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.
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.
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.