White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

Ropes Mansion, Salem, Mass

The Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built sometime in the late 1720s, and was originally the home of Samuel Barnard (1684-1762), a merchant who had moved to Salem from Deerfield, Massachusetts. He was a survivor of the 1704 Indian raid on Deerfield, and he lived there until after the death of his wife Mary and their infant son Samuel in 1720. He subsequently came to Salem and married his second wife Rachel, the widow of his cousin Thomas Barnard. Here, he propspered as a merchant and became a wealthy man, as demonstrated by the elegant Georgian mansion that he built within a few years of his arrival.

Rachel died in 1743, and he later remarried to Elizabeth Williams, who died in 1753. Three years later he married his fourth wife, Catharine Dexter, and they lived here until his death in 1762. With no surviving heirs from any of his marriages, Barnard left a considerable amount of money for charitable purposes, including a hundred pounds for the relief of the poor in Salem and Deerfield, and two hundred pounds to purchase silver for the churches in Salem, Deerfield, and Greenfield. Among these gifts was a silver tankard, now in the collections of Historic Deerfield, that was made by the young Boston silversmith Paul Revere.

Barnard left his property in Salem, including this house, to his nephew, Joseph Barnard. In 1768, Joseph sold the house to Judge Nathaniel Ropes (1726-1774) for eight hundred pounds. At the time, the property extended beyond the house as far as the banks of the North River, since Federal Street has not yet been opened a block to the north of here. Ropes was a 1745 graduate of Harvard, and began his career as a lawyer. He represented Salem in the colonial legislature in 1760 and 1761, and served on the Governor’s Council from 1762 to 1768. He was also a judge on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and a judge of probate, and in 1772 Governor Thomas Hutchinson appointed him as a justice on the Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court in the colony.

Ropes’s short tenure as an associate justice on the court was marked by a significant controversy over how judges were paid. Although appointed by the royal governor of the colony, the judges were, until this point, paid by the elected representatives of the General Court. Because these royal judges were effectively at the mercy of the colonists, the British proposed paying them directly, through the already-unpopular colonial taxes. This action further outraged Massachusetts patriots, who feared that the judges would become partial to the Crown over colonial interests. However, there was significant pressure on these judges to not accept their royal salaries, and in 1773 the lower house of the General Court gave a clear warning to Ropes and the other Superior Court justices, with a resolution stating that:

any one of them who shall accept of, and depend upon the Pleasure of the Crown for his Support, independent of the Grants and Acts of the General Assembly, will discover to the World that he has not a due Sense of the Importance of an Impartial Administration of Justice, that he is an enemy to the Constitution, and has it in his Heart to promote the Establishment of an arbitrary Government in the Province.

Nathaniel Ropes promised that he would not accept the royal salary, and he was even acquainted with prominent patriots such as John Adams, who visited this house on November 9, 1771. The future president commented on the visit in his diary, writing:

Dined this Day, spent the Afternoon, and drank Tea at Judge Ropes’s, with Judges Lynde, Oliver and Hutchinson, Sewal, Putnam, and Winthrop. Mrs. Ropes is a fine Woman — very pretty, and genteel. Our Judge Oliver is the best bred Gentleman of all the judges, by far. There is something in every one of the others indecent and disagreable, at Times in Company-affected Witticisms, unpolished fleers, coarse Jests, and sometimes rough, rude Attacks, but these you dont see escape Judge Oliver.

This meeting here at the Ropes house included some of the most prominent jurists in the colony at the time. Along with Ropes himself, both Benjamin Lynde, Jr. and Peter Oliver were justices of the Superior Court, and the Hutchinson mentioned in the entry is likely Foster Hutchinson, who also served on the court. Lynde was the chief justice at the time, but the following year he was succeeded by Oliver, who was later forced out once the Revolution started. Coincidentally, Oliver’s replacement as chief justice was none other than John Adams himself, although he never actually sat on the court and eventually resigned after holding the position from 1775 to 1776.

In the meantime, as the colony moved closer to revolution, Ropes faced problems right here at his home in Salem. Although he had refused his royal salary, he nonetheless held Loyalist views, and his position as a high-ranking judge made him a symbol of British power in the colony. According to tradition, in March 1774 an angry mob attacked the house, throwing mud, sticks, and rocks at the windows and calling for Ropes to renounce his allegiance to the Crown. However, at the time Ropes was in his bed, gravely ill with smallpox, and he died the following day, with the stress from the mob supposedly being a contributing factor in his death.

