Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Broadway, Part 3

This post concludes a three-part series on Broadway Victorians with a look at three houses built between 1889-1892.

Today one is a mixed-use building, one is a private home, and one is a social/civic club. All three houses are 2 1/2 story Queen Annes, which was a popular style of architecture from 1880 to about 1910. The American Queen Anne style, for those who don't know (and I looked it up!) includes, among other features, an asymmetrical facade, a dominant front-facing gable, a round, square, or polygonal tower, a porch on the front of the house(often topped with a second-story porch), and a slate or wood roof. You can see all of these architectural features in the three houses whose photos are shown below.

William H. Walton House, Broadway, Providence RI
William H. Walton House, 1889
The William H. Walton House was built in 1889. It features a cross-gable roof, a Colonial Revival front porch, and an octagonal corner tower (which you can just see beyond the front gable). Mr. Walton was a textile manufacturer with factories in South County, and his family occupied the house until the late 1920s. Shortly thereafter it was acquired by the Aurora Club, an Italian-American civil and social organization, which finalized the purchase in December, 1931. Today, the club boasts 320 members, both men and women, of diverse ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds.

Charles L. Eaton House, Broadway, Providence RI
Charles L. Eaton House, 1889
The Charles L. Eaton House, built the same year as the Walton House, features a slate-clad mansard roof, a square corner tower, several dormers, and a covered second-story porch (which was an early 20th century addition). Eaton was an agent for the City Machine Company at Harris and Acorn Streets in Providence. Today the building houses medical offices and apartments.

Francine R. Trowbridge House, Broadway, Providence RI
Francine R. Trowbridge House, 1892
The Francine R. Trowbridge House offers another version of the Queen Anne tower--this one a three-story tower with a cone-shaped roof and a false balcony around the top story. The wonderful front porch features three archways with bulbous, turned posts. The house was built in 1892 by Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Trowbridge--he was a cotton broker on South Water Street in Providence. As far as I know, it is privately owned.

Illustration Credits and References

All photos by author.

Information on the individual houses appears in the work Providence, A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources, by William McKenzie Woodward and Edward F. Sanderson, published by the RI Historical Preservation Commission in 1986.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On Broadway, Part 2: A Castle and a Murder

Part 2 of "On Broadway" tells the story of an amazing house with a headline-grabbing murder associated with it.

The Owner: Jerothmul Barnaby
Jerothmul Bowers Barnaby
Jerothmul Bowers Barnaby

The wonderfully-named Jerothmul Bowers Barnaby was born in Freetown, Massachusetts in 1830, to a family descended from early New England settlers. He moved to Providence at the age of 22 and started a clothing business, which he ran for 17 years. He married Josephine Reynolds in 1857 and they had three daughters: Mabel, Hattie, and Maud. 

In 1869, Jerothmul opened a men's clothing store in downtown Providence under the name J. B. Barnaby & Co. It grew very quickly to become one of the largest stores in Rhode Island. A year after opening the store, he sucessfully ran for a seat on the Providence City Council, which he held for nine years. 

The House: Barnaby's Castle

Barnaby's profits were apparently large enough for him to hire the prestigious local architectural firm of Stone, Carpenter, & Willson to build a showplace for him and his family in 1875.

Like the two 1867 houses in yesterday's post, this mansion is 2 1/2 stories in height with a mansard roof. The original 1875 house did not include the four-story 12-sided tower on the left, or the round conservatory towards the front of the house--these were added in 1885.

In Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources, the authors state that "the fanciful house is unique in Stone, Carpenter, & Willson's work and probably reflects more of the patron's exuberant taste than that of the firm's architectural attitudes. . . . It is visually both arresting and prominent, factors which make it perhaps the best known late 19th-century house in Providence."

Jerothmul B. Barnaby House, Broadway, Providence RI
Jerothmul B. Barnaby House, "Barnaby's Castle," 1875 and 1885
A year after the house was built, Barnaby mounted an unsuccessful run for Governor of Rhode Island, losing the election by only a few hundred votes. He next campaigned for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives the following year, but also lost that election.

Barnaby retired from the clothing store business in 1889, and died the same year; his Boston Globe obituary carried the headline: "His attack of vertigo proves fatal."

