Henry Truman Beckwith (1808-1893) was born in Providence and (of course) enrolled at Brown University. He left school after two years and wished to see the world. He began to work as a cargo clerk aboard ships for a cotton merchant of Macon, Georgia. He traveled between Boston and Calcutta at least twice, bringing aboard novels from American and British authors, spending much of his time reading. Being well-read and without a family of his own (he never married), he devoted much of his time to clubs and organizations including: the Providence Athenaeum, Rhode Island Historical Society, and the Rhode Island Horticultural Society. In the later years of his life, Henry had this Queen Anne style home built in College Hill, on the same block as the Historical Society where he was a member. The Beckwith House was eventually acquired by Brown University and has since been known as Partridge Hall. The building is now home to the Brown Center for Students of Color, an organization that was established after a series of student protests in 1968 and 1975. Amid the civil rights movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, a group of Black students walked out of Brown University in December 1968 in protest of fierce racism on campus. The mission of the Brown Center for Students of Color has evolved over the years, but its current mission statement reads “Visualize. Vocalize. Mobilize”, they remain an integral piece of the campus and provide much-needed space for students of color to build a sense of community on campus.
One of the finest Federal period mansions in Providence is this well-sited home on College Hill known as the Captain George Benson House. George Benson was a partner of the mercantile firm of Brown, Benson & Ives, who made immense sums of money at the end of the 18th century. The firm did well as the movement to abolish the transatlantic slave trade grew at the time in Rhode Island, many abolitionists placed their faith in so-called “legitimate commerce,” an African trade centered on commodities other than enslaved people. In 1794, the firm run by Nicholas Brown, Jr., and his partners George Benson and Thomas Ives, tried the legitimate trade, and dispatched the ship Charlotte to Freetown Africa, under the command of Benson’s half brother, Martin. George’s half-brother Martin was a slave trader, a job that may have accounted for the unusually explicit tone in a 1794 letter of instructions: “by no means take any Slaves on board the Ship on any terms whatever as we desire to have nothing to do with business.” Three years later, George had this Federal style mansion constructed on the peak of College Hill which remains one of the best in the area over 200 years later.
I love a good Second Empire style house with a mansard roof, and luckily, New England is full of amazing examples. This house in Providence’s College Hill neighborhood dates to about 1857 and appears to have been built for Francis W. Carpenter, a successful businessman who would later serve as President of the Congdon & Carpenter Company, an iron and steel company which was founded in 1792. Carpenter did very well for himself and would later move out of this house and into a stunning Beaux Arts mansion further up the street (featured previously), designed by the premier architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings. The house is today owned by RISD, and appears to be used for residences.
William Wanton Dunnell (1850-1933) was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and was educated in Rhode Island schools. He eventually helped run his family’s cotton goods business, which grew over the next decades. The Dunnell Finishing Works factory was a success in Apponaug (Warwick) Rhode Island, and he had over 500 employees turning out over 1,000,000 yards of printed cloth a week! Before all this, William had this amazing house built in College Hill, Providence for his family. The local architectural firm of Stone, Carpenter & Willson was hired and blended Shingle, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles elegantly under one roof. I am particularly fond of the sawtooth shingles, Palladian motif windows in the gable, and undulating facade. The house is owned today by RISD.
Pardon Miller, a watchmaker and silversmith in Providence had this Federal style home built in 1822 in Providence’s high-value College Hill neighborhood when he was in his 20s. The home and its neighbor were built at the same time, seemingly by the same builder as they share a lot of similarities in design and detailing. The house remained in the Miller Family until 1882, and it is now owned by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The homes on the northern side of Angell Street, like this house, are largely built on a raised foundation with high retaining walls, which showcases the “hill” in College Hill.
Jonathan Congdon (1763-1862) worked in the hardware and iron business, following his father’s footsteps, eventually taking over the family business. Jonathan married Elizabeth Arnold and had at least nine children together. Two of their sons, Arnold and Welcome, too followed in the family business, as ironworkers and salesmen, with the new firm name, Jonathan Congdon & Sons. The company did well, and Jonathan replaced his c.1787 home on the lot (built at the time of his marriage) with the present structure. He also laid out a street on the side of the property, which was named Congdon Street. The home remained in the Congdon Family until 1937, when it was acquired by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
Located next door to the William Holroyd House (last post) in Providence’s College Hill neighborhood, this Federal style home appears to have been constructed by the same builder just a year apart, but in brick! This house was constructed in 1797 for Samuel Eddy, an attorney, congressman, and later served as Chief Justice of the Rhode Island State Supreme Court. Similar to the Holroyd House, the property was later acquired by a member of the Brown Family, and has since become part of the Brown-RISD Hillel.
When visiting Downtown Providence, I couldn’t help myself but to cross the river into College Hill, a neighborhood of such architectural diversity I could run this entire page just featuring that area. This beautiful Federal style home was built onto the downward slope of the hill in 1798 for William Holroyd, a merchant and active Baptist in town. The home sits atop a raised basement with brick end walls and clapboard siding on the front and rear. The property exhibits a symmetrical facade, splayed lintels above the windows, and a perfect center entry with fluted pilasters and pediment containing a fanlight. The building today appears to be a part of the Brown-RISD Hillel.
Providence is full of amazing residential architecture from all periods, but one house that stands out to me for being such a high style and unique mansion is the Hamilton House on Angell Street. The mansion was constructed in 1896 for local businessman, Francis W. Carpenter. From 1892 until his death, he was the president of Congdon & Carpenter Company, an iron and steel company which was founded in 1792, and operated in Providence into the 1980s. Carpenter was very influential as chairman of the committee on the construction of a new building for the Central Congregational Church (a previous post) in 1893. So pleased with how the church turned out, he hired the same architects, Carrère and Hastings of New York to design his own mansion which would sit next door to the church! Many in New England may not know how significant it was to have Carrere and Hastings design your house. To put it into perspective, while the firm was designing this house, they were designing the New York Public Library’s Main Branch building! The Carpenter Mansion was designed in the French Renaissance Revival style which was not too common in America, but always turns heads! The large hipped roof emulates the earlier French mansard roof forms, and the bold massing and use of limestone and brick makes the house look like a chateau or castle plucked from the French countryside. The house apparently was not finished until 1915, likely when the porte-cochere was added for the owner’s vehicles. The building is now occupied by The Hamilton House, a non-profit organization that serves as an adult learning exchange with programs from history classes to group fitness courses.
“Less is more” is a phrase adopted in 1947 by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to describe his minimalist, Miesian glass box buildings. While he was referring to Modern architecture, the same phrase can be used in 19th century design, where massing, form, and materials are showcased in all their glory with little frills or additions. The Robert Lippitt House in Providence was constructed by 1854 for Robert Lincoln Lippitt (1823-1858), who worked with his brother Henry Lippitt in owning and managing textile mills. Henry would later build his own mansion nextdoor to his late brother’s house (see past post). Sadly, Robert died four years after this home was built, at the young age of 34. His widow, Louisa Gorden Hallet remained in the home and remarried within a year of her late husband’s death, to Charles Lippitt, possibly a cousin to Robert. Messy. The home was designed by architect Thomas A. Tefft, a promising and respected young architect who also died young, at the age of 33.