And on the inside of the Pawtuxet Armory Hall, the fish house punch flowed. Meanwhile, out on Remington Road, a cold wind did blow on shivering attendees with a mid-April snow.
Not even a mid-April spike of freezing weather with intermittent snowflakes could stamp out the obvious fire Colonel Ron Barnes, commander of the Pawtuxet Rangers, has for the company of historic drum and fife players originally chartered in 1774 to protect the blossoming seaport of Pawtuxet.
“We thank you all for braving this fine New England weather,” Barnes said at the event’s onset. “Who would have thought nine months ago when I planned this it would be 35 and snowing today in April? It is what it is. Everyone is hardy and brave New Englanders.”
However it was the 175th birthday of the company’s armory hall – a building with a long and storied history of its own – which brought about 200 Rangers, historic military members from multiple states, city and state officials and curious, shivering onlookers to Pawtuxet Village on Sunday afternoon. Fittingly enough, the number of onlookers seemed to hover around that 175 mark.
The frigid afternoon showcased spirited playing from the drum and fife corps, including a brand new, never-before-heard marching song called “Pawtuxet Road March,” which was written by Ranger member Lee Singer.
Barnes noted on Monday that a highlight for him was the blessing of the building’s cornerstone by the Grand Masonic Lodge of Rhode Island. The Masons owned and operated the building from the mid-1800s until a private homeowner purchased it at the beginning of the 20th century in 1907.
The Freemasons had three members of its lodge assess the integrity of the cornerstone with their ritualistic instruments, and then instructed three members of the Rangers to spread corn, wine and oil onto the cornerstone to bring about good fortune, productivity and prosperity within the building.
Speaking at the event were Mayors Scott Avedisian and Allan Fung, Warwick City Council President Joseph Solomon, Rhode Island historian Dr. Patrick Conley, Rhode Island House Rep. Joseph McNamara, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Adjutant General Christopher Callahan.
“To all the Rangers and all of you that help us pull a thread on our history, we believe in you and we certainly believe we’re better because of you,” said Callahan, who is in charge of the state National Guard.
McNamara may have had the speech of the day, however – especially considering that brevity was greatly appreciated by the wind and snow-whipped faces in the crowd.
“Children that grow up in this community know that the bridge in Pawtuxet Village has never been breached by any enemy.,” McNamara said playfully. “On a serious note, the Pawtuxet Rangers add to the quality of life in our village. They represent everything that is good and great about our country, and for that I thank you. On this day, which reminds me of JFK’s inauguration, I’ll end by saying, ‘Ask not what the Rangers can do for you, but what you can do for the Rangers!’”
Following the speeches and the blessings, public officials exchanged gifts with Barnes to place in a new time capsule, which was placed into a recess within the cornerstone where an original time capsule should have been – but was found to have been removed when the Rangers tried to retrieve it recently.
There was a key to Cranston, information from local neighborhood advocacy groups, flash drives full of photos and historical facts and, from Dr. Conley, a $5,029 check provided to the Rangers in order to celebrate a state observance on May 29, the day which Rhode Island became the last original state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
In a touching moment, Colonel Barnes’ wife, and fellow brass member of the Rangers, Major Sandra Barnes (known affectionately as “the General”) gave an unannounced surprise to her husband, revealing that the downstairs room of the armory’s in-house museum, The Ranger Room, would be dedicated in honor of him and dubbed “The Colonel Ron Barnes Ranger Room.”
“The museum never would have come to be if it wasn’t for the idea and realizing Ron’s dream. I can say that it was his dream because he has told it to me many, many, many times,” Sandra said, before sharing a kiss with her husband.
Following the ceremony, attendees were welcomed into the Armory Hall for some much-needed warming via fish house punch and got to enjoy a look around at the blossoming museum, which is dedicated to preserving and telling the history of the local Pawtuxet community, the Rangers and some wider study of the state at large.
“They can all see it’s getting off the ground and they can see it’s going to be something,” Colonel Barnes said. “People are really impressed with the building.”