magnificent home was located in an area of farm land in Lincoln on pastoral Great Road, the first traversable tract through the wilderness between Providence and Mendon, Massachusetts, and one of the oldest thoroughfares in America.
Smith continued his courtship of the woman through the four years of construction, never letting on what he was building so that it would be a surprise sufficient to capture her heart. When the home was finally complete, he took a horse and buggy out to Providence and asked his sweetheart to come along with him for a ride. He was excited as they approached the bend of Great Road, but when the woman first laid her eyes on the mansion she clapped her hands together and exclaimed, “What a beautiful house! But who would ever want to live way out in the wilderness.”
Smith was heartbroken. It is believed that he drove her back to Providence that day and never called on her again. At least, that is the story that has been told through the years.
Having failed at romance, Smith put all his effort and energy into his work and career. He built a mill made of stone, similar in appearance and directly across from Hearthside. The manufacturing business he started there, however, was not successful.
Stephen Smith died in 1857, a relatively old man for that time, having never married. He was buried in a cemetery a mile from the home he built for a love that never was, while his story continues to live on in historical lore.