The Congdon Street Baptist Church on College Hill is extremely significant as part of the rich history of Providence. Its origins began in 1819, when Moses Brown, an abolitionist, industrialist and member of the Brown Family (who profited on the institution of slavery) gave land to “the people of color” of Providence for a schoolhouse and meeting house. The original building stood slightly north of the present structure and it was built in 1821. The structure provided the first schoolhouse for Black children in Providence. In 1869 the building was torn down, without the approval or knowledge of the congregation by white neighbors because “its proximity displeased them”… Eventually the congregation arranged an exchange of lots with one of the church’s neighbors and architects Hartshorn & Wilcox were commissioned to design the new church building. Hartshorn was the successor of Thomas A. Tefft and this church echoes many of his designs in the Italianate style. The new building was completed in 1875 at the cost of $16,000. It was renamed the Congdon Street Baptist Church. The church has since 1875 served as an important landmark and gathering place for many Providence’s Black residents past and present.
Welcome Congdon House // c.1820
In 1820, Joseph Dorr, a trader, purchased this house lot in Providence’s East Side overlooking present-day Downtown. He had this Federal style house built with a symmetrical five-bay facade with fanlight transom over the door. He occupied the house until 1827 when he sold the property to a Charles Hadwin. In 1832, the property was acquired and soon after purchased by Welcome Congdon (1794-1874) who lived there until his death. The house was more recently added onto with a Modern addition on the side, to provide additional, private space for the owners who live directly next to a public park.
George Corliss – Charles Brackett House // 1878
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!
Samuel B. Wheaton House // 1850
Another Italianate mansion on Angell Street in Providence is the Samuel B. Wheaton House which is presently occupied by Brown University’s English Department. Samuel Burr Wheaton (1807-1863) was a merchant who also served as president of the Phenix Bank. The building is capped by a shallow hip roof which is not visible from the street and wide, overhanging eaves supported by brackets. The house is a Villa in plan as it features irregular massing and not a symmetrical form, just sans tower. The Wheaton House was acquired by Brown University who has since added onto the rear of the house for the English Department offices and classroom spaces. LLB Architects is credited with the contextually designed additions which utilizes lead-coated-copper clad connectors that are recessed between sensitively-scaled brick pavilions that preserve the integrity of the original house by letting it stand proud of the later additions.
Watson-Knight Mansion // 1854
No town does Italianate architecture quite like Providence! Case in point, the Watson-Knight Mansion, a relatively overlooked example of the style found on Angell Street in College Hill. In 1854, a house lot here was purchased by an elderly Matthew Watson (1786-1857), who possibly lived in half of the house for a few years until his death. Directories also list his son Robert as living in the home in 1854. The three-story brick mansion has a boxy form with symmetrical facade. Brownstone hoods and sills are located at the windows and add depth to the otherwise blank facade. A projecting wooden door hood with hanging pendants covers the large entry. The home remained in the Watson Family until it came under the possession of Robert Brayton Knight (1826-1912) a businessman and mill owner who became the largest individual owner of cotton mills in the world, with upwards of twenty distinct establishments under his personal control. He co-founded what became the Fruit-of-the-Loom brand with his brother in the 1850s. The building has since been divided into apartment/condominiums.
William Holroyd House // 1798
When visiting Downtown Providence, I couldn’t help myself but to cross the river into College Hill, a neighborhood of such architectural diversity I could run this entire page just featuring that area. This beautiful Federal style home was built onto the downward slope of the hill in 1798 for William Holroyd, a merchant and active Baptist in town. The home sits atop a raised basement with brick end walls and clapboard siding on the front and rear. The property exhibits a symmetrical facade, splayed lintels above the windows, and a perfect center entry with fluted pilasters and pediment containing a fanlight. The building today appears to be a part of the Brown-RISD Hillel.
New England Telephone Building, Providence // 1917
This towering Georgian Revival building in Providence is definitely one of my favorites downtown. The 8-story building was constructed in 1917 for the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, who outgrew their other facility just blocks away. The design is credited to the firm of Clarke & Howe, local architects. The two-story arcaded marble base is surmounted by a six-story brick tower, which is an architectural landmark in Downtown Providence. The building appears to retain its original windows and looks much as it did when built over 100 years ago. At the rear, a larger 1970s wing was added and shares little in terms of architectural detailing with the original structure.