Target 12

Historians 'stunned' 250-year-old home gutted to grow pot

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The American Revolution and two and half centuries of time and weather were not enough to do what one alleged drug manufacturer is accused of doing to a 1770s-era home on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Cranston Historical Society still owns the Joy Homestead, located a field away from the Nathan Westcott House, which has been extensively modified to grow marijuana, according to a federal court document.

Historical Society board member Gregg Mierka said the organization used to own the Westcott property but no one who attended or conducted educational events in the nearby Joy house noticed what was going inside the other colonial.

Court documents indicate the Westcott chimney was stuffed with insulation, extra plugs were installed in the walls, interior faucets were plumbed for irrigation, central air conditioning units were added to control the humidity, and the electrical was upgraded - all to facilitate a marijuana grow, investigators claim.

The most significant alteration involved the removal of the floor and ceiling between the first and second floors to "provide the necessary height for indoor marijuana grow lamps" and growing the drug, DEA Special Agent Alan Sims wrote in a document aimed at seizing the property from its current owner.

"We were stunned to find out from the news media what happened," Mierka said. "To us, that's a real tragedy because these two houses are important not just to the history of Rhode Island, but they're important to the history of the country."

Mierka said the French Army marched down what is now Scituate Avenue - which was also a part of the Washington-Rochambeau trail - and the colonial families who lived in the two homes and what was known as Joytown helped with food, water and shelter.

"They welcomed the French troops here because we were now allies, and that's what was going to win our independence," Mierka said.

Records indicate LiQiong "Lilly" Zheng bought the Westcott House in August 2016 for $80,000 cash.

She was indicted last month on two federal charges for allegedly cultivating 100 or more marijuana plants.

About a month after Zheng bought the Cranston home, she was arrested by Coventry police for allegedly growing some 300 plants in an inconspicuous raised ranch. 

State court records show Zheng faces one count of keeping or maintaining a common nuisance in connection with the Coventry case.

The Cranston Historical Society has reached out to the U.S. Attorney's Office about the future of the Westcott House, and Mierka said the organization would love to find a way to acquire the property and repair the damage. 

The seizure process can take several months to complete.

Zheng's attorney, John Ruginski, chose not to comment, saying the case is ongoing.

A spokesperson for the National Park Service, which manages the National Register of Historic Places, told Target 12 placement on the Register "generally" does not put any restrictions on altering a property.

The Westcott House garnered a spot of the Register in 1989, with the application stating the colonial documents "the modest late eighteenth-century houses built by the town’s small farmers."

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.


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