Across from the new Nelson Fitness Center at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island,Meehan Auditorium is an excellent example of a 1960s institutional athletic facility. The auditorium was dedicated at the Brown-Princeton hockey game on January 6, 1962 and was named after George V. Meehan, donor of half a million dollars for its construction. The new facility filled the need for a skating rink and large auditorium for indoor functions, specifically for ice skating and hockey and was the first building of the new athletic plant at Aldrich-Dexter Field east of the campus. The building was designed by Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean, a prominent firm who designed many collegiate buildings in the 20th century, all over New England.
Avon Cinema // 1938
There are fewer and fewer historic movie theaters in America, largely due to the proliferation of larger theaters at the end of the 20th century and the more recent trend of streaming. Smaller, family-owned theaters are becoming rare, so if we value the charm and character of these spaces, we have to support the arts at these spaces! The Avon Cinema is located in Providence’s East Side neighborhood and premiered on February 15, 1938 with the French film Beethoven’s Great Love (titled “The Life and Loves of Beethoven” in the U.S.) The theater was originally constructed in 1915 and operated as the Toy Theater for a few years before it closed. After decades, the building was purchased by the Dulgarian Brothers, who reopened the theater, naming it Avon. The Dulgarian family has owned and operated the theater to this day and have made a point to restore the building and maintain the historic charm.
Eliza and Samson Almy House // 1859
The College Hill neighborhood of Providence has some of the finest residential architecture in New England, and some really fun stories of those who built these grand homes. In 1859, the house was built with a concave mansard roof punctuated with dormers and a bold bracketed cornice below. The use of round headed windows on the second floor is a really great design detail. The residence was first owned by Eliza Talbot Almy (1808-1886), who held the title to the property. Wives holding the title of properties in this period was fairly common as it would protect their personal property and residence from financial risk if the husband was met with lawsuits or financial hardship. Eliza’s husband was cotton broker and manufacturer Samson Almy (1795-1876), who had already been sued in a case heard before the United States Supreme Court in 1851. After Eliza’s death in 1886, her daughter, Susan Smith (1837-1917) and husband, Amos Denison Smith (1835-1912), a Civil War veteran, occupied the house into the early 20th century.
Congdon Street Baptist Church // 1875
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!
Benjamin Bliven House // 1849
Although Benjamin Bliven built this house, he never owned the property, but the name lives on! This house on Angell Street in Providence was originally constructed in 1849 in the Greek Revival style, popular at the time. Bliven, a musician, rented the property to tenants until the deed was transferred to Abby W. Watson, wife of Robert W. Watson (owner of the property next door and featured on this account previously). The first owner-occupants were Grace A. and Eugene H. Greene, who bought the property in 1898. The house was completely remodeled in the early decades of the 20th century with Regency/Colonial Revival detailing. Changes including the former roof with its gable-end facing the street boxed off, a new modillion cornice with parapet above; recessed attic story with balustrade; small wing to the east. The stucco siding and Federal entry is icing on the cake!
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.
King-MacFarlane House // 1845
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.