Jabez Fitch House // 1725

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is one of the most charming towns in New England to explore by foot, largely due to its walkable network of streets and tight blocks filled with preserved Revolution-era homes. Like many other cities all over the region (and nation), Portsmouth was hit by Urban Renewal, a planning tool used nationwide to provide Federal funds to address “urban blight” and revitalize downtown cores after decades of suburbanization and loss of tax revenue. An urban renewal district for Portsmouth was its North End neighborhood, which similar to Boston’s, was home to a vibrant Italian-American population.

In 1964, federal funds were allocated to the North End project area in Portsmouth, for urban renewal. Prior to redevelopment, the North End was a mix of residential and commercial buildings, with many older houses converted into storefronts with apartments above. In the mid-1960s, the area was considered overcrowded, run down, and a fire hazard. As a result, the Portsmouth Housing Authority proposed the destruction of approximately 200 buildings, a school, and a church and redevelopment for commercial, industrial, and public use, rather than for residences. The project would displace approximately 300 families as a result. In 1968, Portsmouth Preservation Inc., a preservation organization was formed to attempt to save some of the historic building stock in the area slated for redevelopment. After bitter fighting and preservation advocacy, just fourteen houses were saved and mostly moved to an area known today as “The Hill”. This building is one of them. It was constructed around 1725 for Rev. Jabez Fitch, the new minister of the North Church in town. Fitch graduated from Harvard College in 1694 first settling in Ipswich, MA, before becoming minister of the North Church in 1724, a position he held until his death in 1746. The house was one of the few in the urban renewal area to not have been moved.

Peirce House // c.1860

On the north slope of Beacon Hill, you’ll find an excellent mix of early 19th century townhouses, early 20th century tenements, and landmarks related to Boston’s vibrant Black and Jewish communities which historically lived here. One thing you won’t see much of is wood-frame houses, many of which were replaced by the large, boxy tenements when land values and populations increased on the North Slope. One of the rare survivors of wooden homes from the 19th century here is this very narrow home on South Russell Street, built around 1860. Maps from the period show this house being owned by a Caroline Peirce. This tiny house was subdivided into four units around the time of the Great Depression!

Vermont National Bank // 1884

One of the few brick buildings in Newfane’s Village Center is this charming old bank, right on Main Street. The building was constructed in 1884 as the Vermont National Bank and is a vernacular example of the Romanesque Revival architectural style with the arched openings and brickwork. Vermont architect George A. Hines designed the modest building, which was built for $6,650. The bricks for the building were brought into town by ox cart. Those for the front facade cost 5 cents apiece; those for the sidewalls 3 cents; and those for the back wall 2 cents, showing how the best materials go on the highly visible facades.

Rockwell House // c.1850

Built in 1850, likely as a late-Greek Revival or Italianate style home, this property on Main Street in Ridgefield was completely “modernized” in the 1880s in the Queen Anne style popular at the time. The home was originally built for Francis Asbury Rockwell (1818-1881), a tin-smith, wine-maker and inventor who married Mary Lee Everest, who also had deep roots in the community and was a daughter of a local Revolutionary War captain. The couple built a home on Main Street and raised their children there until Francis and Mary died in 1881 and 1883 respectively. The family home was inherited by their eldest son, Charles Lee Rockwell, who became the director of the First National Bank in town. Charles updated the house to give it the Queen Anne Victorian flair we see today.

Richmond Building // 1876

The Victorian Gothic style Richmond Building in Downtown Providence always catches my eye for its polychrome brickwork. The building was constructed in 1876, seemingly as an investment property for Dr. F. H. Peckham, a surgeon. The Richmond Building was used for many years for offices and retail use. Also, look at that amazing curved sash window!

