This mansion, one of the finest in Providence, was built in the late 1870s by George H. Corliss for his second wife. Corliss (1817-1888) was the inventor of the most widely used industrial steam engine of the nineteenth century. Corliss’ first wife Phebe died in 1859. Seeking companionship, George remarried in 1866 to Emily Shaw who was eighteen years younger than he. Ms. Shaw suffered from poor health and she with the assistance of her doctor, convinced Mr. Corliss that she escape the cold winters of Rhode Island for Bermuda. It does not appear that they relocated to Bermuda, but Corliss stated, “I will build Bermuda for Mrs. Corliss.” He did, and this is it. Corliss used his engineering skills to build a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled building, cool in the summer, warm in the winter. The Italianate Villa is one of the largest in town but employed a style that was dated upon completion. In 1929, Corliss’s great-nephew, screen-writer and movie producer for Paramount Studios Charles Brackett inherited the house. He in turn eventually transferred the house over to Brown in 1955, who have maintained the old mansion to this day!
Bailey-Keeler House // c.1860
Lewis H. Bailey (1818-1899) was a local banker, merchant, and hotel proprietor in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He had this stunning Italianate Villa home built on Main Street before the American Civil War. Bailey was savvy in realizing the upcoming development boom in town as wealthy New Yorkers began to arrive in town to build summer houses to escape the cramped city living and polluted air, and he began to sell off land and develop streets in the village. To house some shorter-term summer residents, Bailey constructed and operated the old Bailey Inn on a lot adjacent to his own home. The inn was torn down in the 1920s as the town’s dynamic as a summer town began to change with more more year-round residency. The Italianate Villa is a lasting legacy of Bailey and his impact on the town. The home with its square tower and detached carriage house are in a great state of preservation and significantly contribute to the character of Main Street.
Stephen King House // 1854
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.
Governor Henry Lippitt Mansion // 1865
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.
Goddard Mansion // 1859-1981
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.
Charles Loomis House // 1862
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?
Arnold Fenner Mansion // 1855
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.
Bella Vista Villa // 1908 //
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.