In Episode 135, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger stroll up to Hearthside House in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Though many call this 1814 mansion the “house that love built,” it also has another nickname: Heartbreak House. After winning the lottery in 1810, Quaker Stephen Smith built this mansion for a girl he loved. The only problem? She didn’t want to live here.
Read the episode transcript.
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Hearthside House in Lincoln, Rhode Island. The House that Love Built. Photo by Jeff Belanger.
The side-door of Hearthside House. Could the faint “P” over the door be for Smith’s lost love?
Hearthside in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
[BIRDS SINGING AND MUSIC]
RAY: Happy first day of Spring, Jeff! A time when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.
JEFF: Happy first day of Spring to you too, Ray. Whatcha doing there, Ray?
RAY: I bought a scratch off lottery ticket from the Rhode Island State Lottery. I figure if I win big we can start taking a limo to all of these legendary locations.
JEFF: Did you win?
RAY: Nahh… Oh well. At least the weather’s nice! I love being outside again, the warm sun, the birds, it’s easy to see why Spring is a time for love. It really is in the air!
JEFF: It is, and a nice day for a stroll down Great Road in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Maybe the walk will take your mind off of your recent lottery loss.
RAY: It’s pretty rural out here, Jeff. I mean, Route 123… or Great Road… is well traveled, but otherwise there’s not much to see.
JEFF: But there is this fancy stone mansion just ahead, with its white pillars, manicured gardens, and a little white gazebo outside.
RAY: Yeah, that IS nice. It definitely stands out. And it must be of some importance because it’s got its own sign on the street in front. It says: Hearthside.
JEFF: This is our destination, Ray. The historic Hearthside House, but it’s also known as the House That Love Built.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to episode 135 of the New England Legends Podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for walking with us as we crisscross New England to chronicle every single legend in the northeast one story at a time. We’re always on the hunt for strange stories that haunt us, intrigue us, or make us think. And many of these story leads come from you legendary listeners! Like this one did. Michelle emailed us through our web site at ournewenglandlegends.com.
JEFF: Thanks, Michelle! This week’s episode is brought to you by our patreon patrons. This group of legendary people kick in just $3 bucks per month – that’s less than one draft beer – to help us with our growing costs and expenses. If you’d like early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content where we continue to the discussion, then stroll over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends.
RAY: I’m glad we’re exploring a love story this week, Jeff.
JEFF: Why’s that?
RAY: Because lately we’ve been covering tragic tales, monsters, fights, and things like that. We’re due for something uplifting.
JEFF: Oh… yeah. Then I’ve got some bad news for you, Ray.
RAY: Now what?
JEFF: Where there’s love… there’s often sadness. Hearthstone House IS known as “The House that Love Built.”
JEFF: Buuuut, it’s got a second nickname: Heartbreak House.
RAY: I bet there’s a story there.
JEFF: I bet you’re right.
RAY: Let’s head back more than two centuries to the year 1810 and set this up.
RAY: It’s 1810 here in Lincoln, Rhode Island. And there’s a man we simply must meet.
JEFF: Who’s that?
RAY: His name is Stephen Hopkins Smith. He’s young, in his twenties, from a local prominent Quaker family, and he simply loves plants.
SMITH: I’m a horticulturist. I collect and cultivate plants and flowers of all sorts.
RAY: Smith also loves to travel and he’s an eccentric fan of architecture.
JEFF: That sounds kind of fancy pants for a Quaker. I thought Quakers are all about a simple life.
RAY: That may be true, but there’s always exceptions, and Smith is one of them.
JEFF: It turns out, Stephen Smith is also a romantic, and he’s fallen head over heels for a Providence socialite. We’ll call her Priscilla.
SMITH: Priscilla, what will it take for me to win your heart?
PRISCILLA: Oh Stephen, you do know my tastes. I could only ever live in the finest house in Rhode Island.
RAY: And the finest house in Rhode Island doesn’t come easy.
JEFF: No way, it’s going to take some bucks. Lots of ‘em.
RAY: So what does he do? Rob a bank? Kill a rich relative? What’s his plan?
JEFF: He’s going to play the lottery.
RAY: The lottery!? That’s a thing here in 1810?
JEFF: Not only is it a thing in 1810, it’s been a thing for a looooong time. I looked into this. The earliest record of a lottery go all the way back to the Chinese Han Dynasty about 205 B.C. They had these Keno-like slips where people would choose a series of numbers, the winning numbers would be chosen at random, and then you have a winner.
RAY: That definitely sounds familiar.
JEFF: Sure. The Chinese government used this lottery to finance big projects like bridges, and walls, and anything else they needed money for. They figured out that raising taxes to fund these endeavors hurt their people… but a lottery… that’s voluntary. And the winners get rich, which excites everyone else, and boom, more people play, and then there’s more money.
RAY: And like a virus, this good idea spreads out from China and on to the rest of the world.
JEFF: Exactly. In 1612, King James I of England authorized a lottery to help fund the Virginia Company of London. The lottery money provided money for the first permanent English colony of Jamestown, Virginia.
RAY: That’s kind of cool! I had no idea.
JEFF: Up until 1776, hundreds of lotteries were authorized to help build churches, roads, canals, bridges, colleges. You could say that a lot of early America was funded in part by lotteries.
