The Breakers – Great Hall // 1895

Merry Christmas from The Breakers! This 1895 Gilded Age mansion is the best to explore during December, when the halls are decked and stunning Christmas trees adorn the lavish rooms (learn more about the mansion in my last post) When you walk into The Breakers, you enter the Great Hall. Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the Great Hall after the open-air courtyards in Italian villas, but enclosed due to the tough New England winters. The palatial space (measuring 50 foot square), even if crowded by tourists trying to get the perfect shot on their smartphones, feels spacious yet somehow welcoming given the art museum-like detailing. The walls are made of carved limestone from Caen on the coast of France and adorned with plaques of rare marbles. Elaborately carved pilasters decorated with acorns and oak leaves support a massive carved and gilt-cornice which surrounds a ceiling painted to depict a windswept sky, further expressing the open-air courtyard feeling envisioned by Hunt, the architect. Four bronze chandeliers dangle from the gilded ceiling, and flood the room with warm light, evoking warm summers in Italy.

Lawton-Warren House // 1809

The Lawton-Warren House is one of the few large, brick Federal mansions in Newport, and is located a short walk from the Tillinghast House (last post) and the mysterious Newport Tower in Touro Park. The collapse of maritime trade in Newport following the British occupation was so complete that this house style, prevalent in Providence, is virtually nonexistent here. Robert Lawton was a sea captain and merchant who died at sea in 1818 off the coast of Africa and left the house to his wife, Penelope. After Penelope’s death in 1855, the traditional Federal style home was given Italianate detailing at the second floor. The home was likely painted around this time, which thankfully has been removed. The home was purchased in 1932 by George Henry Warren and his wife Mrs. Katherine Urquhart Warren. Katherine was a preservationist and art collector interested in preserving the Colonial town of Newport. To assist with this endeavor, she convinced the Countess Szycheni, a descendant of the Vanderbilt family and owner of The Breakers, to open The Breakers mansion to the public for tours. It was the start of the Preservation Society of Newport County. She would later be appointed by First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, to the committee to restore the White House in 1961. Katherine died in 1976, she willed the home here to the Preservation Society, and it held offices there until 1994. The home was sold to a private owner who restored the home to near original conditions, keeping the Italianate detailing.

Alexander Jack Jr. House // 1811

Newport in 1774 had approximately 153 free Black residents residing in 46 households comprising of thirty-percent of Newport’s population at this time. One of these free Black families was the Jack family who resided around Levin Street (Memorial Boulevard today). The Jack Family appears to have been from Antigua and may have had ties to the Redwood Family (the namesake of the Redwood Library), who owned a plantation on the island and resided in Newport. Alexander Jack, Jr. was a free African American whose trade was a cordwainer or shoemaker. He bought his land in 1811 and is thought to have begun construction almost immediately. Jack heirs remained on this property until 1881. The Newport Restoration Foundation purchased the house in 1969, moved it that same year to Mill Street to save it from urban renewal and the widening of Levin Street as Memorial Blvd.

Cotton House // c.1720

One of the oldest houses in Newport, the Charles Cotton House stands on Church Street, and has a similar story to its neighbor, the Langley House (featured previously). The home was built around 1720 and is named for Dr. Charles Cotton who owned it in the early nineteenth century. Cotton was born in Plymouth, MA, and was a direct-descendant of ministers John and Josiah and worked as a surgeon aboard the USS Constitution during the War of 1812. From Newport Restoration Foundation: “The original structure was probably a small, single-chimney house of one-and-a-half or perhaps two stories. The house as seen today was obviously enlarged in the Georgian style in the mid-eighteenth century and received further improvements in the early nineteenth century.” The likelihood of the building’s incremental growth is evident from the two chimneys are not of the same size above the roofline, nor are they in line with each other. Had the house been built new in the later Georgian style, elements on the exterior probably would have been more symmetrical and balanced. This building, like the Langley House was moved by Newport Restoration in the 1970s to save it from the wrecking-ball. In its original place, a parking lot.

William Bottomore House // c.1750

It’s not everyday that I get a chuckle when writing about a building, but I present the Billy Bottomore House… This well-kept Federal home in Newport was apparently built pre-Revolution, but it was likely significantly altered in the early 1800s for its namesake, William “Billy” Bottomore. “Billy” was born in Bologna, Italy, and moved to Salem, MA, where he possibly met Michele Felice Cornè, a prolific painter and who is credited in making tomatoes mainstream… seriously. In early 19th century New England tomatoes were thought to be deadly poison. Cornè was accustomed to eating tomatoes in his native land of Italy and would regularly eat them without ill effect and, thus, allayed the fears of the residents of his adopted country. Cornè became friends with Bottomore and they both moved to Newport. Bottomore likely modernized this house with help from his friend and ran a confectionery store in the home.