Writing in his diary a little over a week later, John Adams made no mention of a specific mob attacking the house, but did comment on how the turmoil in the colony had affected Ropes’s health:

Pynchon says judge Ropes was exceedingly agitated all the time of his last Sickness — about the public Affairs, in general, and those of the Superiour Court in particular — afraid his Renunciation would be attributed to Timidity — afraid to refuse to renounce — worried about the Opinion of the Bar, &c.

Nathaniel Ropes was only 47 when he died, leaving his widow Priscilla and six young children, whose ages ranged from one to 14. She and the children moved to nearby Danvers for some time, but after a few years their oldest son, Nathaniel Ropes III (1759-1806), returned to this house and began a merchant business here in Salem. He and his wife Sarah had three children who survived infancy, including a son, Nathaniel Ropes IV (1793-1885), and two daughters, Sarah (Sally) and Abigail. The elder Sarah died in 1801, at the age of 36, and two years later Nathaniel remarried, to Elizabeth Cleveland. However, he died in 1806, at the same age as his father’s untimely death.

Nathaniel Ropes IV would later move to Cincinnati, where he lived for the rest of his life, but his sisters Sally and Abigail continued to live here in the family home. In 1817, Sally married Joseph Orne, whose father, William Orne, was a prosperous merchant. They had a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in 1818, but Joseph died later in the year, at the age of just 22. Like so many other members of the family, Abigail Ropes also died relatively young in 1839, and Elizabeth died three years later, at the age of 24.

After having outlived her husband, daughter, parents, and sister, the middle-aged Sally remained here in this house for many years. The 1850 census shows her living here alone except for two women who were presumably servants. By the 1870 census, she was 75 years old and employed a live-in nurse and a servant, and she also lived here with her nephew, 37-year-old Nathaniel Ropes V. Although born in Ohio, Nathaniel had later returned to his father’s childhood home here in Salem, and continued living in the house after Sally’s death in 1876.

Nathaniel died in 1893, and the house was then acquired by his sisters. The following year, it underwent renovations. It was moved back from the street, and was modernized with conveniences such as central heat, electricity, and plumbing. A large wing was also built in the rear of the house, the fence was added to the front yard, and some of the interior was also renovated. The three sisters went on to live here for the rest of their lives. The oldest, Sarah, died in 1899, followed by Mary in 1903 and Eliza in 1907. Unmarried, and with no surviving nieces or nephews, Mary and Eliza were the last of their branch of the Ropes family, and after their deaths they left the property to the Essex Institute, as a memorial to their family.

The first photo was taken a few decades later, as part of the New Deal-era Historic American Buildings Survey. The house has not seen any significant changes since then, and it is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which acquired the property following the 1992 merger between the Peabody Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute. A year later, the exterior of the house appeared in the Disney film Hocus Pocus, where it served as the home of one of the main characters. Today, the house is still open to the public as a museum, and is one of many historic properties owned by the Peabody Essex.

Lindall-Barnard-Andrews House, Salem, Mass

The house at 393 Essex Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built around 1740, and various sources have identified the original owner as either James Lindall or his brother Timothy. However, it seems more probable that it was the home of James, a wealthy merchant who also served as a justice of the Court of General Sessions, as well as a deacon in the First Church of Salem. He was born in 1675/6, and in 1702 he married Elizabeth Corwin, the daughter of Jonathan Corwin. A decade earlier, Corwin had been one of the judges involved in the Salem Witch Trials, and his house, now known as the Witch House, still stands a little further to the east of here on Essex Street.

James and Elizabeth had three children, one of whom died in infancy, and she died in 1706. Two years later, he remarried to the widow Mary Weld, who also had connections to the Salem Witch Trials. Her grandfather, the Reverend John Higginson, was the longtime pastor of the First Church in Salem, and was serving in that role during the trials of 1692. His own daughter, Ann Dolliver, was among those arrested for witchcraft, although she was never ultimately convicted. In addition to the two surviving children from his first marriage, James and Mary had seven children, three of whom died young. It seems unclear whether Mary was still alive when this house was built around 1740, but James would have been in his mid-60s at the time, and all of his children would have been adults by then.

