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Architectural Monographs: The Bristol Renaissance of Rhode Island

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In a period of what was otherwise homogenous ‘Early Nineteenth Century Work’ in architecture, a particular cluster of homes and other structures stand out: those uniquely ornamented buildings constructed during the so-called Bristol Renaissance in Rhode Island. This architecture is not just notable for its carved details, ornamented parapet rails, elliptic stairways and intricate garden gates. It came about as a direct result of an influx of wealth from slave trading.

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As we’re well aware today, these circumstances were not at all unusual, and the casual account of them written in Volume III, Issue V of the historic White Pine Architectural Monographs is an encapsulation of the views of the times. Author Joy Wheeler Dow writes, in 1917, “How does it affect us now, used as we are to the harrowing details of present-day war, to be told that out of this unholy traffic in flesh and blood grew many charming Bristol houses?”

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“But let us not look upon an unavoidable circumstance too gloomily, nor yet uncharitably. Have you not come to believe that the man with the axe, standing before his rude cabin, vignetted on the five-dollar bills, has arrived at about as high a state of civilization and comfort as he can, unless, indeed, he goes in for a little genteel privateering and slave-trading – in gentler words, a little robbing of Peter to pay Paul?”

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This issue shows details of the homes, explaining their architectural influences and how they differ from the more common building styles of the time. There’s also a special section on Eastern White Pine and how its price and availability was affected by the first World War. Give it a read at the White Pine Monograph Library.


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