Continuing with my mini-series on The Hill, a neighborhood of 18th and 19th century houses and buildings saved from Urban Renewal in Portsmouth’s North End neighborhood, I present the James Neal House. Built in 1831 and taxed a year later, the house stands out as a late Federal style property, a style that was well on its way out in popularity. Additionally, the home is the only extant brick house in this area of town from the period. James Neal was listed in directories as a merchant, possibly being involved in the shipping of goods from plantations in the Caribbean, which were farmed by enslaved Africans. James died just a few years after his home was built. The brick house is three-stories with a hipped roof. The entry is surmounted by a semi-circular fanlight set within a recessed opening, a modest take on the Federal style.
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.
The Arnold-Palmer house (not related to the drink), a handsome brick single residence of the Federal period, was built about 1826 by Daniel Arnold, a wealthy Providence merchant who did well in the economic expansion of the 1820s and 30s. The home is attributed to John Holden Greene, a Providence architect who commonly incorporated a monitor roof in his designs. Daniel Arnold focused his wealth on flour trade, but he speculated in cotton as well, as did many of the merchants in Providence at the time. The connection of Providence with southern states and plantations demonstrate how tightly bound Rhode Island’s industrial economy was with Southern cotton and the enslaved people who produced it, with manufacturing and cotton mills all over Rhode Island. By the 1850s, Arnold’s house was sold to Joseph Palmer, who, through the firm of Palmer & Capron, manufactured gold rings in Providence’s growing jewelry business. The house was built in Cathedral Square a part of Downtown and was moved to its present site when that part of Providence was nearly entirely razed in urban renewal. While the siting is less than desirable, this rare surviving Federal home in downtown shows how the wealth and prosperity of Providence was not only restricted to College Hill.
The most architecturally significant example of the Federal style in Waterford, Maine, is this c.1810 home built for Ambrose Knight, who operated a store in town. The high-style Federal home features a well-proportioned fanlight over the entrance with a Palladian window above, all with geometric moulding. The home was likely built by a housewright who employed designs from Asher Benjamin’s pattern books for builders, as the high-style features and Palladian windows are uncommon in this part of Maine.
Possibly my favorite house in Assonet is this Federal style beauty on Elm Street, it is just so well-proportioned and stately. The home was built in 1802 as the home of Reverend David A. Leonard, who actually sold it before it could be completed to Ebenezer Peirce, Leonard moved to Bristol, RI. Ebenezer Peirce built the Congregational Church nearby in Assonet in 1809, so it is likely that with his carpentry skills, he updated this home to his standards when he acquired the property. Its monitor roof, four tall chimneys at the corners, large quoins, splayed lintels, and 12/12 sash on the second floor make it stand out on the busy street. A portico on Doric columns shelters the central door. The home was owned later by Peter Nichols, a blacksmith, then by his son-in-law, Captain Benedict Andros, a sea captain, who routinely brought Irish immigrants over to the United States during the Great Famine in the 1840s.
When Robert Strobridge turned of age, he inherited his father’s estate, which was split between him and his sister. When he was in his 20s, Robert appears to have built this stunning Federal style home, largely from his inheritance, probably around the time of his marriage in 1812 to Betsey Porter. Strobridge ran a popular store in town and he became a popular figure there, being elected four times to the state legislature. His business partner was the first postmaster of Assonet, and when he resigned, Mr. Strobridge succeeded him, and continued in the position until his death in 1822 at just 37 years old.
This house in Freetown, MA literally made me turn the car around to get a photo (it’s a sickness, they need a rehab for old house addicts). The house was built in the early 1800s and is a stellar example of the Federal style, which took over architecture in New England after the Revolutionary War until the 1830s. The style often features intricate designs and complex geometry, which previously would have been too difficult for the majority of builders or designers to accomplish. From pattern books by influential architects like Asher Benjamin, the style was built in forms and places from urban townhomes in Boston and New York, to rural, rambling farmhouses in Vermont and Maine. Publications by Asher Benjamin including The Country Builder’s Assistant and The American Builder’s Companion opened up high-quality, architectural landmark designs to the masses, and is a significant reason New England architecture is so iconic. Benjamin included drawings and diagrams which builders could copy, from column styles and dimensions to chimney and moulding details.
At the end of the War of 1812, Captain John Nichols settled in Assonet and appears to have had this Federal style house built soon after. The house remained in the family for at least two successive generations, seeing little exterior modifications during that time. After John’s death in 1848, the property was inherited by his second-born son, Thomas. Dr. Thomas Nichols left town as a young man and studied medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and returned to Freetown to begin the practice of medicine in 1847, likely to assist his ailing father. In Freetown, Thomas was involved with the local church, politics, medicine, and worked for a local gun manufacturer. After Dr. Nichols died with paralysis, his son, Gilbert inherited the family home. The family home is a great example of the Federal style with a symmetrical facade, low hip roof, twin interior chimneys, and central doorway with sidelights and blind, elliptical fan above. The side porch was likely added in the early 20th century.
Set along Beacon Street, one of the finest streets in Boston, this townhouse has uninterrupted views of the Boston Common and Public Garden. The house was built around 1825 after a large fire destroyed nearly all the homes on the block. Build it and they will come, and the upper-class Boston elite did! Attorney William Minot (1783-1873) purchased the land here as early as 1817, and is said to have hired Peter Banner, the English architect who designed Park Street Church, to design the first house on this site, which stood less than 10 years. Minot had a new home built in the 1820s and lived there until his death in 1873. By the late 1920s, Christian Archibald Herter lived here. Herter held a number of important offices in state and national government, serving as the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Governor of Massachusetts, and President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State (1959 to 1961). It was Herter who likely added the Federal Revival features on the house, including the porch, dormers and updated door surround.
One of the oldest extant homes in Waban Village, Newton, is this 18th century farmhouse which is an excellent example a Federal-period home in the Boston area. Dates of construction for this house have ranged from c.1765 to 1790. The earliest recorded ownership of 38 acres of land at this location is attributed to Eleazer Hyde (1664-1731), one of Newton’s earliest citizens and one of a long line of Hydes in Newton. From 1772 to 1791, the house was owned by Josiah Starr. Immediately after, this property was owned by a housewright named Capt. Ebenezer Richardson, who possibly built or re-built this house in the current configuration. Thaddeus Tower owned the land from 1844-1866, when the City of Boston took a portion of it in 1848 for the new Cochituate Aqueduct, which ran right behind his home. Not long after, Thaddeus sold the farm to Edward Wyman, a linen importer from Roxbury. He subsequently
sold it to his brother Dr. Morrill Wyman in 1869. Dr. Morrill Wyman sold 150-acre property to developers, never appearing to have lived in the home, after the railroad came west from Boston in 1886 and increased the value of the surrounding farmland, later known as the village of Waban. All of the land was developed with homes, and all that remains of the old farm is the farmhouse seen here.