James Lindall died in 1753, and later owners of the house included the Reverend Thomas Barnard, who was the pastor of the North Church in Salem from 1772 until his death in 1814. Early in his career, he played an important role in diffusing a confrontation between British soldiers and American militamen, and may have prevented the American Revolution from starting here in Salem. On February 26, 1775, several months before the war began at Lexington and Concord, British soldiers under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Leslie attempted to cross the North Bridge in Salem, in order to seize cannons that were stored on the north side of the river. However, they were blocked by a large group of militiamen and townspeople, and a tense standoff ensued. Colonel Leslie was determined to cross, and evidently considered using force until Reverend Barnard intervened. According to subsequent accounts, he introduced himself to Colonel Leslie, saying:

I am Thomas Barnard, a minister of the Gospel, and my mission is peace. You cannot commit this violation against innocent men, here, on this holy day, without sinning against God and humanity. The blood of every murdered man will cry from the ground for vengeance upon yourself, and the Nation which you represent. Let me entreat you to return.

Eventually, the two sides reached a compromise. In order to save face, Colonel Leslie would be allowed to cross the bridge, with the understanding that he was to make only a cursory inspection for the cannons – which had long since been relocated anyway – before crossing back over the bridge and leaving Salem. This was done without incident, and the the soldiers subsequently marched peacefully out of town, escorted by militiamen from all of the surrounding towns. However, the compromise only delayed the inevitable, and less than two months later the war began after the British made a similar expedition to Concord.

In 1816, two years after Barnard’s death, the house was sold to John H. Andrews. He was evidently a merchant, and the house was subsequently inherited by his son, John P. Andrews, who was also a merchant. The younger John never married, and the census records throughout the late 19th century show him living here with his sister, Caroline. He had apparently retired from active business by about 1860, when the census listed him as a “Gentleman.” During that year, his real estate was valued at $5,000, and his personal estate at $15,000, for a total that was equivalent to over half a million dollars today.

John P. Andrews died in 1890, at the age of 85, and the house was subsequently owned by William P. Andrews, who may have been John’s nephew. He was an assistant clerk of the District Court in Salem from 1869 to 1888, and then served as clerk from 1888 until 1893. It does not appear exactly how long he lived in this house, if at all, but by 1893 he had resigned his job and moved to Italy, where he lived until his death in 1916.

Andrews still owned the house when the first photo was taken, nearly a century after the property was first acquired by the Andrews family. However, at the time it was being rented out to William W. Coolidge, a lawyer who was the city solicitor during the 1910 census. In the following decades, it was converted into a multi-family home, and later in the 20th century it became a mixed-use property, with offices on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors.

Today, the exterior of the house has seen some alterations, including the loss of the shutters and the addition of siding in place of the original clapboards. The chimney on the right is also gone, as is the fence in the front yard, and the side yard has been replaced by a parking lot. However, the nearly 280-year-old house still has many recognizable features from the first photo, and it stands as one of the many historic 18th century homes in Salem. Along with the other homes in the area, it is now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Peirce-Nichols House, Salem, Mass

The house at 80 Federal Street in Salem, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This house is widely regarded as a masterpiece of early Federal-style architecture, and was among the first works by the prominent Salem architect Samuel McIntire. It was completed around 1782 as the home of Jerathmiel Peirce (1747-1827), a prosperous merchant who was a partner in the firm of Peirce & Waite. He was originally from Charlestown, but came to Salem in 1763 as a teenager, along with his older brother Benjamin. Here he worked as a leather dresser, and in 1772 married his wife, Sarah Ropes (1752-1796). However, Benjamin was killed three years later, in April 19, 1775, while serving as a minuteman in the opening battles of the American Revolution.

Later in the war, in 1778, Peirce went into business with Aaron Waite, as co-owners of the privateer Greyhound. Their partnership subsequently grew into a prosperous shipping firm, and within a few years the former leather dresser had commissioned McIntire to build this mansion. Although there is no surviving documentary evidence from the period that links the famous architect to this house, both family tradition and the visual appearance of the house suggest that it was the work of McIntire, and most historians seem to have accepted this as fact. Among other buildings in Salem, its exterior bears a strong resemblance to the home of Elias Hasket Derby, a merchant who hired McIntire to renovate his Washington Street home around the same time that Peirce’s house was built.

