William Jones King (1803-1885) was born in Providence, Rhode Island as the eldest son of Elijah and Nancy King. His father Elijah was a master-mariner and a wealthy ship-owner, engaging in trade with the West Indies, likely partaking in the transport and sale of humans like many Rhode Island “merchants” at the time. Elijah was travelling to Martinique in 1815, when the Great Gale of 1815, the largest hurricane on record at the time in New England, intercepted the ships and capsized them. Elijah and his crew died at sea. After his father’s untimely death, which left the family poor, William (as the eldest at just 12 years old) became the sole support of his mother and three younger siblings at the time. William eventually became a clerk at the Union Bank in town, moving up the ranks until he became a cotton merchant. He had this home built a few years after his marriage to Lydia Gilbert. The house is an excellent example of a traditional Greek Revival home in the College Hill section of Providence with corner pilasters and central Ionic portico all sited high on a landscaped terrace behind an iron fence. The house is now owned by Brown University and has been renamed MacFarlane House after Walter Kilgore MacFarlane, Jr., a Brown alumnus in the class of 1923. The house today houses the main office of the Classics Department at Brown University.
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.
I love a good Second Empire style house with a mansard roof, and luckily, New England is full of amazing examples. This house in Providence’s College Hill neighborhood dates to about 1857 and appears to have been built for Francis W. Carpenter, a successful businessman who would later serve as President of the Congdon & Carpenter Company, an iron and steel company which was founded in 1792. Carpenter did very well for himself and would later move out of this house and into a stunning Beaux Arts mansion further up the street (featured previously), designed by the premier architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings. The house is today owned by RISD, and appears to be used for residences.
Pardon Miller, a watchmaker and silversmith in Providence had this Federal style home built in 1822 in Providence’s high-value College Hill neighborhood when he was in his 20s. The home and its neighbor were built at the same time, seemingly by the same builder as they share a lot of similarities in design and detailing. The house remained in the Miller Family until 1882, and it is now owned by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The homes on the northern side of Angell Street, like this house, are largely built on a raised foundation with high retaining walls, which showcases the “hill” in College Hill.
Jonathan Congdon (1763-1862) worked in the hardware and iron business, following his father’s footsteps, eventually taking over the family business. Jonathan married Elizabeth Arnold and had at least nine children together. Two of their sons, Arnold and Welcome, too followed in the family business, as ironworkers and salesmen, with the new firm name, Jonathan Congdon & Sons. The company did well, and Jonathan replaced his c.1787 home on the lot (built at the time of his marriage) with the present structure. He also laid out a street on the side of the property, which was named Congdon Street. The home remained in the Congdon Family until 1937, when it was acquired by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
Located next door to the William Holroyd House (last post) in Providence’s College Hill neighborhood, this Federal style home appears to have been constructed by the same builder just a year apart, but in brick! This house was constructed in 1797 for Samuel Eddy, an attorney, congressman, and later served as Chief Justice of the Rhode Island State Supreme Court. Similar to the Holroyd House, the property was later acquired by a member of the Brown Family, and has since become part of the Brown-RISD Hillel.
The Providence Custom House was designed by the first Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department Ammi B. Young in an academic Italianate style. Built between 1855-1857, the structure was constructed of the iconic granite from quarries in Quincy, Massachusetts. It is a three-story building, topped by a hip roof and metal dome (hard to photograph), with strong quoined corners and cornices between the levels. After completion it housed the city’s main post office, Federal District Court, District Attorney, Internal Revenue Service, Collector of Customs, and Steamboat Inspector. The space was outgrown, and a modern Federal building was constructed a few streets away, though they retained offices in this building. According to Wikipedia, after the Federal Government vacated the structure in 1989, it was considered by a variety of businesses for occupation, including a restaurant, a facility for homeless persons, and offices. The building was bought by the State of Rhode Island and converted to office space for the State Courts System. After extensive renovation at a cost of $550,000, the building was opened by the state in 1992 as the John E. Fogarty Judicial Complex.
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.
I love a good Colonial Revival commercial building, and this example in Downtown Providence is a great example! This structure was built in 1924 for the Providence Gas Company as their new headquarters. The architectural firm of Clarke & Howe were clearly inspired by the Joseph Brown House with the eccentric curved ogee gable that caps the façade with stone trimmings. The building remains in a great state of preservation and showcases the academic influence of Colonial styles in New England, and how centuries later, architects would employ earlier design detailing to meet present needs.
Founded in 1801, the National Exchange Bank built this structure in 1845 in what would become Downtown Providence, an area with more residential quality than the much-developed East Side. The bank likely knew what was to come in terms of development here, so invested in a new masonry building to serve as the new headquarters of the bank. The northern half of the building is more typical Greek Revival in style with granite base and clean proportions. In 1887-8, the southern portion of the building was redesigned in the academic Queen Anne style to designs by Stone, Carpenter & Willson. This section of the building has amazing oriel windows, brownstone trim, slate mansard roof, and a clock.