One of the more unique and relatively modest summer cottages in Newport, Rhode Island is Bird’s Nest Cottage on Bellevue Avenue. The cottage was built in 1871-2 for Samuel Freeman Pratt, who lived his early life in Boston. The son of a carpenter, Pratt was was working as a carver in Boston, where he saw success as an inventor with several patents to his credit. From the success of one of his inventions, a device for sewing machines, the invention gave him the financial freedom to explore other interests, namely architecture. In Boston, he likely learned his craft from partner John Stevens, before setting out on his own. He designed buildings in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, but decided to reside in Newport. While many state that this cottage for Pratt was designed by the Newport resident and star-chitect Richard Morris Hunt, the design and the fact that it was his own cottage lead me to believe it was designed by Pratt himself. The eclectic cottage features complex gable shapes, fancy stickwork under the eaves, projecting corner bays, and a wall covering of multicolored slate roof shingles. It is now a professional office.
One of the most unique buildings I have ever seen is the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The chapel, built in 1870 in the American Stick Style, is in the form of an Octagon, very unique for churches. Built as an inter-denominational house of worship, it is significant as the first non-sectarian religious building to be erected in a community that until 1870, was noted primarily for its strong association with the Methodist Church and its summer camp meeting (Wesleyan Grove) assemblies. The Chapel offered islanders and seasonal visitors regardless of religious affiliation
not only an opportunity to worship but a gathering place for cultural activities. According to historic images, the chapel once had more elaborate stick work and finials, since removed, likely due to storms and general maintenance concerns. The chapel was designed by island resident Samuel Freeman Pratt (1824-1920) who had no known architectural training besides working as a wood carver in Boston, yet his work is characterized as having a dynamic and festive style. Pratt’s other major contribution to Oak Bluffs’ architecture, the Sea View Hotel, was erected at the head of the wharf in 1872, but burned down in 1892.
Oak Bluffs got its start as a resort community when the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association began constructing permanent summer cottages in 1860 in the area known as Wesleyan Grove. Due to this success, a couple wealthy men in Edgartown formed the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company, who purchased land adjacent to the Grove, between the Campground and Nantucket Sound. The 75-acre parcel was laid out by Robert Morris Copeland, a Boston landscape architect, who created a system of curvilinear streets and parks, with house lots surrounding each park, in much the same manner as the Campground itself. A few parcels were established for places of worship, but the development wanted to appeal to other religions as the Methodists already had an entire development, from this the 1870 Union Chapel, designed by Samuel Freeman Pratt, was the first built. Another anchor of the development was to be a large luxury resort.
At the head of the Steamship Wharf, the Company built one of the most spacious and luxurious resort hotels of its time, the Sea View House. When it was completed in 1872, the Sea View House was the symbol of the Company’s success. The Sea View was built at a cost of $102,000 with a further cost of $30,000 in furnishings; five stories high on the waterside and four on the inland elevation, it measured 225 feet in length and 40 feet in depth. It contained 125 rooms, office, parlor, spacious dining salons and reception suites. Speaking tubes connected every room with the office; the whole hotel was lit by gas, and warmed by steam heat. The hotel was the first thing seen by new visitors disembarking from the steamers onto the island. The hotel was designed by the same architect as the Union Chapel, Samuel Freeman Pratt. He continued his use of the Stick style for the hotel with elaborate wood framing, trim and Victorian flair. Sadly, on September 24, 1892, the Sea View House caught fire and burned to the ground in less than 40 minutes after the alarm was sounded. The fire originated in the basement near the kitchen, and it was thought resulted from a stray spark getting into the cotton waste that was near the engine.