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-foot Stiletto, 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.
John Brown Herreshoff House // c.1870
John Brown Herreshoff, a fully-blind ship-builder, and later Founder and President of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, built this house at the head of Burnside Street, overlooking his boat works (no pun intended). The home sits next to the stunning Codman Place mansion, featured previously, and takes architectural cues from its neighbor. The home is reported to have been built by J.B. Herreshoff, who despite being completely blind, developed his other senses to a high degree to overcome the handicap of sightlessness, and became renowned for his design skills in his ships. The home has a mansard roof with a central projecting entrance bay, capped with a steeply pitched roof, and a barrel-vaulted dormer and ocular window inset. While the house is now condo units, it retains its architectural integrity at the exterior.