For the last post in this series on Bristol, Rhode Island, I am leaving you with a house that is architecturally stunning, but holds a dark history. Linden Place was built in 1810 by slave trader, merchant, privateer and ship owner George DeWolf and was designed by architect, Russell Warren. The DeWolfs of Bristol, who became the biggest slave-trading family in U.S. history, transported well over 11,000 Africans to the Americas between 1769 and 1820. The U.S. banned the slave trade in 1808, but the DeWolfs continued dealing in the slave trade until the 1840s by going through Cuba, where they had numerous plantations. They also got help from a DeWolf brother-in-law, who served as a customs inspector in Bristol — thus ensuring family slave ships continued to come and go. In 1825, George DeWolf suffered major financial hits and he and his family fled to his plantation in Cuba, where they’d be beyond reach of his creditors. Stories explain that with the possibility of legitimate payment out of the question, the townspeople sought compensation for George’s debts where they could, and they broke down the front door of Linden Place, and took everything, even peeling the silk wallpaper off the walls.
William Bradford (1729-1808), who would become Deputy Governor of Rhode Island from 1775 to 1778, came to Bristol to practice medicine by 1758. When he arrived, he rented Mount Hope Farm (featured before), before building a home in town. When the British Navy bombarded Bristol on October 7, 1775, his home was among the buildings destroyed. He afterward went aboard ship to negotiate a cease fire, saving what was left of the town. In 1792, he built a 2 1/2-story Federal style, boxy house on this lot, close to the street. The home was willed to his son Hersey, who resided there until the 1840s, when he mortgaged the house to Francis Dimond, who resided in a Greek Revival temple front home (also featured on here previously). He gifted the modest Federal home to his daughter, Isabella, possibly as a wedding gift upon her marriage to Samuel Norris, a sugar refiner. Mr. Norris and Isabella hired architect Russell Warren, who designed her father’s home nearby, to renovate the house in the spring of 1845, moving the house away from Hope Street. The house was given its third floor and additional bay, along with the ornate design which characterizes it to this day, including the Ionic porch and Chinese Chippendale balustrade. The house remained in the Norris family until 1942 and is now a B&B.
In 1809, Giles Luther built this two-story, 5-bay, hip-roof Federal house, which has been substantially enlarged and altered over the years in succeeding styles. Original detailing on the facade includes the Palladian window, modillion cornice, quoins, and wide-beaded window casings with splayed lintels. Giles Luther (1775-1841), a shipmaster, merchant, and farmer, was more importantly the first Grand Marshall of the Bristol Fourth ofJuly Parade, which is believed to be part of the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the country. In 1825 Luther’s business failed; the Commercial Bank took this house and sold it in 1828 to Jacob Babbitt. Babbitt owned part of a wharf in town and in his will of 1849, he left the “use and improvement” of this house to his son Jacob, Jr. (1809-1862). The younger Babbitt was wealthy and likely made the mid-19th century modifications to the home, including the Italianate triple-arched door and full-width porch with delicate cut-out posts and railings. The home was occupied for much of the 20th century by the Bristol Nursing Association, and sold in the 1970s to a private owner. The home was for a period ran as a bed & breakfast but appears to be back to a private residence today.
In 1859, 18 year old John Brown Herreshoff (1841-1915) of Bristol, accepted his first commission to design and build a yacht. The fact that he was blind, having completely lost his sight at 15, didn’t seem to slow him down. He became known as the “blind boat builder.” In his early years, John Herreshoff had acquired such a keen knowledge and “feel” of boats that his blindness was no obstacle. The handwork however, was done by his brother, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, later known as “the Wizard of Bristol.” His skill in shipbuilding became well-known; so in 1863, John took on space in an old rifleworks, hired a crew of shipwrights and established what would become the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. From 1864 to 1869, the boatworks built forty-three steam yachts, including Seven Brothers, the first steam-powered fishing boat in America. In 1876, Lightning, the first United States Navy torpedo boat, was completed. Construction of larger craft soon followed, including the 94-footStiletto, considered the fastest boat in the world, and was later purchased by the Navy, and was its first torpedo boat capable of launching self-propelled torpedoes. J.B. Herreshoff died in 1915 and the company continued under his brother Nathanael, until it was taken over by a syndicate of New York and Boston yachtsmen. Business stagnated after WWI and the business closed after WWII. Today, Burnside Street in Bristol showcases the lasting legacy of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company and their impact. Also, the Herreshoff Marine Museum sits at the end of the street, continuing that legacy.
In 1807, a young John Howe (1783-1864), a descendent of the DeWolf family, married Louisa Smith, and built this family home soon after. He hired local esteemed architect Russell Warren (who was the same age as Howe at the time) to design the home, which is a simply designed, hipped roof home with an elliptical fanlight and sidelights at the central entrance. It is embellished with superb architectural woodwork with an ornate roof balustrade. Howe and his family lived in the home until 1822, when it passed to ship captain, Benjamin Churchill, who appears to have been involved with the transport of slaves to the Americas. According to local legend, Churchill gave the house its name by having the sailors of his ship, the Yankee, carve four American eagles, which he placed at the corners of the Chippendale balustrade that crowned his roof. Churchill’s tenure in the home was brief, and in 1825 the house passed to Byron Diman, a powerful merchant with interests in whaling, banking, and the local cotton mills who served as governor of Rhode Island in 1846–1847. The home has been restored numerous times and is well maintained.
