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.
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!
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.
Woodbine Cottage // 1873
George Champlin Mason (1820-1894) can be credited as one of the most influential people who helped make Newport what it is today. He was born in the old Colonial town in 1820 and after a brief period working in New York City in dry goods, he traveled to Europe in his twenties to study art in Rome, Paris, and Florence, specializing in landscape paintings. Mason spent the 1840s trying unsuccessfully to make a living as landscape painter and published Newport and Its Environs, a collection of 11 engravings of his landscape views of Newport that is one of the earliest books about Newport to showcase its potential as a vacation destination. In 1851, Mason switched professions and became part owner and editor of the Newport Mercury newspaper. He often wrote on architectural subjects. In around 1858, he took his love for art and architecture and became an architect/developer, just as Newport was seeing early stages of development as a summer colony. He was hired by some early summer residents to design their homes, and did not disappoint, gaining notoriety all over the northeast. His son George C. Mason, Jr. (1849-1924), followed in his father’s footsteps and is said to have been the first professional architectural preservationist in the United States. George Sr., built this house as his primary residence in 1873, a stunning and rare example of Swiss Chalet architecture in New England, notable for the use of pierced bargeboards, board-and-batten sheathing, and cut-out railings. The property also included a charming stone English Revival tower in the rear yard, built in the 21st century as a workshop for the previous owners. How cool!
“Snug Harbor” – Charles H. Baldwin Cottage // 1877
One of the finest Queen Anne style residences New England is this 1877 summer cottage, named “Snug Harbor”. The mansion was designed by architects William Appleton Potter and Robert Henderson Robertson for Charles H. Baldwin, a prominent admiral in the United States Navy. The design utilizes a brick first floor with shingle siding above, a high cross-gabled roof, panels and half-timbering, asymmetrical form, and a porte cochere at the entry. Later owner Arakel Bozyan, painted the entire exterior a deep red color and renamed the house “Gamir Doon”, Armenian for “Red House”. The house was restored back to a traditional color scheme and sold in 2020. The interiors are STUNNING!
Berkeley House // 1885
In 1885, a 28-year-old Leroy King (1857-1895) and his wife Ethel Rhinelander King (1857-1925) hired one of the country’s most prominent architects, Stanford White, to design a Newport home for their family. Leroy was the son of Edward King, a prominent local merchant, and upon his fathers death in 1875, inherited some of the $100+million dollar fortune he had amassed in today’s dollars. The corner lot at Bellevue and Berkeley avenues was purchased and work was underway on the new mansion. The house is a really interesting take on the Shingle style, but instead of cedar shingle siding, employs fireproof construction. A central hall, large gabled masses, picturesque window arrangements, and a spectrum of surface textures (here conveyed largely in natural stone and brick with flourishes of shingle and pebble dash work), align this house with McKim, Mead & White’s earlier efforts in this style. The interior has been meticulously preserved and maintained by the owners.
“The Lodge” // 1870-1899
Believe it or not, but Newport, Rhode Island was once a “tear-down town”. Despite having arguably the largest extant collection of Gilded Age mansions, many older, properties were razed and redeveloped as tastes changed between the mid-19th century and the turn of the 20th century. And then there was the 1960s… But that’s for another time. This stunning mansion formerly on Bellevue Avenue was built in 1870 for Elizabeth Underhill Coles (1813-1891), the widow of William F. Coles of New York City by the high-society architect Richard Morris Hunt. The “cottage” was their summer residence and one of the finest Stick style residences built in the seaside town. The irregular layout, half-timbering and complex roof forms show the influence on the emerging Queen Anne style. The mansion was sold out of the Coles Family after Elizabeth’s death and was razed by 1900 for the second mansion on the site (next post).
The Elms – Sitting Room // 1899
The formal Sitting Room at the Elms in Newport, Rhode Island is one of the many statement-rooms found in the Gilded Age mansion. This room is located directly above the Ballroom and is the first space seen when ascending the main staircase onto the second floor. The sitting room was used by the Berwind Family and their guests as a gathering and socializing space, a little less formal than the ballroom downstairs for more elegant events. The Preservation Society of Newport County has done an amazing job at restoring the building and purchasing furniture and fixtures that were sold off when much of the inside of the property was sold off at auction in the 1960s. The Preservation Society restored the red silk walls fabric in the 1980s, bringing the space back to its original grandeur. I cannot think of a better place to just “sit”.