For the last post in this series on Bristol, Rhode Island, I am leaving you with a house that is architecturally stunning, but holds a dark history. Linden Place was built in 1810 by slave trader, merchant, privateer and ship owner George DeWolf and was designed by architect, Russell Warren. The DeWolfs of Bristol, who became the biggest slave-trading family in U.S. history, transported well over 11,000 Africans to the Americas between 1769 and 1820. The U.S. banned the slave trade in 1808, but the DeWolfs continued dealing in the slave trade until the 1840s by going through Cuba, where they had numerous plantations. They also got help from a DeWolf brother-in-law, who served as a customs inspector in Bristol — thus ensuring family slave ships continued to come and go. In 1825, George DeWolf suffered major financial hits and he and his family fled to his plantation in Cuba, where they’d be beyond reach of his creditors. Stories explain that with the possibility of legitimate payment out of the question, the townspeople sought compensation for George’s debts where they could, and they broke down the front door of Linden Place, and took everything, even peeling the silk wallpaper off the walls.
While I love the quintessential white, wood-frame New England churches that proliferate the region, the stone, Gothic churches always make me stop in my tracks; and this example in Bristol is no exception! St. Michael’s parish was founded in 1718 as one of the Rhode Island’s four colonial churches, funded and overseen from London. The first church, built in 1720, was ironically later burned during a British raid in 1778. It was replaced in 1785 by a plain wooden meetinghouse with funds from local residents and partitioners. In 1833, it was replaced by a wood-frame Gothic church which burned in 1858. Undeterred, the church hired New York City architects Alexander Saeltzer and Lawrence B. Valk, who designed the present brownstone Gothic Revival church. Just over a decade later, the church hired Worcester architect Stephen C. Earle, to design a chapel and parish house, across the street. The chapel building follows the Gothic Revival style, but with more Victorian flair, and is also constructed of brownstone to compliment the church. Together, the two structures transport you to the English countryside with their design and presence on the main street in town. What do you think of them?
This incredibly unique and flawless home in Bristol was apparently built by the infamous James DeWolf. Historic records state that the slave trader built the home for his son William Henry, but that is unlikely as he was the owner of the family mansion, Linden Place at that time. Therefore it is likely that another of James’ sons William Bradford DeWolf was gifted the home, roughly at the time of his marriage in 1835. The home was a 2 1/2-story Greek Revival home. By the 1880s, the property was sold to Dr. Ramon Guiteras, a urologist, who had the house stuccoed, fashionable Stick style trim applied across the facade, a full-width bracketed porch, and two-story octagonal tower on the side. The home is now owned by the neighboring church who restored it in the 1970s and maintain it beautifully to this day.
Similar to Burnside Memorial Hall nearby, this school building in Bristol was also constructed as a memorial, in the form of an architectural statement-piece. The school building was gifted to the town of Bristol by Samuel P. Colt, who resided in a mansion nearby, Linden Place, and also owned a massive country estate in town, where his prized cows were cultivated. The school building was funded as a gift in memory of his mother Theodora DeWolf Colt and showcases his everlasting love for her. Designed by Cooper & Bailey of Boston, this monumental, 2-story, hip-roof Renaissance Revival structure was built of white marble with 2-story, cast-bronze window bays. The symmetrical facade has a central Corinthian portico with fluted columns and a pediment containing cherubs around the Colt family crest. The school was used as the town high school until the 1960s when it was outgrown, the building has since been used as an elementary school, the nicest one I have ever seen!
Located on the Bristol Town Green, facing the main commercial area and harbor, the old Bristol County Courthouse is a well-preserved example of a building for civic use in town, at the height of its growth. It is believed that the courthouse is the work of architect Russell Warren, who lived in a home he designed just blocks away. This Federal-style stone building is faced with brick and subsequently stuccoed, giving it the unique composition it has today. The focus of the symmetrical facade is the large central arched window with granite quoins, and Y-tracery that echos Gothic design. As part of the 1836 state Bicentennial, the stucco facing was added over the original brick facing, and the exterior was painted a Gothic Revival sand color with darker trim, replicated in a 1976 restoration. From 1819, the courthouse served as one of the five state houses used in rotation by the Rhode Island General Assembly (in 1854, the General Assembly decided to meet only in Providence or Newport). In 1853, it reverted to courthouse use, a function which ceased in the early 1980s. The Bristol County Sheriff maintained offices there until 1997, when the building was purchased from the state for $1 by the Bristol Statehouse Foundation. The nonprofit foundation has worked to restore and maintain the building. Today, the building is used for education, community programs, meetings, and events.
Land that Mount Hope Farm sits upon in Bristol, Rhode Island was formerly council lands of the Wampanoag Indians, where King Philip’s War of 1675 may be said to have begun and ended. For those of you who do not know about the war, it was an armed conflict running 1675–1678 between indigenous peoples of New England and New England colonists and their indigenous allies. Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag, had maintained a long-standing alliance with the colonists. Metacom (c. 1638–1676) was his younger son, and he became “sachem” (elected chief) in 1662 after Massasoit’s death. Metacom, however, forwent his father’s alliance between the Wampanoags and the colonists and they fought back. Metacom’s forces could not beat the growing numbers of the colonists, and he was eventually killed near Mount Hope, in Bristol. After his death, his wife and nine-year-old son were captured and sold as slaves in Bermuda. Philip’s head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees. This story, shows how American history is built upon death and suffering and has often been whitewashed to portray early settlers treating native peoples with respect and as equals, which was rarely the case.
