“White Church,” as it is popularly called, is the iconic point of arrival in Barrington from Providence. It proclaims the colonial image the town means to claim for itself, and indeed was built in the Federal style in 1805 as the Congregationalists' third meeting house. Because each building in the sequence reportedly reused lumber from its predecessor, this version may well include pieces from both 1712 and 1734 meeting houses. The extensive and well-preserved carriage sheds behind date from 1805. The meeting house was raised a half story in 1851 to convert its cellar to a first floor for a vestry and other uses. At the same time the gallery was removed from the sanctuary to create the present uninterrupted high interior space, which, after later renovations, is architecturally unexceptional.
What is of interest about the 1851 alteration is the change of the exterior style of the building from Federal to Neo-Romanesque. It was at this time that a national architectural advisory board of the Congregational denomination recommended the style as a means of providing a more overtly religious character to what many, at the height of the Romantic movement, regarded as the too secular and intellectual classicism of the traditional meeting house. To their mind, round arches had the additional virtue of distinguishing this as a Protestant style, as opposed to pointed arches then favored by High Church adherents, whether Roman Catholic or Episcopalian. Romanesque provided a churchly aspect but one not too churchly. With the new dispensation, the whiteness of the old-fashioned meeting house typically turned toward stony colors: two shades of gray or tan, or cream with dark brown trim. Because Barrington has Rhode Island's best example of the mid-nineteenth-century wooden country Romanesque church, what a pity that its exterior should paint out this history. Might the compromise be two grayed whites, with the darker as trim, to accent, even slightly, the Romanesque interlude that disrupted the blinding whiteness associated with the meeting houses of New England Congregationalism?