2012-09-13 / News

Tour will take visitors through halls of Lippitt, Lovering cottages

Historical society will hold annual event on Saturday

Above, the Lippitt cottage on East Shore Road in 1915. Below, the same house in 2012. The cottage will be open to the public during the annual house tour Saturday. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY Above, the Lippitt cottage on East Shore Road in 1915. Below, the same house in 2012. The cottage will be open to the public during the annual house tour Saturday. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY Jamestowners are invited to tour two houses that were built as summer cottages during the heyday of Jamestown’s period as a resort destination on Saturday, Sept. 15, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Jennie Lippitt cottage, also known as the Stonewall Cottage, was built in 1873. It was one of the earliest summer cottages built in Jamestown’s first resort development, Conanicut Park, near the northern point of the island. The Corbit Lovering cottage, built 39 years later in 1912, was among the last cottages built before the automobile and the globalization following World War I changed the way people spent their summer vacations.

Both have been renovated and winterized for year-round living, but at different times and in vastly different ways.

Tickets for the tour may be purchased for $20 at either house on the day of the tour.

The Stonewall Cottage at 1026 East Shore Road is an L-shaped building with a 2-1/2-story square tower with a mansard roof and a flat-roofed piazza that wraps around the house. Only two families – both with fascinating stories – owned the cottage before the current owners bought it in 2003.

Jennie Lippitt was the eldest daughter of Henry Lippitt, one of the directors of the Conanicut Land Company that was formed in 1872 to develop Conanicut Park as a summer resort. The Lippitt fortune came primarily from the textile business, but Jennie’s father was also president of the Rhode Island National Bank and owned the Narragansett Hotel in Providence. Her family has been prominent in Rhode Island politics for more than a century. Her father and brother Charles both served terms as governor, her brother Henry was a U.S. senator, and her youngest sister was our current governor’s great-grandmother.

When she was 4 years old, Jennie contracted scarlet fever and lost her hearing. Her mother and aunt taught her to read lips and speak. These skills were not commonly taught at the time – the first permanent oral school for the deaf in the United States was founded in 1867, 11 years after Jennie’s illness. She later took private lessons from Alexander Graham Bell to learn to modulate her voice because her mother thought it was too high and loud. She was only 23 when her father, then the governor, encouraged her to lobby the Rhode Island legislature to create the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, which it did the following year.

In her early 40s, Jennie married William B. Weeden, the widower of the aunt who, with her mother, had taught her to speak.

Jennie does not seem to have spent much time in Jamestown. She was only 21 when the cottage was built and probably did not control the building until much later. In the summer of 1915, she rented the house to Emily K. Mitchell and her three daughters, Emma, Alice and Marion.

In 1923, Emily bought the cottage from Jennie, and after Emily’s death, the three daughters continued to summer there with Marion’s daughter, Pam. Pam Mitchell was an adventurous young woman who lived much of her life in New York and Paris. When she was in her early 30s, she was sent to Paris to negotiate the rights for the American premiere of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” For 17 years after their initial meeting, she corresponded with the Irish playwright, and his letters to her are now at the University of Reading in England.

Pam, the sole heir to the property, retired to Stonewall Cottage in 1980 and lived there until her death in 2002.

In 2003, Mike and Terry Lanza purchased the property. The cottage – looking much the same as it does now, minus the new north wing – stood about 75 feet closer to the road. Inside, only one room was insulated. Determined to keep as much of the original building as possible while adapting it to modern living, the Lanza’s engaged Mike’s architect brother Joseph to stabilize the building on a new foundation farther back from the road. He also designed a garage wing with a large playroom for the children above it, rearranged the interior, removed walls to make the existing rooms more spacious, and added bathrooms. Modern building codes dictated changes to the balustrade on porches and balconies.

The Lanzas recycled many of the removed elements. They used boards from the interior walls for flooring, and stripped and repurposed interior and exterior doors. A newel post from the stair became a lamp. The pierced trim in the hoods over the windows in the tower and on the second floor retain the Victorian detail that once decorated the gable peaks and the eave returns.

The result is a bright, open modern interior with 135-year-old accents, and a restored 1870s exterior with signs of the Victorian exuberance of the original cottage.

The Corbit Lovering cottage at 75 Ocean Ave. – it was once called simply The End of Ocean Avenue – was built in 1912. Corbit Lovering and his brothers Joseph and Gilpin, who built houses nearby about the same time, were no strangers to Jamestown when they established their compound on Dutch Island Harbor. Their mother had owned a house in the Dump- lings since 1890. Their uncles Charles and Joseph Wharton had built nearby in the 1880s. Several first cousins had houses elsewhere on the island.

The cottage was designed by J.D. Johnston, a Newport architect who also designed Clingstone and several other early 20th century houses in Jamestown. It was built by Thomas D. Wright, a general contractor in Jamestown from the 1880s to the 1930s.

After Elwood and Barbara Leonard purchased the house in 1964, Wright’s grandson H. Clifford Wright Jr. remodeled and winterized it. To insulate the house while still retaining some of the characteristics of the original wooden walls, he replaced the beadboard with 1960s-style paneling. Large windows and an upper deck were added to the master bedroom to give a view of the West Passage from Fort Getty to Quonset Point. Modern – for 1960 – conveniences were also installed, including a central vacuum-cleaning system and a sound system to pipe recorded music to each room.

Many of the original elements remain. The cross-gabling and rustic exterior reflects the original design. Contributing to the rustic look are the simple brackets on the porch posts and the shed dormer. The original floors and three stone fireplaces – two on the first floor and one above – remain. Beadboard doors still open into spacious closets. One of the upstairs bedrooms was left untouched and the beadboard, painted white, shows the aesthetic Wright was emulating. The bedrooms are furnished with the original missionstyle furniture.

Several paths lead from the house through blueberry bushes and beach roses down to the West Passage. One of the paths leads to a dollhouse with a potbelly stove and pine floors that match the floors in the larger house. Family legend is that the dollhouse was built for an owner’s daughter, who died young. After her death the family left the island and did not return. The dollhouse, but not the chauffeur’s garage and cottage next to it, are on the tour.

The day before the tour, Clarke and Betsy Moody are hosting a members-only preview party on Friday, Sept. 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. at their recently renovated home at 9 Conanicus Ave. The party is $40 per person and includes a $20 ticket to the next day’s tour. The house, designed by Mantel Fielding of Philadelphia, was built by F.A. Allan of Newport in 1901 as the Quononoquot Club. The club gave the summer cottagers in the neighborhood a place to meet and dine. The Moodys have restored much of the early 20th century feel of the building.

The Moody house will not be on the Sept. 15 tour. Nonmembers may reserve tickets and join the society at the door. To reserve tickets, call 423-0784 and leave a message with your name, telephone number, and number in your party.

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