Seward’s Folly Bookstore

sewards folly

Back in the 1970s / 1980s, there was a little bookstore on the corner of Transit Street and Brook Street in Providence, called “Seward’s Folly.” It was run by an older couple, Schuyler Seward and his wife Peterkin.



It was a small musty wonderland of a bookstore, and the Sewards were always very kind to me. I went there whenever I could. I wanted a book by Will Cuppy the 1940s humorist, and they managed to find it for me, and after that they knew me as “Cuppy,” because who in the 1980s remembered Will Cuppy?



Schuyler had a beard and mustache as I do now, and was very wry and very smart, and one online source claims that he was a speechwriter for the Truman Administration. Peterkin was small and walked with difficulty, but had a wonderful smile. They had two dogs when I knew them: a huge poodle and a huge bulldog – both elderly and tired – who had to be taken upstairs (where the Sewards lived) and showered with cool water from time to time in the summertime, so that they wouldn’t overheat.



The Sewards were lovable people, and very memorable.



I wonder how many people remember them now?



And who will remember me when I’m gone?



This is the very last bit of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”:



“But soon we shall die . . . and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” 



Do you get that? We don’t last forever, but we will leave something behind.



The Sewards left me a wonderful legacy – a memory of two intelligent kind friendly people. I hope, when my time comes, that I will leave behind some tiny fraction of the kindly legacy the Sewards bequeathed me.



(Postscript: while researching this blog, I discovered that Peterkin died only a few months  ago – on July 30, 2013 – not far away, in Rumford, Rhode Island. Schuyler evidently predeceased her, though I couldn’t find his obituary. They are survived by their daughter Abbi.)



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

18 Responses to Seward’s Folly Bookstore

  1. You evoked the charm of old fashioned bookstores. I have a quotation for the occasion, of course, if I can find it…

    I read an interesting novel in which the characters when they did go to a city, and their life in the city is kind of like our life, and they don’t move on to heaven….or somewhere that is implied to be better…until the last person on earth who remembers them dies.

    I found the quotation: “In one sense there is no death. The life of a soul on earth lasts beyond his or her departure. You will always feel that life touching yours, that voice speaking to you, The spirit looking out of others’ eyes, talking to you in the familiar things he touched, worked with, loved as a familiar friend. He lives on in your life and in the lives of all others that knew him.” *Angelo Patri

    In the course of looking for it, I found another, sadder one.
    “When she died her family would remember her and she would live on in their memories for seventy years at most, and then she would be forgotten. She would become one of the ninety billion people on this planet that had lived and died before her. The end.

    At forty-four, I feel the current of that river pulling at me. I am one of six and a half billion people currently taking their turn at being alive on this planet. One of billions trying to make sense of their lives, their heartbreaks, their regrets, their greatest loves, their bad knees, and their beloved children sitting in front of them who will one day be part of the billions who have come before and have long since been forgotten.

    This is unfathomable. And it’s the truest thing I know.” -Melanie Gideon, The Slippery Year

    In 100 years, all new people, right?

  2. Maybe it’s not that people remember us that’s so important, but that we make a difference. If that is the case, then those differences will be carried on by the people we touch, and they in turn will pass it on to the next generation. So in that way WE will carry on for …… however long and strong our influence was.
    It’s like my (rudimentary) understanding of homeopathy: the element of the remedy is diluted and diluted and diluted in ever greater amounts of water, but the resulting remedy is actually stronger.
    AND: I’m changing my name to Peterkin!

  3. Nancy Green says:

    thanks for remembering Sewards Folly, I bought some books there

  4. Tom Staley says:

    I used to go there often too and I remember the Sewards much the way you do. They were really wonderful people, and it was a great place. Their daughter was in a seminar with me at Brown and she was lovely too.

    • They were such nice people. Do you remember the dogs? There was a huge poodle and a very smelly old bulldog. And they had to climb a very steep flight of stairs to get up into their living quarters upstairs.

  5. Well I remember them well. After a tough week of writing software, on a Friday afternoon I would look forward to stopping at Seward’s Folly and talking with them as well as finding some hard to find books. I also had many interesting conversations with them, they were both very friendly and there were always a few people there talking with them. It was a standing joke that I would look at a book, decide I didn’t want it, only to change my mind and come back a few days later only to learn that it had been sold. They got no end of hilarity from that frequently occurring event.

    I also remember when Cellar Stories bookstore actually was in a cellar and I can remember the wonderful old Dana’s bookstore, in the financial section of the city, across the street and a few buildings down from the arcade. I met Mr. Dana once in the early 1970’s and got treated to a ride in an ancient hyrdaulic elevator from the early 1900’s which was operated by a man pulling on a rope which ran through the center of the elevator (!! yes !!) when Dana’s daughter showed me some books in their 3d floor storage room.

    The one haunting thing about Providence is that, like many cities, it is but a ghost of what it once was. If you study some pictures of the Providence of 100 years ago, it is remarkable how crowded and busy it appears. Even in the 1930’s.

    Another husband/wife team in bookstores was Bill Longo and Milli Santilli who used to have a wonderful booksale every year on Labor Day in the yard of their cottage across the street from the Warwick Mall.

    Sorry to hear that the Schuyler and Peterkin have passed away. They will be remembered.

    I moved out of Rhode Island in 2002.

    • I’m glad that others remember them as fondly as I do. I was very partial to stopping by on them on the weekends and on summer afternoons. Sometimes I actually bought something.

  6. Tom says:

    Yes, I remember Seward’s Folly fondly from my stint in grad school in the ’90’s. When ringing up my purchase, Schuyler would always announce “and 58 cents for the governor” (or whatever the tax happened to be).

    I’ll also never forget the first time I realized they had the bulldog in the store. Peterkin was working at the desk, and as I browsed I periodically heard a hoarse, rumbling yip from the desk. As I was beginning to worry for the poor woman’s health and was wondering if she needed medical attention, I walked to the front desk and saw with relief the dog curled up at her feet!

    Does anyone know when the shop closed? It was certainly still open in ’98.

  7. stuartvyse says:

    Just this minute I came across and old Seward’s Folly bookmark that I have keep all these years. I remember them both. If I am correct, in later years Schuyler had a gaping, drooping lower eyelid. They were both very friendly and quite literate. I had a number of very pleasant conversations with them. I seem to remember the smell of cigarette smoke in the shop. I wish there were more places like Seward’s Folly and more people like the Sewards.

    • I really liked Schuyler and Peterkin, and met their daughter several times. They had two dogs when I knew them: an old poodle and an old bulldog. One of them (I think the bulldog) had to be taken up to the bathroom upstairs from the bookstore daily and showered, because he overheated.

      They were lovely intelligent people. I thought they were wonderful. I was foolish enough to ask for a job with them once, not realizing that they were probably only making enough money to support themselves, let alone an employee. I don’t think I ever saw anyone but Schuyler or Peterkin at the front desk by the door.

      They were lovely people, as I said. I’m so sorry they’re gone. I remember them very kindly.

  8. GEB says:

    My brother and I often visited the Sewards’ as an apprehensive and (elsewhere) all too confident teenagers, wandering the East Side in search of stories. Suffice it to say, their place provided us with many…

    • I have so many fond memories of the Sewards. It was a lovely place. It became a video store later, and I think now it’s something else – I hate to look – it ruins my memories. I still live in the neighborhood. I want to remember it as it was in 1980, when the world was younger and kinder.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: