The following is a brief summary of the history of the people and places that have preceded Quidnessett Country Club as we know it today. This information has been taken from our official booklet written by Kathleen Tatro in September of 1994.
Although the inception of the Quidnessett Country Club is officially noted as January 24, 1960, its history is decidedly substantiated by a chronicle of intriguing events. The territory that makes up the Quidnessett property today was once part of the land of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The Native Americans of this tribe lived, hunted and farmed this area for many years before the British settlers colonized America. The land known as Quidnessett was once called Aquitawaset or Cocumcussoc. The word Quidnessett is believed to be either “at the small island” or as interpreted by Thomas William Bicknell in The History of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, it may have meant “park”.
When Roger Williams arrived in Narragansett Bay with 1,500 settlers, there were already approximately 75,000 Native Americans living in this area. They tried to live in harmony, but conflict was inevitable between the settlers and the natives.
As time passed, conflicts were settled and life together was moving ahead. On June 11, 1659, Coquinquant, the tribe sachem, presented a deed of the Quidnessett country to Major Humphry Atherton of Plymouth. Major Atherton was allowed to purchase this land because he was employed as Superintendent of the praying Indians and instructed them in “civil conversation”. The purchase was deemed a fraudulent “land grab” under Rhode Island law. On July 8, 1663, a new royal charter was created – “The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”. The war in 1675 between the colonies and King Phillip drove colonists out of the area. However, as the war ended, colonists moved back and farms flourished. Wealthy merchants quickly realized the land’s potential for beautiful views and nice landscapes and began to transform the Quidnessett area into country estates.
From the beginning, the Narragansett Indians had known the beauty of Quidnessett in summer. They had, for many years, established villages for summer use at the coves along the water’s edge where the climate was gentle from May through October. The warm days were cooled by gentle breezes and the cool days warmed by the sun shining on the clear blue water of the bay. These conditions attracted affluent businessmen of the early 19th century. The property at this time belonged to the Wightman family and had been farmed since the time of Roger Williams. This property was singled out as exceptional for development into residential property. The old house that had stood on the property was transformed into a grand manor in Victorian style. The property soon became the summer residence of wealthy textile owner Crawford Allen. The adjacent to the Quidnessett property that is now Scallabrini Villa was originally a gift from Mr. Allen to his daughter Anne and her husband John Carter Brown. The estate was completed in 1872. In 1907 Mrs. Brown donated the building to Rhode Island Hospital.
The Allens sold the Quidnessett property to Walter Hanley a successful local brewer. In June of 1925 the property was once again sold, this time to C. Preston Knight. The Knight family owned many textile mills and made the trademark “fruit of the loom” a household name, still in use today. On June 2, 1959, Knights farm became the King Phillip Country Club, but on December 31st of the same year, the name was changed to Quidnessett Country Club.
On January 24, 1960, a three-quarter page advertisement proclaimed the opening of Quidnessett Golf and Country Club with Sam Snead (golf legend) and Ted Williams (Boston Red Sox Legend) serving on the advisory board. Charter memberships were offered for $300.00 and monthly dues were $12.00. A lifetime membership was offered at $835.00. 200 Rhode Islanders bought lifetime memberships that (with tax included) cost each new member $1,002.00.
On September 10, 1960, a celebrity exhibition match was played before members and guests at the Quidnessett Golf and Country Club. To celebrate the club’s opening, Sam Snead with over 100 tournament wins, played young Arnold Palmer, Masters and Open champion. The match was very close, but Sam Snead beat Arnold Palmer by one stroke to earn the $3,000.00 cash prize.
On October 11, 1960, “The Evening Bulletin” reported on its front page that, in a series of fast-breaking moves, Quidnessett Golf & Country Club had been placed in receivership. It was the intent of the country club developers to take over 51% of the ownership. Mr. Tice, an organizer for the club, approached the developers to take over in order to finish the club so that more memberships could be sold. The developers put in a lot of their money to complete the course, but much remained unfinished. A court battle ensued between Mr. Tice and Country Club Development, Inc. The club was put into receivership with the plan to turn over ownership to the members.
On Tuesday, July 27, 1972, members in the clubhouse detected a fire. Firefighters were unable to put out the fire before two and one half stories were destroyed. The building was rebuilt to feature many windows overlooking Narragansett Bay. All went back to normal with the clubhouse returning to the center of activity for all members until October 25, 1978. On this date, the unthinkable happened; an early morning fire destroyed what was left of the old section of the clubhouse and the new section suffered significant smoke damage. The clubhouse was again partially rebuilt and remodeled. Lost forever in the fire were many records that dated back to the inception of the club.
By 1982, three groups had developed among those involved with Quidnessett: – shareholders who were not members, members who were not shareholders and members who were. Many developers made offers for the land for housing possibilities. All argued vehemently about the fate of Quidnessett. During these arguments, a third fire broke out. This time, it was in the machinery and maintenance building on July 27, 1982. However, offers were not deterred and on July 31, 1982, a member, Nicholas W. Janikies presented a proposal. On August 24th the Board of Governors reviewed the offer and unanimously accepted Mr. Janikies’ offer. In April of 1984, a new clubhouse with renovations was under construction and a gala event was held to celebrate the new era.
On Monday, August 20, 1990, the Rhode Island State Republican G.O.P. held a fundraiser at Quidnessett Country Club. The guest of honor was the then President of the United States, George Bush. The reception and luncheon with the President and First Lady in attendance raised $165,000.00. Reception guests paid $1,250.00 per person to eat hors d’oeuvres and shake the President’s hand. Tickets to the luncheon alone cost $125 per person. The President talked about trouble in the Middle East and touted Governor DiPrete for re-election and Representative Claudine Schneider for the U.S. Senate. The reception was limited to 200 guests, who received pictures with the president.
After the G.O.P. fundraiser with President Bush, the 1990’s returned Quidnessett Country Club to its business of quiet growth. An improving economy assisted in some major strides taken by the club. In 1990, the planned condominiums were developed and inhabited near the first tee. Continuing development lead to a total of seven condominiums. Renovations were not limited to condos, however. The Banquet and Members’ facilities have seen much improvement over the past decade. Currently, Quidnessett is New England’s foremost banquet facility and at full capacity for golfing memberships. Quidnessett anxiously awaits the coming millenium with great hopes for the future growth of not only the club, but New England as well.