Providence is full of amazing residential architecture from all periods, but one house that stands out to me for being such a high style and unique mansion is the Hamilton House on Angell Street. The mansion was constructed in 1896 for local businessman, Francis W. Carpenter. From 1892 until his death, he was the president of Congdon & Carpenter Company, an iron and steel company which was founded in 1792, and operated in Providence into the 1980s. Carpenter was very influential as chairman of the committee on the construction of a new building for the Central Congregational Church (a previous post) in 1893. So pleased with how the church turned out, he hired the same architects, Carrère and Hastings of New York to design his own mansion which would sit next door to the church! Many in New England may not know how significant it was to have Carrere and Hastings design your house. To put it into perspective, while the firm was designing this house, they were designing the New York Public Library’s Main Branch building! The Carpenter Mansion was designed in the French Renaissance Revival style which was not too common in America, but always turns heads! The large hipped roof emulates the earlier French mansard roof forms, and the bold massing and use of limestone and brick makes the house look like a chateau or castle plucked from the French countryside. The house apparently was not finished until 1915, likely when the porte-cochere was added for the owner’s vehicles. The building is now occupied by The Hamilton House, a non-profit organization that serves as an adult learning exchange with programs from history classes to group fitness courses.
This Greek Revival home with a one-story full-length porch was built in 1839 for Peter Wanton Snow, one of the unluckiest men in Providence. Born the son of a leading China trader and the son of a granddaughter of a former governor of Rhode Island, Peter W. Snow (1788-1843) was born into privilege and like many of such stature, could enter the family business with ease and make a lot of money. Peter first sailed for Canton (Guangzhou, China) with his father in 1803. Doubtless because of his father’s position and trading connections, young Snow became the partner of Edward Carrington who, within fewer than a dozen years, was to become one of the richest and best merchants dealing in Chinese goods in Rhode Island, if not in the entire country. Carrington wanted to retire and have Peter Snow take over his agency in China, but Peter did not seem to like it there and always wanted to go back home to the United States. He got the chance for a few years beginning in 1814, but upon returning home, he learned that his only son, Charles, had died a year earlier at the age of five years, and to compound his personal tragedy, Snow lost two baby daughters in the next three years. By 1816, he returned to China but never seemed to be able to get out of debt, while trying to provide for his last two remaining children. Tragedy struck again when his last living daughter died, while he was in China. Peter’s business partner and friend R. B. Forbes before letting Peter know the bad news wrote this.
“Mr. Snow is now in as good health as he has been since his arrival in China, still he is weak in body, and a very little trouble or disappointment breaks him down and reduces him completely unable to do anything. Poor man, his countrymen here feel much sympathy for him, and fear the result of this news on him. This daughter has appeared to be the only thing which could induce Mr. Snow to make any exertion, and he often spoke of her with all the feelings of a Father who centered all his happiness, in this world, in making her comfortable and happy, and in the expectation of returning to America and of ending his days in her arms”
While in debt, he somehow had this home built in Providence, likely from assistance from family and colleagues. The land here was purchased by Peter’s wife Jeanette, and the home was likely built soon after. Peter died in 1843, virtually penniless.
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.
Following DeWolf’s bankruptcy, the house was bought by his uncle James DeWolf, who was alleged to have directed the murder of a female African slave in 1789 who was sick with smallpox on the slave ship Polly, which he commanded; she was bound to a chair and lowered overboard. James DeWolf was tried and effectively acquitted; which, sadly, should not surprise anyone based on historical precedent. In fact, James DeWolf financed another 25 slaving voyages, usually with other members of his family and was thought to be the second richest man in the United States upon his death in 1837. In later years the house passed to Samuel Pomeroy Colt, a grandson of George DeWolf (as well as the nephew of the inventor of the Colt revolver). His son Russell married actress Ethel Barrymore, who was the great-aunt of current actress Drew Barrymore, and lived in the home. Today, the grand estate is a house museum and event space.
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.
Located on Hope Street in Bristol, the Burnside Memorial Hall stands out as an elaborate, poly-chromed, two-story Richardsonian Romanesque public building. The Town of Bristol required a new town hall, and hired Worcester-based architect Stephen C. Earle to design the new structure. Earle’s program was to combine a town hall with a memorial to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, Civil War hero, thrice governor of Rhode Island, and later United States senator, who died in 1881. The centerpiece of Burnside Memorial Hall was to be a statue of the general on its porch, long since removed from the building. Bristol town offices were removed from the building in 1969, and shifted to a bland building attached at the rear, Burnside Hall now serves purely as a memorial. Fun Fact: Burnside was noted for his unusual beard, joining strips of hair in front of his ears to his mustache but with the chin clean-shaven; the word burnsides was coined to describe this style. The syllables were later reversed to give the name we know today as “sideburns”!
Completed in 1858 from designs by architect Ammi B. Young, the Bristol Customs House and Post Office is a two-story rectangular Italianate style building, that stands out as an uncommon building of the style in town. Ammi B. Young was the first Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department. As federal architect, he was responsible for designing many custom houses, post offices, courthouses and hospitals across the United States. He was a master of the Greek Revival style so it is interesting to see how he diverged from his trusted style in a town so populated by homes and buildings in the style. The design is more subdued compared to other Customs Houses he designed around the time, likely a response to the declining economy in town from whaling and shipping. The building was occupied as a customs house and post office until 1962, when it was abandoned. The adjacent YMCA purchased the building soon after, connecting it via a small addition and occupying it as additional programming space until 1990. The building was restored and is now home to the Bristol Oyster Bar.
In 1809, Giles Luther built this two-story, 5-bay, hip-roof Federal house, which has been substantially enlarged and altered over the years in succeeding styles. Original detailing on the facade includes the Palladian window, modillion cornice, quoins, and wide-beaded window casings with splayed lintels. Giles Luther (1775-1841), a shipmaster, merchant, and farmer, was more importantly the first Grand Marshall of the Bristol Fourth ofJuly Parade, which is believed to be part of the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the country. In 1825 Luther’s business failed; the Commercial Bank took this house and sold it in 1828 to Jacob Babbitt. Babbitt owned part of a wharf in town and in his will of 1849, he left the “use and improvement” of this house to
his son Jacob, Jr. (1809-1862). The younger Babbitt was wealthy and likely made the mid-19th century modifications to the home, including the Italianate triple-arched door and full-width porch with delicate cut-out posts and railings. The home was occupied for much of the 20th century by the Bristol Nursing Association, and sold in the 1970s to a private owner. The home was for a period ran as a bed & breakfast but appears to be back to a private residence today.
Architect Russell Warren (1783-1860), who I have featured on here numerous times, built this 2-story, 5-bay, hip-roof Federal house in Bristol, Rhode Island. This residence as interpreted by Warren as an example of the Federal style with stylistic features most notably being the angulated quoins (at the corners of the house). The house was designed for William Van Doom, a Bristol tailor of modest means. In 1814, Warren, a young and aspiring architect, saw the significant wealth in Bristol and decided to buy this home he designed. Siting himself in the vicinity of the extremely wealthy DeWolf family, he gained recognition and success by designing three expensive and elaborately crafted houses for them at this time, only Linden Place remaining. Warren lived in this house from 1814 until 1823.
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.