RAY: Check out this nugget, Benjamin Franklin once helped organize a lottery to purchase cannons to defend Philadelphia.
JEFF: Right, and after the American Revolution, the lottery didn’t go away. A good idea that provides money for building projects without raising taxes is a win all around. So just to sum up, yeah, here in 1810, the lottery is very much a thing.
SMITH: 3, 7, 8, 19, 33…
JEFF: Stephen Smith picks his numbers. And then…
SMITH: I won! I won!
JEFF: Now $40,000 dollars richer, Stephen sees a path to winning Priscilla’s heart.
RAY: Smith’s parents and family have lived on 249 acres of farmland off of Great Road for many years. So with cash in hand, Stephen heads back home and begins construction on his mansion right across the way from his childhood home.
[SAWING AND HAMMERING]
RAY: He also has a textile mill built within site of the mansion. Smith Manufacturing Company is going to be his empire, this stone mansion is going to be his castle, and Priscilla is going to be his queen. It’s all coming together.
JEFF: The mansion is finished in 1814, and that’s when Stephen takes Priscilla on a buggy ride down Great Road. He can’t wait to show her the house that love built.
[HORSE AND BUGGY]
JEFF: The couple roll up to the stately mansion he calls Hearthside, and Stephen brings the buggy to a stop. Beaming with pride, he turns to his beloved. And before he can say a word, she reacts.
PRISCILLA: My, what a beautiful house! But who would ever want to live way out here in the wilderness?
SMITH: [HEARTBROKEN GASP]
RAY: And that’s the end of that relationship. Dejected. Heartbroken. Smith never moves in to Hearthside. Instead he lives in a small cottage just down the road. But, Stephen allows his brothers and their families to occupy the house.
JEFF: And Smith Manufacturing Company? That doesn’t do so well either. He can’t compete with nearby Slater Mill in Pawtucket, plus, Stephen doesn’t quite have the right head for business. But man oh man does he love plants! He founds the Rhode Island Horticultural Society, he travels, he plants fancy, lush gardens on his property.
RAY: Which doesn’t seem to make him a very good and humble Quaker.
JEFF: No, but a few donations to the Quaker Meeting House, a few expansion projects…
RAY: And suddenly all is forgiven.
JEFF: Right. And old Stephen Smith?
RAY: What does become of him?
JEFF: He never marries. He lives alone in his little cottage and pursues his plants. His business doesn’t thrive, and suddenly the house that love built feels more like Heartbreak House. Still, he’s well-liked, kind, and generous. When he passes away in 1857 at age 74, his obituary sums up the man.
ANNOUNCER: Many men of larger mental development, more honored with office and more favored of fortune than Stephen Hopkins Smith, have gone down to the grave; yet there are few who could compare with him in warmth and affection, benignity of disposition, or genuine goodness of heart.
JEFF: And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Man! Some people are just never happy, are they?
JEFF: You mean Priscilla?
RAY: Exactly. But I guess part of the lesson is to ask the girl what she wants before you go through the trouble, right? Otherwise, you’re destined for heartbreak.
JEFF: Good point.
RAY: So just to finish our lottery history lesson from earlier. Stephen Smith won $40,000 dollars in 1810, but we don’t know which lottery he won. That amount would equal about $700,000 in today’s dollars. As for the lottery system, that would go through some changes over the next century. Private lotteries were getting so corrupt that they were banned by the federal government in 1894.
JEFF: But of course lotteries never went away completely.
RAY: No, of course not. People love them too much. Eventually the mafia and mobs ran local Numbers games in cities and neighborhoods, but then those get so popular that the states simply must move in. New Hampshire was the first to authorize a legal state-wide lottery in 1964.
JEFF: A state without income tax, and a New England state of course. Well done, New Hampshire!
RAY: And after that, other states followed until the states put the mob’s numbers games out of business.
JEFF: Also, to be fair, we know very little about Smith’s mystery woman who rejected the house too far out in the woods.
RAY: Her name wasn’t Priscilla?
JEFF: We don’t know her name, but we do have a clue here at Hearthside… check this out.
JEFF: Look at the stonework here at the side of the building.
RAY: Ohhh yeah, there’s a letter “P,” carved into the stone.
JEFF: We can only guess that P may be for Stephen Smith’s lost love.
RAY: That is heartbreaking. Man, I guess winning the lottery ruined lives even back then.
JEFF: Yeah, I guess it does. Still, maybe I’m ready for my life to be ruined by a giant windfall of money.
RAY: Even $3 bucks per month would help! A reminder that we continue the discussion of these stories in our extra episodes which are only available to our patreon patrons. Just head to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
JEFF: You should also pay a visit to our Web site because not only can you find all of our past episodes up there, but there’s often pictures related to each location, links, video clips from the New England Legends television series that you can watch right now on Amazon Prime, plus transcripts of the episodes for the deaf.
RAY: If you don’t already subscribe to our podcast, please do so, because it’s free. We also really appreciate it when you post a review because those reviews go a long way in helping others find our show. Be sure to share our show on your social media as well.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Michael Legge and Lorna Nogueira, and Tim Ellis from the Creaking Door Podcast, all for lending their voice acting talents this week. And our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL: This is Kelly Baxter from North Canton, Ohio until next time remember the bizarre is closer than you think.
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