RHODY LIFE

A historic naval figure's summer home

Posted 7/30/21

By KELLY SULLIVAN A historic military figure once wiled away his summer days at a vacation home on Warwick Neck. Gardiner Carleton Sims was born in Niagara Falls, New York, on July 31, 1845, the son of Helen McDonald and ferryman George Sims. As a young

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RHODY LIFE

A historic naval figure's summer home

Posted

A historic military figure once wiled away his summer days at a vacation home on Warwick Neck.

Gardiner Carleton Sims was born in Niagara Falls, New York, on July 31, 1845, the son of Helen McDonald and ferryman George Sims. As a young man, he worked as chief draftsman for the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He then served as superintendent of the J.C. Houdley Engine Works before becoming owner of the Monohasset Mill in Providence.

He went on to partner with Pardon Armington to run the Armington & Sims Engine Company, and then went into business with Thomas Edison. Founding the Sims-Edison Electric Torpedo Company in 1886, they manufactured submarines, warships, electric machinery and instruments, steam engines and boilers. Sims served as vice-president of the company while Edison was the consulting electrician.

Sims served as chairman on the electricity and electrical appliance committee for the 1892 Columbian Exposition. Then, as war with Spain broke out, he volunteered for military service.

Appointed chief engineer by the U.S. Navy, he was assigned to the USS Vulcan, a former merchant steamer refitted as the country’s first repair ship. Carrying 100 tons of tools and machinery and a crew of 200 men, the ship, which was valued at $300,000, accompanied the naval fleet to quickly make any repairs the vessels would need.

In January 1899, the secretary of the Navy Department sent a letter to Sims which read, “The department, in forwarding your discharge from the naval service takes pleasure in transmitting at the same time a new commission as chief engineer in the United States Navy with the relative rank of lieutenant commander. This action is taken by the department in recognition of the conspicuous and valuable services rendered by you while in charge of the workshops on the USS Vulcan. This vessel, in its capacity of a repair ship, the department considers performed a duty during the war second to none other in importance; and for the quantity and excellence of the work done for the fleet in Cuban waters, the department understands it is, in very large measure, indebted to your skill and experience.”

Earlier that year, Sims had made a gavel for President William McKinley, out of timbers taken from a Spanish fort on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the location where the Spanish-American War began.

Sims died at his home on Benefit Street in Providence on March 19, 1910, of chronic nephritis. At that time, he was president of the William A. Harris Steam Engine Company. He left a wife, Laura (Brayton), and one son, Carleton. A son, Robert, had died from a heart ailment at the age of 5 in 1901 and another son, Gardiner, had died at the age of 12 in 1902, also of a heart ailment. Son Carleton would pass away from blood poisoning in 1929 at age 38.

Laura continued spending her summers at their home “Belvoir” in Warwick Neck. She passed away in April of 1931.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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