Like so many of the other Salem mansions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it has a rectangular form with three stories, with the third story somewhat shorter than the other two. The exterior is clapboarded, with large pilasters on the corners, and the house is topped by a low hip roof that is partially hidden by a balustrade. A stable, partially visible behind the house in the first photo, was also built around the same time. The backyard was landscaped with a terraced garden, And the property originally extended as far as the North River, where the Peirce & Waite wharf and warehouse were located.

Peirce was about 35 years old when he moved into this house. He and Sarah had three living children at the time: Joseph, Benjamin, and Sarah. However, they had previously had two other sons, both named Benjamin, who had died young. After moving into this house, they would have three more daughters, all named Elizabeth, and a son, Henry. The first two Elizabeths both died when they were only a few months old, but the third Elizabeth and Henry both survived into adulthood. They would lose one more child in 1793, though, when Joseph died at the age of 18, and Jerathmiel was widowed three years later, when Sarah died in 1796 at the age of 44.

The interior of the house was remodeled in 1801, with McIntire evidently performing this work as well, and the fence in front of the house was also added during this time. These renovations coincided with the marriage of Jerathmiel’s oldest daughter, Sarah (1780-1835), to her first cousin, George Nichols (1778-1865), who was a ship captain and merchant. They were married in the drawing room here in this house, in a small ceremony that the groom described in his memoirs many years later:

The ceremony took place on the 22nd of November, 1801, on Sunday evening. We were married by Rev. Dr. Hopkins, in my Father Pierce’s great eastern room, which was finished and furnished only a short time before. Aunt Adams [Jerathmiel’s older sister Rebecca] was buried from the same room, only three days before. My wife wanted only a day or two of being twenty-one years old, and I have often laughed and told her she was never free. No one was present at the wedding but the two families. Betsey and Charlotte [Sarah and George’s sisters, respectively] were the bridesmaids, or at least considered themselves so. Sally’s dress was a beautiful striped muslin, very delicate, made in Bombay for some distinguished person. I purchased it of Nasser Vanji, at five dollars per yard. . . . This muslin Sally wore over white silk. Her headdress was a white lace veil, put on turban fashion. Her cake, of which she had a large quantity, was made in a great bread tray by Nellie Masury, a sister of the late Deacon Punchard. She was quite a celebrated cook.

Following their marriage, George and Sarah Nichols moved into a house at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets. In the meantime, though, Jerathmiel continued to live here in this house. In 1803, his son Benjamin (1778-1831) married George Nichols’ sister, Lydia Ropes Nichols (1781-1868). Benjamin and George subsequently went into business together, running a prosperous shipping firm in the years leading up to the War of 1812. Benjamin also had a successful political career during this time, including serving as a state representative for several years, and as a state senator in 1811. However, the war took a heavy toll on Peirce, Nichols, and many other Salem merchants, with Nichols later writing:

We were generally prospered in business and when the war broke out in 1812 I was quite a rich man for those times, being worth at least $40,000. This was a very disastrous war to me. I lost in it nearly one-half of all my property, notwithstanding I had a great deal of insurance. Every vessel in which I was concerned was captured. Among them was the “Rambler,” a beautiful vessel, owned by my brother Peirce and myself. She was making a fine voyage, but she was taken by the British, off the Cape of Good Hope. Privateering was very common in that war, as in all wars, but I could not feel it to be right and therefore did not engage in it. At the close of the war in 1815, I engaged again in commerce with Benjamin Peirce and others, and for several years affairs went along somewhat prosperously. Then came on a long series of disasters, ruinous voyages were made, the effect of bad management, and in 1826 I found myself bankrupt, as were also my father Peirce and his two sons.

As a result of this change of fortune, George Nichols had to sell much of his property in order to pay off his creditors. Benjamin Peirce left the shipping business altogether and moved to Cambridge, where he worked as the librarian of Harvard College until his death in 1831. His son, also named Benjamin Peirce (1809-1880), went on to become a prominent mathematician, and was the father of philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and diplomat Herbert H. D. Peirce (1849-1916). In the meantime, Jerathmiel Peirce was also hit hard by these financial troubles, and in 1827 he was forced to sell this mansion in order to pay his creditors. He subsequently moved in with George and Sarah, but only lived in their house for a short time before his death on August 20, at the age of 80.