Mount Hope Farm as we know in colonial times, was originally 550 acres in size, owned in 1680 by Nathaniel Byfield. In 1744, the estate was acquired by Isaac Royall. Royall began construction of the house soon after. Isaac Royall Jr. was the son of Isaac Royall Sr. (1677–1739) a slave owner, slave trader, and Antiguan plantation owner who had a home and slave quarters (both extant) in Medford, MA. After his father’s death, Royall Jr. inherited his immense wealth, built upon the backs of others, and built this Georgian farmhouse. It is unknown to me if he ever resided there or had slaves maintain the property, but the home was rented for some time. In 1776, Mount Hope Farm was confiscated by the state, after Royall, a loyalist to England, fled to Nova Scotia. The property was added onto in the 19th and 20th centuries and now sits on 127-acres of land, and is run as a park, inn, and event space.
In 1859, 18 year old John Brown Herreshoff (1841-1915) of Bristol, accepted his first commission to design and build a yacht. The fact that he was blind, having completely lost his sight at 15, didn’t seem to slow him down. He became known as the “blind boat builder.” In his early years, John Herreshoff had acquired such a keen knowledge and “feel” of boats that his blindness was no obstacle. The handwork however, was done by his brother, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, later known as “the Wizard of Bristol.” His skill in shipbuilding became well-known; so in 1863, John took on space in an old rifleworks, hired a crew of shipwrights and established what would become the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. From 1864 to 1869, the boatworks built forty-three steam yachts, including Seven Brothers, the first steam-powered fishing boat in America. In 1876, Lightning, the first United States Navy torpedo boat, was completed. Construction of larger craft soon followed, including the 94-footStiletto, considered the fastest boat in the world, and was later purchased by the Navy, and was its first torpedo boat capable of launching self-propelled torpedoes. J.B. Herreshoff died in 1915 and the company continued under his brother Nathanael, until it was taken over by a syndicate of New York and Boston yachtsmen. Business stagnated after WWI and the business closed after WWII. Today, Burnside Street in Bristol showcases the lasting legacy of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company and their impact. Also, the Herreshoff Marine Museum sits at the end of the street, continuing that legacy.
Bristol, Rhode Island is dominated by Federal and Greek Revival homes, but there are some absolutely gorgeous gems built after (I can’t wait to show you a sampling). This Bracketed/Italianate home is a well-preserved example of the style with a side-hall entry, two-story bay window, and hoods over windows and the main entry with brackets. The home was built for Charles Greene, a very active citizen of Bristol. Greene (1822-1899) purchased the Bristol Phoenix in 1862 and remained its editor and publisher for thirty-one years. Active in public and civic affairs, he was first president of the Rhode Island Press Association, clerk of the Supreme and common Pleas Courts of Bristol County from 1865 to 1868, a member of the General Assembly in 1873 and 1874, Sheriff of Bristol County from 1875 to 1877, and a town council member from 1879 to 1881.
Built in 1838, just three years after the Talbot House in Bristol, Rhode Island, (just two houses away), the Dimond House remains as the other of the two remaining Greek, temple-front homes in town. Like the Talbot House, this home was also designed by Russell Warren, but is unique as it is in the tetrastyle (with four columns) and utilizes the Ionic order with the capitals featuring volutes (scrolls). Additionally, a polygonal bay can be seen on the right side of the home. Images show that the bay features stunning lancet windows! The home was designed for Francis Moore Dimond (1796-1859), who was born in Bristol, and later traveled to the Caribbean and served for several years (1832-1835) as the United States consul at Port-au-Prince. It is entirely possible that Dimond was involved in the slave trade, but I wasn’t able to find more than a couple articles referencing his connections to the infamous DeWolf Family. From 1842 to 1849, Dimond was United States Consul to the Mexican port city of Veracruz. When he returned to Rhode Island, he promoted the Southern Pacific Railway and presided over its construction. He was elected lieutenant governor of Rhode Island in 1853. He became the governor of Rhode Island when Philip Allen, then Governor, resigned to become a Senator. He held the governor’s office just one year. He moved back to Bristol and lived out his final days at his home.
The Bristol Ferry Lighthouse, located on the southernmost tip of Bristol, Rhode Island, is possibly the most difficult building I have tried to photograph since starting this account. The lighthouse got its start in 1846, when the Bay State Steamboat Company, established a small lighted beacon at this location. The Fall River Line consisted of a railroad journey between Boston and Fall River, Massachusetts, where passengers would then board steamboats for the journey through Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound to a dock in Manhattan. For many years, it was the preferred route to take for travel between the Boston and New York. The early beacon was unreliable, and Congress appropriated $1,500 in 1854, for a combined lighthouse and lightkeeper dwelling. The light served this chokepoint well, until the construction of the Mount Hope Bridge between Bristol and Portsmouth in 1928-1929. Spanning over a mile long, the bridge was built practically over the lighthouse and rendered it irrelevant as an aid to navigation. The lantern was removed from the tower in 1928. An automatic navigational light on a nearby skeletal tower remained in operation until 1934. Around that time, the lighthouse was sold off as excess and went into private ownership, and for a while, provided housing for a couple students at nearby Roger Williams University. The building was restored and now appears to be a private home.