The Murder

Something had happened to Josephine Barnaby in 1866 that caused partial paralysis; according to the New York Times, "her helplessness rendered her the prey of designing servants and other persons." Her husband was thus prompted to leave his estate in trust for his three daughters, giving Josephine only a $2,500 a year allowance. 

Josephine immediately proved her husband's concerns correct by falling under the spell of a local physician by the name of Thomas Thatcher Graves. He told her that paralysis was one of his specialties, and she chose him as her personal physician and confidante. He persuaded her to contest her husband's will, and her daughters, wanting to avoid a trial and the negative publicity which would certainly accompany it, agreed to give her $120,000 in cash. (This was a sum they could clearly afford without difficulty, since their father had left an estate of almost $2 million.) Graves had the money paid to him as her agent (minus a fee for him and the lawyer who drew up the will), and he doled it out to her as he saw fit. He also persuaded her to leave him a healthy sum in her will.

Josephine spent the winter of 1890-91 in a California health resort with a friend, Mrs. Edward Worrell, presumably under the direction of Dr. Graves. At the end of their stay, she and Mrs. Worrell left separately but planned to meet up in Denver, where Mrs. Worrell's son lived. Josephine arrived in Denver on April 9th, and her friend informed her that a package had arrived for her which the Worrells were holding.

Inside the package was a wooden box which contained a bottle of whiskey, and the message "Wish you a happy New Year. Please accept this fine old whiskey from your friends in the woods." Two days later she and Mrs. Worrell decided to indulge in a "toddy" made from the whiskey, and both became violently ill--Josephine died a week or so later, on April 19th, 1891. The cause was poisoning from arsenic which had been added to the whiskey.

Dr. Graves was eventually arrested for the murder; apparently he had been concerned that Josephine might change her will. He was convicted in 1892, and sentenced to be hanged, but he won an appeal of the case based on the assertion that an incorrect instruction had been issued by the trial judge. He was in police custody, awaiting a new trial, when he committed suicide in 1893, bringing the whole sordid mess to a conclusion.

Mrs. Barnaby's murder was supposedly the first recorded murder in the US committed by mail! At least three books have been written about the case--the first one only a year or two after Josephine's death.


The Barnaby clothing store in Providence had moved to a location at the corner of Westminster and Dorrance Streets in 1876, a year after the Castle was built. In the late 1890s, they took over a firm called Jerome Kennedy & Co., and adopted the Kennedy name for their business. (Perhaps Mrs. Barnaby's unsavory demise had something to do with that?) Kennedy's sold menswear in that location until 1978.

The beautiful home on Broadway has fallen on hard times in recent years. In 2011 and 2012, the Providence Preservation Society featured it in their "Ten Most Endangered Properties" list, since it was in a state of disrepair, and had stood vacant and neglected for years. Hopefully someone will preserve this fabulous structure before it's too late!

Update (November 10, 2016)

Reader "Don in Alabama" (see comments below) has sent along a photo of some sales receipts from the Barnaby clothing store in 1876. So cool to see these!

Illustration Credits and References

House photo by the author.

Photo of J. B. Barnaby courtesy of "The Strangest Names in American Political History" website.

Other information from the work Providence, A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources, by William McKenzie Woodward and Edward F. Sanderson, published by the RI Historical Preservation Commission in 1986, a blog called Westminster Stories, a New York Times article entitled "Dr. Graves Convicted", and a 1921 book edited by John D. Lawson: American State TrialsA Collection of the Important and Interesting Criminal Trials which Have Taken Place in the United States from the Beginning of Our Government to the Present Day, with Notes and Annotations, Volume 13 (Google eBook).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

On Broadway, Part 1

In most active 19th century cities in the US, growth outside the inner city grew exponentially when public transportation made these areas accessible. The street of Broadway in Providence was first laid out in the 1830s. Some homes were built in the following years, and the street was widened to 80 feet in 1854, when fashionable Broadway became the broadest street in the city--truly earning its name.

But the laying of tracks for horse-drawn streetcars down Broadway in the 1860s truly spurred its growth, and between 1867 and 1891 numerous Victorian mansions were built along Broadway for merchants, manufacturers, brokers, and physicians.  The location, a mile or so from the downtown area, was convenient, and there was plenty of space to build large homes (in contrast to the congested areas closer to the center of town or on the East Side, which had been developed in the 18th century).