The property here on Federal Streeet was purchased by George Johonnot, an elderly friend of the Peirce family. He lived here until his death in 1839, and his wife Martha died the following year, leaving the house to George Nichols, who moved into the house in August 1840. By this point his wife Sarah had died, and in 1836 he had remarried to her younger sister, Elizabeth Peirce (1787-1864). George and Elizabeth died a year apart in the 1860s, but the house remained in the Nichols family for another half century until 1917, when it was sold to the Essex Institute.

The first photo was taken around the time that the Essex Institute acquired the property. Over the following decades, this museum would continue to add historic Salem houses to its properties. These would all become part of the Peabody Essex Museum following a 1992 merger between the Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum of Salem.  Because of its architectural significance, the Peirce-Nichols was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968, and it is also a contributing property in the Chestnut Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the house has seen few exterior changes since the first photo was taken, although the house is now partially hidden by trees from this angle.

Vernon House, Newport, RI

Vernon House at the corner of Clarke and Mary Streets in Newport, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

This house is perhaps Newport’s finest surviving Georgian-style house, with an exterior appearance that dates back to around 1759. However, the house itself is actually significantly older, having been built sometime in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. The first recorded owner was William Gibbs, a painter who moved from Boston to Newport in the early 1700s and was living in this house by 1708. Whether he built the house himself or purchased it from a previous owner is unclear, but the architecture of the original structure suggests that it was built sometime around 1700.

William Gibbs lived here until his death in 1729, leaving an estate valued at about 2,300 pounds. His daughter Elizabeth, whose husband William Gardner had been lost at sea three months earlier, inherited the property, remarried in 1732 to James Martin, and then died in 1735. This sequence of events set up an interesting legal battle after her death. Under English law at the time, her father’s property would have gone to her husband, and then to their children. However, if her husband – who had been missing for three months – died before her father, Elizabeth herself would have inherited it, and the property would have gone to her second husband after her death. Martin argued that, by all accounts, Gardner was dead before Gibbs’s death in 1729, but he ultimately lost his case and the property remained in the Gibbs-Garnder family until 1744.

The house was subsequently owned by a Patrick Grant and by Charles Bowler, the Collector of Revenue in Newport, who purchased it around 1753. In 1759, Charles sold it to his son, Metcalf Bowler, a prominent merchant who was among he wealthiest men in colonial Rhode Island. Shortly after purchasing the house, Metcalf had the house expanded and renovated to its current Georgian-style appearance. There are no surviving records of who the architect was, although tradition suggests that it may have been Peter Harrison, the prominent colonial-era architect who designed several buildings in Newport during the mid-18th century, including the Redwood Library, Touro Synagogue, and the Brick Market.

Metcalf Bowler was active in Rhode Island politics, particularly in the years leading up to the American Revolution, when Newport’s shipping industry was in its golden age. He served as one of Rhode Island’s delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, as speaker of the colonial legislature from 1767 to 1776, and was appointed to the state supreme court in 1776. However, during this time he was also a paid informant for the British army, working as a spy for General Henry Clinton, apparently in order to safeguard his property during the British occupation of Newport. His role as a spy was not discovered until the 20th century, but the war was devastating for Newport’s shipping industry and Metcalf Bowler lost much of his fortune as a result.

Bowler only lived in this house until 1773, when he sold it to William Vernon, another merchant who was involved in the American Revolution. However, unlike Bowler, Vernon remained loyal to the Patriot cause, and in 1777 the Continental Congress appointed him as president of the Eastern Navy Board, effectively making him the de facto equivalent of Secretary of the Navy. In this position, he worked to develop the fledgling American navy, and he even loaned his own money – at little or no interest – to the perpetually cash-strapped government, to enable them to meet some of the many pressing wartime demands.

