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).


  1. I am thrilled to have found your blog. The Barnaby Mansion is my favorite house in Providence and has been since I first laid eyes on it in 1986. There is a misperception that the Barnaby Mansion had stood vacant for years. In fact, a descendant of the houses second owner lived in the house for years. He was the nephew of an elderly woman who was born there and died in her nineties a few years ago. Her father purchased the house in the early 20th century. One would think that the house stood vacant due to the lifestyle of its occupant (nephew) who never did anything to the magnificent house except paint it the awful colour it is today.
    I agree, hopefully someone will restore this landmark, and paint its exterior in its original multi-colour splendor.

    Possible feature for your blog: the Sprague-Thurber house on Arch Street. I had the privilege to own and be caretaker of this wonderful house for ten years. Originally owned by Charles Sprague and Hattie Thurber, this house is fine example of Second Empire design with it's interior donning the best in decorative arts of the period. I discovered and recreated the decorative designs in the dining room including re-faux graining its doors. Gas lighting was still in operation when I sold the house in 2006. I found a photo of Hattie Thurber in New Hampshire while staying at a bed a breakfast which I discovered was owned by Hattie's grand nephew. The Spragues had two children but both died in the home. One at birth and the older boy four years later. Charles and Hattie then moved to Stimpson Ave. on the East side of Providence. If you would like to know more please feel free to contact me.

    Freetown, MA

  2. Chandler--thanks for your enthusiastic and informative post! I would definitely be interested in info on the Sprague-Thurber house on Arch St. Would especially love a scan of the photo if you could. My email is catherine.b.hurst (gmail).

  3. I would love to see some interior pictures of the Barnaby Castle. Thanks a bunch!

  4. I'd love to see them too, Kristi! If I ever have a chance to get inside, I'll certainly post some…..

  5. My grandmother and grandfather lived in the Barnaby house for years, through the 1950's. I have such wonderful memories of our visits there, and a few photos. It was a magical place.

  6. Charlene--sorry I've taken so long to reply to your comment, but thank you so much for posting! I'm sure those memories are very special to you! I am going on a tour of the house (West Broadway Neighborhood Association is hosting a house tour and this is one of the visits) on October 4 and am really looking forward to going inside and getting some photos of what it looks like today.

    1. Santa Fe Kate, did you go on the tour this past weekend? I have much curisity about this mansion. I lived in the neighborhood for over 10 years, and the property remained untouched the whole time. I became interested in the property, and about the fate of Mrs. Barnaby, and would liketo learn more. I guess it was the family name that drew my attention. I would love to see interior pictures if available. Thank you, Paul Barnaby, Phoenix, AZ.

  7. I would likewise be very grateful for any interior photos and current information you can unearth about the current owner, and the intentions of the owner.
    Nancy Barnaby Steen

  8. On October 8, I posted an update on the current status of the house, with a few photos.

  9. Wow! I was just going through some old documents that I found in an old book store long ago and there are two sales receipts from the store, one dated 27 September 1876 and the other dated 15 November 1876. I thought I'd google his name and found this page. Thanx!

    1. Don--you're welcome! How cool that you found those receipts--can you post a photo here?

  10. Maybe this will work:

    1. Don, thanks so much! I posted the photo in the blogpost above, as an update.

  11. howdy, your websites are really good. I appreciate your work.
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