This 2-story Neo-Gothic Revival church constructed of buff brick and limestone, is dominated by an off-center, 4-level tower and showcases how even smaller towns in New England have some of the finest 20th century churches. In 1849 St. Mary’s parish, in nearby Warren, Rhode Island, was founded to serve residents there as well as Irish and French Canadian immigrants in Bristol, which began arriving en masse. Just years later, in 1855, the first St. Mary’s Church in Bristol, was constructed as a plain wooden structure, and operated as a mission of the Warren church. In 1874 the Bristol church became an independent parish and saw large increases to membership with more Irish families settling here. Over the next decades, the space became more cramped and a building campaign was started to get a new place of worship. The present St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built in 1911, from plans by the Providence-based architectural firm of Murphy, Hindle & Wright, who together (and separately) designed many ecclesiastical buildings, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The interior is even more stunning than the exterior detailing, and remains very well-preserved.
The Bristol Ferry Lighthouse, located on the southernmost tip of Bristol, Rhode Island, is possibly the most difficult building I have tried to photograph since starting this account. The lighthouse got its start in 1846, when the Bay State Steamboat Company, established a small lighted beacon at this location. The Fall River Line consisted of a railroad journey between Boston and Fall River, Massachusetts, where passengers would then board steamboats for the journey through Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound to a dock in Manhattan. For many years, it was the preferred route to take for travel between the Boston and New York. The early beacon was unreliable, and Congress appropriated $1,500 in 1854, for a combined lighthouse and lightkeeper dwelling. The light served this chokepoint well, until the construction of the Mount Hope Bridge between Bristol and Portsmouth in 1928-1929. Spanning over a mile long, the bridge was built practically over the lighthouse and rendered it irrelevant as an aid to navigation. The lantern was removed from the tower in 1928. An automatic navigational light on a nearby skeletal tower remained in operation until 1934. Around that time, the lighthouse was sold off as excess and went into private ownership, and for a while, provided housing for a couple students at nearby Roger Williams University. The building was restored and now appears to be a private home.
This two-story Greek Revival home was built in 1839 for George H. Reynolds (1809-1880), a descendant of Joseph Reynolds, who’s home was featured here previously. In 1836, George Reynolds worked as a blacksmith; by 1837 he sold shoes and groceries. By 1840, he was appointed postmaster. The side-hall home features corner pilasters and a gorgeous pedimented window in the gable end. The home was given a delicate entry portico in the latter half of the 19th century which immediately caught my attention.
One of the most unique houses in Bristol (and the State of Rhode Island for that matter) is Ferncliffe, a colonial farmhouse that morphed into this beauty in the late 19th century. In 1749, the 200-acre farm of Benjamin Church, containing land where this home sits, was divided among his four daughters. Thomas Peck, a farmer, purchased one share in 1761; his deed refers to a house already on the property. The home was likely a five-bay Georgian home with little details. However, in 1882, James L. Tobin an undertaker, bought the property which then extended west to Narragansett Bay. He “modernized” the home with brackets, front porch, oh and a massive three-story tower with pyramidal roof! Tobin’s daughter Mary named the house for the fern plants lining the waterside cliffs at the far extent of the property, giving it the name “Ferncliffe”. Since then, the farmland was subdivided and sold off and now contains many house lots, with many of the streets laid out named after his children and wife. After Tobin’s death in 1925, he willed the home to his two living daughters, Helen and Annie.
“Longfield”, aka the Abby DeWolf House was built in 1848 and is one of the finest homes in Bristol, Rhode Island. The home was completed from designs by Providence architect Russell Warren, who also designed other mansions in town (I’ll post those later on in this series), the Westminster Arcade in Providence, and “Hey Bonnie Hall” a since demolished Federal style home I featured a couple days ago. Longfield’s name derives from the 60-acre meadow, part of the 300-acre Henry DeWolf farm, given to Abby DeWolf when she married Charles Dana Gibson at just 21 years of age. The DeWolf Family paid for the home as a gift to Abby. The DeWolf Family is infamous for being highly active in the slave trade, and was believed to have transported over 11,000 enslaved people from Africa to the Americas before congress abolished the African Slave Trade in 1808, which “prohibited the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States…from any foreign kingdom, place, or country.” This policy did little as many owners of slaves just kept children born into slavery and also opened plantations in the Caribbean and South America. After Abby died in 1901, the home went to her granddaughter who maintained the home. By the 1970s, the home was sold out of the family and began a period of decades of deterioration to its current state. The interior is effectively gutted, but some original woodwork and fireplaces remain. Recent calls for a townhouse development with ample parking was proposed and approved by the town a couple years ago, but would greatly diminish its siting and architectural integrity. Nothing has happened on the site, but here’s to an appropriate restoration!