During the American Revolution, Vernon was directly associated with some of the leading figures of the era. His son William traveled to France in 1778 under the care of John Adams, who was also traveling with his own son, 11-year-old John Quincy Adams. Then in 1780, after the British occupation ended, the Comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport with 5,500 French soldiers, who remained here while awaiting deployment against the British. Rochambeau used Vernon’s house as his headquarters, and during this time his visitors included the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, with Washington arriving here in March 1781 to meet with Rochambeau. Several months later, in June, the French soldiers departed Newport for Virginia, for a campaign that ultimately led to the decisive American and French victory at Yorktown in October.

In the years following the American Revolution, William Vernon continued to live here in this house. His son Samuel served in the war, and in 1784 married his cousin Elizabeth Almy. The couple lived here with his father, and had eleven children, nine of whom survived infancy. In the meantime, the younger William remained in France for many years, where he became a favorite in the court of Louis XVI. He remained in France through the French Revolution, but returned to Newport in 1796, bringing with him a significant collection of paintings that included a copy of the Mona Lisa that is reputed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

Both of the Vernon brothers were prominent men in Newport, with Samuel running a prosperous merchant business and serving as president of the Newport Bank and the Newport Insurance Company, while William was the secretary of the Redwood Library for many years. They inherited the property after their father’s death in 1806, owning it until William’s death in 1833 and Samuel’s a year later. However, the house would remain in the Vernon family until it was finally sold in 1872, 99 years after William Vernon purchased it from Metcalf Bowler.

For the rest of the 19th century, the house was used as offices. Tenants included prominent geologist Raphael Pumpelly, as well as architect Clarence S. Luce, both of whom had offices in the building in the early 1880s. In 1912, about a decade after the first photo was taken, the house was purchased by the Charity Organization Society, who did some restoration work. It was later the home of the Family Service Society until the 1960s, when it was sold and again became a private residence.

Because of its historic and architectural significance, Vernon House was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968. Since then, it has been well-preserved, and there are hardly any noticeable differences between the photos aside from minor details such as the shutters, which may not have been original to the house anyway. The house remained privately owned until 2009, when it was donated to the Newport Restoration Foundation. This organization has preserved a number of historic properties in downtown Newport, and it continues to own Vernon House and rent it out as a residence.

Governor’s Carriage, Newport, Rhode Island

A group of men pose in front of the Old Colony House in Newport, around 1880. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Providence Public Library’s information on this photo does not provide any context for the first photo, aside from the title of “Governor’s Carriage Newport” and the approximate date of 1880. It does not seem clear, for example, why this carefully-posed photo would include the governor’s carriage yet not the governor himself, but it was taken in front of the Colony House, which at the time functioned as one of Rhode Island’s two state houses, with the other being located in Providence.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Colony House was built in 1741, and was the work of Newport architect Richard Munday. The exterior was heavily influenced by the work of Christoper Wren, and the interior featured an open hall on the first floor and legislative chambers on the upper floor. For many years, Rhode Island did not have a fixed capital city, with the legislature instead holding sessions on a rotating basis in each of the state’s five county seats. When in Newport, the legislature met here in this building, and continued doing so even after 1854, when the rotation was reduced to just Providence and Newport.

This unusual arrangement continued throughout the 19th century, and the building was still in use by the state government when the first photo was taken around 1880. The practice of alternating legislative sessions finally ended in 1900, though, and Providence became the state’s sole capital city. For the next 26 years, though, the building was used as the courthouse for Newport County, until the current county courthouse was completed in 1926. Located directly to the right of the Colony House, the new courthouse was built with a Colonial Revival style that bears strong resemblance to its predecessor, and the two buildings still stand side-by-side at the eastern end of Washington Square.

Although no longer used as either a state house or as a county courthouse, the building is still owned by the state, and has been a part of several important events over the years. In 1957, President Eisenhower – who spent several summers here in Newport while serving as president – gave a short speech from the front steps here, and 40 years later both the exterior and interior of the building were used for scenes in the 1997 film Amsted, which was set in 1840s New Haven but filmed here in Newport because of the city’s well-preserved historic downtown.

Today, the Colony House is considered a landmark of Georgian-style architecture, and it is one of the best-preserved public buildings of its era in America. The building was already around 140 years old when the first photo was taken, and nearly 140 years have elapsed since then, but there is essentially no difference in its appearance between the two photos. In recognition of this, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and the building is currently operated as a museum by the Newport Historical Society.