Thomas Pierce, Jr. House, Broadway, Providence RI
Thomas Pierce, Jr. House, 1867
This series of posts takes you on a tour of a few of these homes. Today most are condos or apartments, or have been converted to commercial use.

Here, in Part 1, we'll look at three homes built in 1867. All three of these homes are 2 1/2 stories in height with mansard roofs, though they are very different in appearance.

The Thomas Pierce House is an L-shaped house with its entrance porch set within the "L." Thomas Pierce was a partner in his family's boot-and-shoe business, Thomas F. Pierce & Co., which had been established in 1850 and was located in the Arcade in Providence.

Betsey R. Remington House, Broadway, Providence RI
Betsey R. Remington House, 1867
The Betsy R. Remington House is a symmetrical house with a center entrance and an ornate portico. Mr. Remington was a cotton broker, partner in Daniel Remington & Son on South Water Street. Betsey died five years after the house was completed, and Daniel's firm went bankrupt six years after that. But Daniel lived a long life, dying in 1895 in his 90th year.

The Colin C. Baker House is brick, in contrast to the wood houses in the first two examples. It is symmetrical, like the Remington House, and features Eastlake-inspired stone lintels. Mr. Baker was a partner in Stevens, Baker & Company, commission merchants on South Water Street.
Colin C. Baker House, Broadway, Providence RI
Colin C. Baker House, 1867

Part 2 of this post will look at a Broadway house built in the 1870s.

Illustration Credits and References

All photos by author.

Information on the individual houses appears in the work Providence, A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources, by William McKenzie Woodward and Edward F. Sanderson, published by the RI Historical Preservation Commission in 1986.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hasbro: Born and Bred in Providence

One Hasbro Place, Providence RI
One Hasbro Place in LaSalle Square
This morning's walk took me past One Hasbro Place in LaSalle Square in Providence, where 350 marketing and packaging employees of Hasbro set up shop in January. It got me thinking about Hasbro, and its place in the toy industry, and in Providence history.

Today Hasbro is one of the largest "play" companies in the world, second only to Mattel. You may not be familiar with the Hasbro name, but their brands include Transformers, Monopoly, Scrabble, Play-Doh, Nerf, G.I. Joe, Playskool, Fisher Price, Tonka, Milton Bradley, and Parker Brothers.

Hasbro had its origins in a textile remnant business founded by the Hassenfeld Brothers in Providence in 1923. Henry and Hilal were Polish immigrants, and eight family members worked in the business. One of their products was pencil box covers, and they eventually segued into the pencil box making business. When their pencil supplier raised prices, they started making the pencils as well. In the 1940s they expanded into toys, making doctor and nurse kits and modeling clay. In 1952, they introduced Mr. Potato Head--their first big hit.

Can you remember the early Mr. Potato Head? The package included hands, feet, ears, mouths, eyes, noses, hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight felt pieces resembling facial hair; you provided your own potato! This was the first toy ever advertised on TV, and it was advertised directly to children--also a first. Hassenfeld Bros. sold over a million kits the first year! (A plastic potato was added in 1964.)

G.I. Joe represented another story of innovation--the company coined the term "action figure" for their marketing campaign to boys (when what they were selling was essentially dolls in military uniforms).

They had been using the name Hasbro in their marketing during the 1950s, and in 1968 they officially abbreviated the company name to Hasbro Industries; they became Hasbro, Inc. in 1983.

Providence War Memorial
The City of Providence War Memorial in front of Hasbro
The company continued to be run by members of the Hassenfeld family until Alan Hassenfeld resigned from his position as Chairman of the Board in 2008. He still holds a seat on the board, however.

Hasbro Charitable Trust has also been a major donor to various causes, with an emphasis on children. A major gift from the trust was the impetus behind the opening of the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence in 1994.

Berol Pencils

And whatever happened to the pencil business? That company was spun off as Empire Pencil in 1980, and became part of Sanford (a division of Newell Rubbermaid) in 1992. The pencils are now marketed under the brand name Berol by Papermate.

Two homegrown success stories!!

Hasbro Building, Providence RI

Illustration Credits 

Exterior photos at Hasbro by author.

Photo of Berol pencils from Wikipedia.