The Dining Room of the Elms Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, is represents the Gilded Age in all the best ways. The room sits just off the ballroom and like all of the other rooms in the summer residence of the Berwinds, it was designed by famed interior designer Jules Allard. The dining room was specifically to display a collection of early18th-century Venetian paintings purchased by Mr. Berwind from the Ca’ Corner estate in Venice (the Berwinds were avid collectors of 18th century French and Venetian paintings). The iconic coffered ceiling is not of wood, but of molded plaster, grained and painted to imitate oak. Each coffer is decorated with the winged lion of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice. Pour custom-made crystal chandeliers hang in the four corners of the room. At the end of the room is a stunning green marble, agate and onyx fireplace that is framed by a ceiling-high pediment supported by carved Ionic columns. Could you see yourself entertaining in this dining room?
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.
Prior to 1899, the Ladies Sewing Circle of Waterford carried on a lending library at the Ambrose Knight store, run by Sarah and Carrie Knight. Interest in the library grew and more room was needed for books. The Knight sisters began construction of a stone building, but both died only a few weeks apart in August 1911 during its construction. The building was completed in 1912. On Oct. 1, 1937 a fire destroyed parts of the library and other nearby buildings. In early 1938, the library’s second floor was reconstructed in the new Dutch Colonial style, giving the library a very different look.
Bearskin Neck in Rockport, Massachusetts is such a magical place, and a place I visit at least once a year. The narrow peninsula is lined by modest wooden buildings that were built when the village was a thriving fishing village. Fast forward to the mid-20th century, the neighborhood became an established artist colony, with many of these buildings converted to studios, shops, or restaurants. This charming old building was constructed by 1845 as a sail loft, where workers would lay out cloth and make sails for ships. The building was known to have been used as a sail loft up to about 1942. Like everything else on the Neck, the building has been faithfully restored and converted to commercial use by small business artisans, including Bearskin Neck Leathers. This is why historic preservation is so important. These buildings connect us to the past, but can be adaptively reused into modern uses.
The most iconic house in Norway, Maine has to be the Evans-Cummings House (also known locally as the Gingerbread House) on Main Street. The ornate Victorian era home was originally built in 1855 for Richard Evans, who was born in Portland in 1805 and after training as a carpenter, moved to Norway in 1833 for work. He and his wife, Mary Warren Hill, had eight children and they resided in the home until their death. In 1890, Charles B. Cummings bought the house in 1890 and hired local architect John B. Hazen to remodel the house. Hazen added the gingerbread adornments for which the house is now known colloquially. The home attracted a lot of attention in the region, and the later heirs continued that whimsical appeal. When the home was willed to Fred and Cora Cummings, they were said to have kept a stuffed peacock at the top of the stairs, which delighted children when they toured the home. The house eventually became used as storage by the owners of the local Advertiser Democrat newspaper, and its future was threatened. Since 2012, a local group, Friends of the Gingerbread House, have poured tens of thousands of dollars and an equal amount of time restoring the iconic home to her former glory! Preservation is important!
This beautiful, bucolic church in Norway Center was built in 1840 to replace an earlier meeting built in 1808-09 on the site. The present building is Gothic Revival in style with louvered panels making the windows appear lancet in shape and the amazing lancet window centered on the facade. The two-tiered tower is ornamented with crenellation and a wooden spire at each corner (besides one missing). The church features a louvered fan and strong pediment, which are nods to other prominent styles of the early-mid 19th century, Federal and Greek Revival respectively. This church quickly saw membership drop as Norway Village became the population center of town, with Norway Center becoming more agricultural and rural.
Smack-dab in the middle of Newport, Rhode Island’s dense network of downtown streets, you’ll find Queen Anne Square, a rare bit of open space in a web of alleys and ways. Did you know that this park is only 50 years old? It’s true! In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Newport (and many cities all over New England) were grappling with suburbanization and dwindling tax revenue with people and businesses moving out. Their solution was “urban renewal”, which entailed the razing of buildings and sometimes, neighborhoods which were deemed “blight”. Historic buildings and communities were destroyed with modern planning (high capacity roads and high-rises connected by open space) to take its place. In Newport, this saw the form of America’s Cup Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, which cut through the city to allow for more cars and less-congested side-streets. Years later, planners realized that Newport was without a traditional town common like many New England towns, so they cleared buildings in front of Trinity Church to provide that traditional feeling. At the time, preservationists were trying to save significant buildings, with the Langley House being one of them. This house was set for the wrecking-ball, from Memorial Boulevard’s construction but moved and restored by Newport Restoration in the last hour to the south side of Church Street. Seven years later when Queen Anne Square was built, this house was moved to the north side, saving it once again. This house is a survivor!
The Newhall-Lane House (could be the home of many wives) was built in 1809 by Pliny Newhall, a bricklayer. He purchased the land here at a prominent crossroads in Lancaster in 1808 from his employer who owned a brickyard across the street. At a previous home in town, Newhall’s wife Patty died giving birth to their son, at just 23 years old. Their son also died during childbirth. He remarried and had a full family to grow into the couple’s new house. They relocated to Lincoln and the home was sold to Captain Anthony Lane, who was the son of Deacon Jonas Lane, an important figure in Lancaster town history. Jonas had four wives, outliving three of them. Captain Lane himself, was married twice while living in this house; he had no children from either marriage. Although he was a talented craftsman and cabinetmaker, Captain Lane listed his occupation as farmer. The house is significant architecturally, as a fine example of Federal style architecture in Lancaster . Its sophisticated design is reflected in the graceful entrance. One of the unique features of the house is the pedimented gable of the facade which in combination with the narrow plan of the house, creates a delightful massing in this distinctive combination of Greek Revival and Federal styles.
Stephen King, the world-renowned author of some of the most popular horror novels, was born in Maine, and has used the state as the setting for many of his stories. From blood-soaked Carrie, to the haunted hallways in The Shining, to the evil clown Pennywise in “It”, Stephen King has long been one of the leaders in horror, terrifying millions with his books and film adaptations. Instead of living in a larger metropolitan area, he has long resided in Bangor, Maine, in one of the most visually striking homes in the state. The home was built in 1854 for William Arnold, who operated prosperous livery stables in town. The home is a rare example of an Italianate Villa in the state. While Stephen King now spends most of his time at his home in Florida, his Bangor mansion with its iconic wrought-iron gate ornamented with spiders and webs, bat-winged creatures, and a three-headed reptile are much more fitting of the horror author’s essence.
Originally an old tavern/inn, this wood-frame building in Newmarket, NH, was built for a member of the Rundlett Family who settled in town from nearby Portsmouth. The old building was known as Rundlett’s Tavern for a number of years, later renamed the Washington House, and eventually Silver’s Hotel by 1870. Under owner Joseph B. Silver, the Federal style building was updated with Victorian-era flair, marketing to visitors of town who had business with the Newmarket Manufacturing Company across the street. After Silver died in 1898, the building was purchased by George H. Willey and renamed the Willey Hotel/Willey House. He oversaw renovations in the 1920s to give it the Colonial Revival appearance we see today. The building is now apartments.