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Elias Brown House
Secluded on a leafy street near the historic Mystic Maritime Museum is a grand example of an early-nineteenth-century Greek Revival house.
Known as the “House of 1833” in reference to its construction date, the house was likely designed by Elias Brown (1786–1861), a lawyer, banker, and Brown University graduate. Brown’s first house, built in 1825, was a stone mansion atop nearby Quoketaug Hill, which he and his family left when the new residence was complete in 1833, the same year Brown became the first president of the newly chartered Mystic Bank. Elias, his wife Mary Louisa, and their nine children lived here for many years before retiring to Brooklyn, New York.
The House of 1833 exhibits many of the typical features of Greek Revival residences from this period. A large, Ionic columned porch supports an austere entablature with symmetrical side porches adorned with both Ionic and Corinthian columns. The rectilinear cupola atop the main gable is today accessed by a ship’s ladder and furnished as a contemplative reading room with stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
The exterior has seen little alteration since its construction with the exception of a new chimney needed after the great hurricane of 1938, which devastated much of the surrounding coast. The north porch was also later enclosed to accommodate a new bedroom.
Unlike other revival styles, particularly those drawing from the late Italian Renaissance, the interior spatial arrangement bares little connection to the exterior’s strict symmetry. The main entry is received to the far north side of the main portico. Upon entering one finds an intimate elliptical foyer whose steep, tightly turning wooden stair provides the main access to the second floor.
The Brown family enjoyed the house through most of the nineteenth century, then sold it to the Robinson family who renamed it “The White House” and converted it into a hotel for New York and Boston visitors. Around 1910 the house was sold to the Masseys, who enjoyed perhaps the longest uninterrupted residence of the house’s history. Sadly, by the time the Masseys sold the house in 1948 it was in dire need of attention. Help came from the Smith family, who carried out extensive renovations and opened a high-end bespoke dress shop whose clients included First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The Smith’s shop eventually closed in 1980 and was sold the following year. Over the next dozen years the house was bought and sold to three families for their private use. The next major renovation occurred in 1993, when the Nolan family remodeled it for use as a bed-and-breakfast inn. Evan Nickles and Robert Bankel (a descendent of Elias Brown) bought the house in 2005 and continue to run it as a bed-and-breakfast.
The house’s many owners, each with unique programmatic requirements and vastly different levels of maintenance, have taken a heavy toll on the interior details, decorations, and built-in furnishings. In some rooms the wide heart-of-pine floor boards peek out beneath thread worn carpets, and a variety of fireplace hearths and mantels support antiques from around the world. However, as the current owner explained, many of these details have been swapped from one room to another, were brought in from other houses, or were faux-painted over the years.
Despite the almost curio-cabinet interior of odd wall murals and antiques crowding nearly every inch of wall and floor, the stately grand facade and massing of alternating open porches and rectilinear volumes remains almost unaltered and well maintained, standing as an excellent example of the Greek Revival movement of the early nineteenth century.
Andrews, Wayne. Architecture in America. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1960.
Hamlin, Talbot. Greek Revival in America. New York: Dover Publications, 1985.
Kennedy, Roger G. and John M. Hall. Greek Revival America. New York: Rizzoli, 2010.
Schuler, Stanley. Old New England Homes. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1984.
Tyler, Norman, and Ilene R. Tyler. Greek Revival in America: Tracing its Architectural Roots to Ancient Athens. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
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