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Located Behind Home of Former China-Trade Sea Captain Chinese Tea Pavilion in Tiverton Four Corners

TIVERTON, R.I. An antique Chinese pavilion, restored, disassembled and shipped from China to Tiverton Four Corners, was recently rebuilt behind the historic Soule-Seabury House.

Tiverton Four Corners Tea HouseBob Smith, one of the owners of the Gallery 4 at Tiverton Four Corners, found the structure during one of his periodic buying trips to China last year and arranged to have it shipped back to the United States. He said he and his Chinese contacts estimate that the pavilion is about 175 years old.

That means it was first built at about the same time Cornelius Soule, once the owner of the elegant Georgian building at the main Four Corners intersection, was on a voyage to China in the 19th century. Soule was a noted captain during the time of the China trade between the East Coast of the United States and China.

The pavilion or tea house arrived in Tiverton Four Corners at the end of last summer, and after some protracted negotiations with officials from the town's Building Department, permission was finally received to reassemble the structure behind the Soule-Seabury House. A crew from the Architectural Preservation Group of Warwick used schematics from China to piece together the antique mortar-and-tenon posts and the carved side pieces and back screen before using a modern backhoe to carefully fit the slanting roof pieces on top.

"The whole thing is held together by about eight wooden pegs," Smith said, as he anxiously watched the structure rise on a snowy spot between The Meeting House community center and the Cantin Photography studio. He said the main posts and rails are made of cypress or Chinese elm.

Smith said that similar structures to the pavilion developed in China thousands of years ago to be used as mile markers along major trade routes, and as a stopping place for caravans to water their horses and rest. Later, they came into vogue with the ruling emperors and wealthy families as out buildings on estates and gardens, often overlooking a pond or stream.

"A tea house like this one would be used as a place for people to sit and admire the scenery, whether in a private garden or in a public park," Smith said.

He caught sight of the pavilion last year, sitting in a field just a few miles outside Beijing. The basic structure was still intact, although the roof was missing. Originally, it probably had an elaborate tiled roof. Instead, Smith's Chinese associates constructed a wooden roof, with the Tiverton Four Corners Tea Housetraditional sloping lines and other decorations.

While visitors to Tiverton Four Corners will be able to enjoy looking at the antique pavilion, Smith said it is for sale.

The historic Soule-Seabury House on the northeast corner at Tiverton Four Corners's main intersection was built in the mid-1700s by Abner Soule (or Sowle). Abner Soule was a Revolutionary War veteran and blacksmith. He deeded his property to his two sons, and by 1808 Cornelius Soule owned the property on the corner and, it is believed, rebuilt the homestead to the current stately Georgian structure.

Cornelius Soule never spent much time living there, however, as he was a famous sea captain who often took Yankee clippers "round the Horn" in the China trade. He later became one of the chief sea captains for John Jacob Astor, who was trying to establish a branch of his lucrative fur trade in far-off China.

In 1811, Soule set off on a voyage on the Beaver, one of Astor's most modern new ships. After a stop in Astoria, Oregon on the Columbia River, Soule arrived in China in 1812. Because the War of 1812 with Great Britain was then raging, he ran into difficulties in China and was not able to leave for home until 1815. Soon after he returned to Tiverton, Captain Soule sold the house at Four Corners to Cornelius Seabury for $4,600 to settle his debts. Seabury was an established merchant in Tiverton Four Corners, and the house was used as a general store, the first post office (1820) and to hold the books of the Union library.

Offering a unique collection of gift items collected from the four corners of the world and brought to Tiverton Four Corners, Gallery 4 is a cooperative store made up of Silk Road Traders, Susan Freda Studio and Wanderers Imports. The store is located at 3848 Main Road in the heart of the Tiverton Four Corners historic district, which is just six miles from Route 24 on Tiverton's Main Road, Rt.77.

Tiverton Four Corners is one of Rhode Island's special historic sites which was placed on the National Register in 1974. The history of this rural village dates from the seventeenth century and spans three hundred years. Today, Tiverton Four Corners has become an important center for antiques, fine art, decorative crafts, and cozy shops nestled into a quaint New England Village of 18th century buildings.

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