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.
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).
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.
Not many buildings show the rapid prosperity seen in American cities in the late 19th century and the shifting of retail as well as the Shepard Company Building in Downtown Providence. The core of this building was constructed in the 1880 as a modest three-story Italianate style commercial structure for the Shepard Company, a dry goods store. Founder John Shepard insisted that his store was not simply one large business, but instead a collection of quaint shops, “each more complete in itself than the small separate stores,” with each division offering a premier shopping experience, an early example of a department store. Beginning in 1896, the company embarked on a rapid building expansion, designed by local architects Martin & Hall, which was largely completed by 1903, encompassing the entire city block. The two ends front the main streets of Washington and Westminster, each with stunning corner entrances. A 1923 fire caused damage to the building which was quickly restored. Though once successful, the Shepard Company went bankrupt in 1974, after decades of shifting retail and population density toward the outer suburbs. The building is now occupied by the University of Rhode Island’s Providence campus, and the institution does a phenomenal job maintaining and preserving this gem!