All photos/art by Yankee Moseyer
Actually, the original part of the “Israel Arnold House”–that’s how it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places–was built up on a hillside now bordering Lincoln Woods State Park about 45 years before Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) was even born. Although the builders were a family by the name of Olney, they gave the property to their daughter, Deborah, who then married Israel Arnold, who, incidentally, happened to be a midshipman in the Revolutionary navy. Anyway … Deborah and Israel proceeded to have 13 children in this house, four of them named Israel. (In those days, one apparently kept giving babies the same name until one of them lived.) And, yes, Benedict Arnold, although born in Norwich, Connecticut, was distantly related to Israel’s family, whose descendants occupied this nine-room, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-story gabled house until 1972, when it was purchased by the present co-owner, Donald Hysko, a Rhode Island businessman.
Donald Hysko then embarked upon a two-year restoration project under the direct supervision of the nationally known preservationist Antoinette Downing, widely respected for her restoration work in both Newport and Providence (including structures on Benefit Street and College Hill). He also raised his and his former wife’s four children here in the historic Arnold House (they’re all grown up and on their own these days) and, of course, was active in many Rhode Island organizations over the years. Now, it so happens that one of these organizations was a local chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food. In fact, Donald Hysko served on the board–and guess who else did? None other than Julia Child, who, one fine evening, introduced Donald, no longer married, to the chairwoman of the national board, a beautiful lady named Patricia Broders. They went out to dinner, and, well, it wasn’t long before they were married and living in the beautifully restored Israel Arnold House.
We recently visited with Donald and Patricia, and it was a visit we’ll not soon forget. First of all, we sat in front of the biggest fireplace we’ve ever seen. One of seven working fireplaces in the Israel Arnold House, it measures 9 feet 10 inches long, 5 feet high, and 4-1/2 feet deep. It includes a beehive oven, of course.
At first, we chatted about the property and the long restoration process Donald had initiated with Antoinette Downing. He told us that today, 95 percent of the interior features (woodwork, moldings, doors, floors, hardware, stairway, etc.) are authentic, and that although the exterior features (clapboards, windows, chimneys, etc.) are new, old methods and old materials (such as the bricks, for instance) were used wherever feasible.
Then our conversation turned to a totally unexpected subject, one very close to Patricia’s heart and soul: Zimbabwe. We soon came to understand that Patricia has devoted her life to the children of that small, struggling African country and that Donald, after their marriage 14 years ago (with ceremonies in America and in Zimbabwe), became her enthusiastic partner.
It would require pages to describe all that the couple is doing for Zimbabwe these days, but suffice it to say that Patricia has for many years been the sponsor of three children–two boys and a girl–born in Zimbabwe, putting them through school, college, and even postgraduate school here in America. All three are successful professionals today, and Patricia and Donald plan to attend the wedding of one of them–in Zimbabwe, of course. But besides being “parents” to these three now-grown people, Patricia and Donald also support a school for 280 children over there, many of them afflicted with AIDS, paying for books, teachers’ salaries, food for lunches, and on and on. They even donate seeds, fertilizer, and water pumps for Zimbabwe gardens. It was truly inspiring–and somewhat mind-boggling–to hear about all this.
But to get back to the house, we should point out that although it’s certainly an authentic part of American history, it also now features an array of modern owner comforts, such as central air conditioning, modern heating, three full baths, a kitchen with modern appliances, and outside, thanks to Patricia, gorgeous landscaping and even a beautiful in-ground swimming pool.
The Hyskos’ asking price for the home and 2.75 acres (more acreage is available) is $695,000, much of which, of course, will go toward helping “their” children in Zimbabwe.
So who would have thought that when we visited one of Rhode Island’s oldest homes, restored by the famous Antoinette Downing, that we’d end up talking mostly about Zimbabwe? (This moseying job of ours always seems to be full of surprises.)
For details, contact Edward Stachurski, Century 21 Stachurski Agency, Pawtucket, RI (401-725-1115) and Lincoln, RI (401-724-5600); century21.com