Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alexander F. Adie House, Part 1

Alexander F. Adie House, Atwells Ave., Providence RI 2013
The Alexander F. Adie House in 2013.
Empty lot where Alexander F. Adie House used to be, January 2014.
The empty lot, January 27, 2014.
Two weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Providence Preservation Society, where one of the speakers lamented the recent and unexpected teardown of the Alexander F. Adie House, a 3-story Italianate double house at 93/95 Atwells Avenue.

The 1871 house had been included on the PPS Ten Most Endangered Properties list in the year 2000. By 2012 it was on the market, and there was no reason to fear its imminent demise. But on January 6th the demolition began, and by the end of the week the house was gone for good.

While preservationists rightly focus on age and architecture, sometimes the stories of the people behind the historic houses in this city are so much more interesting. So who was the Alexander Fales Adie who built this house?

He was born in 1811 in Rhode Island; his father was a native of Scotland but his mother was a Rhode Islander.

He seemed to be a young man with a plan. As a 13-year-old he'd gone to work in the Dyers & Manton drugstore in Providence, and at the age of 19 (presumably at the end of his apprenticeship), he'd gained employment in Charles Dyer Jr.'s drugstore. In 1830, he moved on to Isaac B. Cooke's drug and chemical business. Cooke moved to a new location on Market St. in 1832, and in 1836, at the age of 25, Adie took the company over.

Now that he was a prosperous business owner, he apparently felt he should take a wife, and on January 2, 1837, he married 19-year-old Julia Ann Perkins. She was the fourth of five sisters, the daughters of Edward and Clarissa Perkins of Mansfield, CT.

Julia Ann died a year later--perhaps in childbirth? Adie must have been heartbroken, and we can imagine he redoubled his efforts to grow his fledgling business.

Nearly three years later, on December 2, 1840, he married Julia Ann's younger sister, 17-year-old Almira Jenks Perkins. In 1843, the Adies welcomed a daughter, Julia Perkins Adie, named after her aunt, Alexander's first wife.

But tragedy was to strike again. In 1845, Almira died giving birth to an infant who also died; they are buried at Swan Point Cemetery. Alexander was now a twice-widowed 34-year-old with a two-year-old daughter. Some time before the 1850 census (probably shortly after Almira's death), Julia Ann and Almira's mother, Clarissa, moved in with the family to care for her granddaughter. Clarissa had also been a young widow since her husband had died when Almira was only three. Her third daughter, Henrietta, had also died young, at 23; only her two oldest daughters lived into their maturity. It must have been a sad house with the ghosts of all those lost daughters and wives.

With Clarissa there to care for young Julia, and without a wife to lavish his attention on, Adie must have thrown himself into his business once again. He appears to have been very successful, since he retired in 1853, selling his stock and good will to Chambers, Calder, & Co.

By 1870, the Adies were living at 347 Westminster Street, in a building which has since been demolished. When he built the Atwells Avenue house in 1871, it was intended as an investment property. Julia brought her new husband, Frederic Anthony, into the Westminster St. home in 1872, and Clarissa passed away the following year.

By 1888, two years before his death, Adie was mentioned as one of Twenty Thousand Rich New Englanders in a book of the same name; he was taxed on $206,360 that year, which would be equivalent to about $5 million today. Clearly Alexander Adie's ventures in the drug, chemical, and paint trade, and his further investments after 1853, were very lucrative--but the loss of two young wives and a child must have been a terrible burden for him.

Adie died in 1890, his daughter Julia Perkins Adie Anthony died in 1907; she and her husband had no children.

In part 2, I'll talk about what was happening with the Alexander Adie house in the 1950s.

References and Further Information

Information about Adie's career in the drug business came from several books available online including The Providence Plantations for Two Hundred and Fifty Years. . . by Welcome Arnold Greene, J. A. & R. A. Reid, 1886 and The Narragansett Historical Register by James N. Arnold, Heritage Books, 1996.

Census data and other data sources available by subscription on filled in the blanks on the family side.

To see photos of the demolition process, you can visit the Greater City Providence website.

Mayoral candidate Brett Smiley issued a statement about the demolition here.


  1. Afternoon! Great history. I run and was wondering if I could publish your research as part of our history of this property. Full credit and a link will be added to my page if you allow it.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Yes, you can post it--and thank you for asking!