Island historical society will showcase two homes in weekend tour
The Jamestown Historical Society proudly presents heirloom homes of an earlier age this Saturday, Sept. 8, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for both houses, and may be purchased at either house on the day of the tour. The annual open house raises money to support preservation of the society's myriad artifacts and activities.
Originally built as summer residences, the two houses featured this weekend echo living and love from continued generations. The J.B. Lippincott House at 177 Beavertail Rd. graces a waterfront property of four and a half acres at Mackerel Cove. The Belvedere cottage enjoys a downtown setting at 36 Walcott Ave. Both homes plant elegant beauty in the eyes and instill wonder in the hearts of visitors.
J.B. Lippincott, a famed publisher from the 19th century, had the 1893 house on Beavertail Road built by Charles Soule of Newport. The wood and stone architecture was designed by Pritchett and Pritchett of Philadelphia. The house in those days had a 360-degree view of Beavertail and Mackerel Cove, since no trees existed, according to descendent and current owner Peter O'Neill. The summer cottage has a direct view of Horsehead, which stands on a bluff on the opposite side of the cove. Before the house was constructed, Lippincott married Joanne Wharton, daughter of Joseph Wharton, who owned Horsehead.
Rays of light shine into the Lippincott-O'Neill house at every angle. The curved front staircase is flooded with sunshine from diamond-shaped windowpanes. Windows and ornate wood moldings throughout the house show off imported Italian craftsmanship. A kitchen hearth wafts imaginary scents of culinary delights. Each room, from the formal dining room to the front sitting room, has its own particularly designed fireplace. O'Neill notes that the house conveys a different image from its older relative Horsehead. "It possesses an intimacy despite its size," he says.
Cousin Mariah O'Neill, who lives in the Carriage House at the entrance to the property, remembers summers on the property with a steady stream of family visitors and international guests. Croquet was a popular pastime in the yard, and live-in servants took care of everyone's needs. Mariah points to a high ledge, a favored spot for adventurous children. "We played Murder in the Dark as kids, and we found some great hiding places," she recalls.
Mariah also points out a special treasure found on a wall in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Their grandmother, Marianna Lippincott O'Neill, had a penchant for drawing on the walls as a little girl, and her doodles were uncovered when wallpaper was removed. "Here is a self portrait," notes Mariah, running a finger along words, "going to be presented," written over a sketch of a fancily dressed young woman.
The home was first dubbed "Meeresbilck," German for "seascape." Educated Americans of the day studied German as the preferred foreign language. But the name fell out of favor around WWI with the rise of friction between the two countries. "We never used the word when we were growing up," Peter says.
The Belvedere home, a clapboard and-shingle design by Charles Bevins, also boasts stately roots. Built by Admiral David Dixon Porter in 1888, the house has experienced a few metamorphoses in the last century. When Anthony and Rita Antine bought the property in 1981, the top story of the house had been cut off. The couple redesigned the top floor, including dormers to restore the cottage's likeness to its former self. They also added a rear living area that follows the line of the original wood and window ornamentation.
The structure still holds its earliest windows of bulleted and stained glass. A brass banister complements the main staircase. "I dreamed of a beautiful bride coming down this staircase," Rita says. She realized her dream when one of her daughters floated down to the staircase landing in her wedding gown.
Custom-made woodwork details beauty throughout the house. A portrait of Admiral Porter, alongside other faces and scenes of note, hangs in the front sitting room. After more than 25 years of summering and eventually retiring to the home on Walcott, the Antines continue to marvel at the oldworld charm of their cottage. Tony and Rita have many stories to tell about their gem, which still holds much of the original furniture. As an added treat, David Adams, the great-great-grandson of the admiral will be on hand to help host the Walcott event.
The Saturday event will be held rain or shine. For more information about the JHS Annual House Tour, call Mary Heath at 423-3333.