Sisters of Mercy Convent // 1894

Mary Francis Xavier Warde was the American foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. Born in Ireland in 1810 to fairly prosperous parents, she was orphaned in her teens. At age sixteen she moved to Dublin, where she met Catherine McAuley, a social service worker who established the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 to provide for the education and social needs of poor children, orphans, the sick, and homeless young women. Mary moved to the United States after establishing several convents in Ireland. Her educational work on behalf of the Irish immigrants in that city prompted Irish-born Bishop Bernard O’Reilly to invite the Sisters of Mercy to Providence in 1851. The convent acquired a Federal style house in present-day Downtown and provided services to poor residents for decades until a more substantial convent was deemed necessary. The one-block site was cleared and a cornerstone was laid for the new building in 1894. The brick and terra cotta building is Victorian Gothic in style with amazing proportions and really great detail. The chapel in one of the wings was completed soon after. After WWII, the building saw dwindling funds and the building was sold to Johnson & Wales University in the 1980s, who renamed the building Xavier Hall, and it now houses over 300 students in Downtown Providence.

Butler Exchange // 1871-1925

This magnificent structure formerly in Downtown Providence would likely still exist today had a devastating fire not destroyed it in 1925. When construction on the Butler Exchange began 1871, the area we know today as Downtown was only a cluster of small wooden and brick residences with commercial operations on the ground floors; the key retail shopping districts were across the river around where Brown University is today. The first major commercial development in modern-day Downtown was the Providence Arcade (featured previously), built in 1828, by Cyrus Butler. The Arcade languished in tenants and shoppers earning it the name, “Butler’s Folly”. A half-century later, a new Butler project was about to take off. Cyrus’ heirs built the Butler Exchange, which upon completion in 1873, was the largest building in Providence and its splendid French-inspired two-story mansard roof was a nice pairing with the City Hall being built nearby. The Butler Exchange saw commercial use, offices, and a school before a fire destroyed much of the building, leading to its demolition. The building was later replaced by the Industrial National Bank Building aka the “Superman Building”.

Image Courtesy of Providence Public Library collections.

Beneficent House // 1967

Located on the same block as the Arnold-Palmer House (last post) in Downtown Providence, this apartment building is the work of one of the most prolific Modernist architects of the 20th century, Paul Rudolph. During Downtown Providence’s period of urban renewal, which saw the demolition of much of Cathedral Square (much of which remains surface parking lots), planners sought a high-rise apartment building to house displaced elderly residents and others who hoped to reside close to downtown shopping and amenities. Architect Paul Rudolph, who was at the time Dean of Yale’s Architecture School, designed the brick building which employs horizontal bands in concrete which marks off floor levels and provides some breaks in the materiality. The building was originally designed in 1963, but after years of delays and budget cuts from rising construction costs, the balconies and other design features were removed from the final product, leading to its present simplicity. While simple, the building retains intrigue, especially with the projecting window bays and offset openings, a departure from the block apartment buildings at the time.

Shepard Building // 1880+

Not many buildings show the rapid prosperity seen in American cities in the late 19th century and the shifting of retail as well as the Shepard Company Building in Downtown Providence. The core of this building was constructed in the 1880 as a modest three-story Italianate style commercial structure for the Shepard Company, a dry goods store. Founder John Shepard insisted that his store was not simply one large business, but instead a collection of quaint shops, “each more complete in itself than the small separate stores,” with each division offering a premier shopping experience, an early example of a department store. Beginning in 1896, the company embarked on a rapid building expansion, designed by local architects Martin & Hall, which was largely completed by 1903, encompassing the entire city block. The two ends front the main streets of Washington and Westminster, each with stunning corner entrances. A 1923 fire caused damage to the building which was quickly restored. Though once successful, the Shepard Company went bankrupt in 1974, after decades of shifting retail and population density toward the outer suburbs. The building is now occupied by the University of Rhode Island’s Providence campus, and the institution does a phenomenal job maintaining and preserving this gem!

Susanna Cary Rental Property // c.1884

Isaac Harris Cary’s land holdings adjacent to Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Boston, saw a surge in value when the cemetery and Forest Hills Station were constructed, opening up the area for development. After Isaac’s death in 1881, his unmarried daughter Susanna, built this large Second Empire style building contributes to the varied 19th century architecture of the street. This double-house was constructed around 1884, seemingly as a rental property which provided Susanna income while residing nearby. The two units suffer from some deferred maintenance, but are excellent examples of the Second Empire style in a double-house form.