Peckham Houses // c.1855

On a little stretch of Kay Street in Newport, you can find four strikingly similar Italianate style houses, all neighbors. Upon further research, it turns out they were designed by the same man, Job Peckham. Job Almy Peckham (1807-1885) was a descendant of one of nearby Middletown’s “founding” families. He ran a lumberyard and began working as a housewright, building homes. He was a believer of the philosophy “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, so he built many of his houses in a sort of cookie-cutter way, but each showcasing slight design changes. One of the most impressive features of these homes is the massive overhanging eaves with scrolled brackets. Peckham’s own house (bottom right) is included in the bunch. What do you think of these homes?

Touro Synagogue // 1763

While Newport is arguably best-known for the Newport mansions from the Gilded Age, there are soooo many amazing buildings from the Colonial era, including some of the most significant and historic in the United States. Touro Synagogue in Newport is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era, and the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America (for reference, second-oldest extant synagogue in North America was built in 1833, seventy years later)! Its history begins in the 17th century when the small but growing colony of Newport received its first Jewish residents possibly as early as 1658. The earliest known Jewish settlers arrived from Barbados, where they participated in the triangular trade along with Dutch and English settlements. By 1758, the Jewish population had grown sufficiently that there was a need for a house of worship. The Congregation now known as Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel) engaged Newport resident Peter Harrison to design the synagogue. Harrison, a British American merchant and sea captain, who was self-tutored in architecture, studying mostly from books and drawings. By the time he designed Touro Synagogue, he had already completed iconic buildings including Newport’s Redwood Library and King’s Chapel in Boston. Construction began on the “Jews Synagogue” in 1759, which was completed years later in 1763. The building is one of the most significant buildings in America, and is open to tours where you can see the immaculately restored interiors.

Langwater // 1859

The country estate of Frederick Lothrop Ames (1835-1893), “Langwater” sits in North Easton amongst a collection of some of America’s greatest architectural treasures, all thanks to the Ames Family. The Ames family was a wealthy family which had lived in Easton for many generations. Frederick’s grandfather Oliver Ames Sr. founded the Ames Shovel Works in Easton, Massachusetts. The Shovel Works earned the family a huge fortune, during a time when aggressive canal and railroad expansion was built by the hands of thousands of men using shovels. Frederick’s father Oliver Jr. was president of the Union Pacific Railroad during the building of the transcontinental railroad. Frederick’s cousin Oliver Ames was governor of Massachusetts 1887–1890. Frederick himself was Vice President of the Old Colony Railroad and director of the Union Pacific railroad. At the time of his death, Ames was reported to be the wealthiest person in Massachusetts. With this immense wealth, Frederick built a castle where he would spend most of the year, overseeing his various businesses, in his hometown of Easton, Massachusetts. The mansion was designed by architect George Snell and built around 1860, with a couple additions and updates until Frederick’s death. A few years before his death, Frederick hired famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who he already worked with in designing the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall(Easton’s Town Hall), to design a gate house leading to Langwater (more on that later).

Canton Town Hall // 1902

Collinsville, Connecticut grew in importance and population significantly in the 19th century. The traditional, rural town center of Canton remained pastoral with dairy farms on large agricultural lots. With the population centered around Collinsville, it was decided to erect a new town hall building in Collinsville, which is actually at the far edge of town, but the village where most residents lived. In 1902, this two-story, brick building was constructed just off Main Street. The building is unique for the Colonial Revival design, but with Gothic style lancet windows at the second floor. In the second half of the 20th century, the Town of Canton purchased the larger, three-story brick building adjacent to this building and expanded for additional town offices.

Case-Crowley House // 1840

Built in 1840 for Titus Case, this old house looks very different than it would have been when first constructed. The house was originally Greek Revival in style, probably with a gabled roof, common of the region and style. Case died in 1845, and the home was later purchased by Jeremiah Crowley who ran the Canton Creamery nearby. After the Civil War, he “modernized” the house in the then fashionable Italianate style, with a low-sloped roof with overhanging eaves, large brackets, a cupola, and a wrap-around porch.