New England is lucky to have so many diverse house museums where architecture and history nerds like me can tour old houses and envision what it was like to live in that era. The Governor Henry Lippitt mansion in Providence stands out as one of the most significant Victorian-era homes in Rhode Island, and contains one of the best-preserved Victorian interiors in America. The mansion was likely designed by local architect Russell Warren, and modified by Henry Lippitt (1818-1891), heir to one of Rhode Island’s leading textile manufacturing families, for his wife Mary Ann Balch (1823-1889) and their six children who survived to adulthood. While Henry was a prominent businessman, his wife Mary may have been even busier. Mary owned and managed rental properties in Providence, including this mansion, giving her husband Henry life tenancy. She oversaw day-to-day running of the mansion, supervising the servants while teaching her daughter Jeanie, who became deaf at age four due to complications from scarlet fever, to read lips and continue to develop her speech. The Lippitt Mansion is an early, and high-style example of an Italianate Villa/ Renaissance Revival design, which moved away from the more prescribed forms of architecture towards the more eclectic, Victorian-era mode. The home features two main facades, with the smaller, west (main) facade featuring a central pavilion with ornate foliate frieze and Corinthian columns, and the north (side) facade – my favorite – with a more commanding presence with a bold porte-cochere. The home remained in the Lippitt family for 114 years, and was later acquired by Preserve Rhode Island, who opened it to the public as a museum in 1993.
This shell of a former mansion was built in 1859 for Colonel John Goddard (1811-1870), a Civil War Union Army Officer. Goddard was a “lumberman” who amassed substantial wealth before the outbreak of the Civil War, and he hired architect Charles A. Alexander, to design an estate house for him and his family. The home appears to have been constructed of local stone with white granite trim and featured a prominent tower, emulating an Italian Villa. The home was purchased in 1898 by Judge Joseph W. Symonds, who presided over the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Just two years later in 1900, during the expansion of Fort Williams, the estate was acquired by the Federal government. The home was used for housing married enlisted men and their families while stationed at Fort Williams. The basement was converted into the fort’s Non-Commissioned Officers’ Club. At the time of the town’s purchase of the Fort in 1964, the mansion was already in serious disrepair and its future was uncertain. People routinely broke in and damaged the interior, which suffered numerous small fires over the years, until the town decided in 1981 to hold a controlled burn of the home, leaving the shell. The shell remains a significant architectural landmark and a massive opportunity for the town.
This home was built for Charles Loomis of the Loomis Family, who made their fortune in the tobacco farming and rolling industry in Suffield, Connecticut. Charles F. Loomis used his tobacco money to have this asymmetrical Italianate Villa constructed in 1862. The home features a prominent three-story tower capped with iron cresting, broad overhanging eaves with brackets and some stickwork, and a gorgeous door with arched transom and sidelights. There are almost too many architectural details to list. What is your favorite?
Considered to be one of the best-preserved Italian Villas in the state of Connecticut, the Fenner Mansion on Main Street in Plainfield, CT, is a head-turner! The home was built for Arnold Fenner (1794-1871), a mill-owner in Plainfield, who lived in sight of his business. The Italian Villa with the characteristic box-like form, flat roof, veranda, belvedere, arched shapes, and bay windows; the plethora of brackets, quoins, canopies, balustrades, and jigsaw scalloped decoration epitomizes the Victorian taste for abundant architectural detail at the time.
Designed to resemble the stone houses of Italy, this home in Chester, Connecticut stands out among Colonial-era homes in the region. The home was designed by the owner, Ila Howard Stone (1870-1931), known to many as “Madame Pierre”. Although she was the ex-wife of a reverend, and not a trained architect, she designed this massive estate to house her lavish parties and many suitors.
After her divorce (which was almost unheard of for a reverend and his wife), Ila recreated herself as Eila Pierre “Madame”. She was viewed as promiscuous and a modern day feminist, who affronted small town sensibilities in her modern Italian Villa mansion.
The home was constructed by at least five masons and laborers who immigrated from Italy. Some of the laborers even constructed the Gillette Castle across the Connecticut River.