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Old Harbor Historic District

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1870 and later; harbor constructed between 1870 and 1876. Water and Dodge sts.
  • National Hotel

This group of buildings, most painted white, conveys the sense of a nineteenth-century seaside resort better than any remaining spot in Rhode Island. Cassius Clay Ball built Harbor Cottage ( BI1.1; c. 1880), the mansard-roofed frame building overlooking the harbor on the north side of Fountain Square (Water Street at Spring and High streets), as his residence. It realized its present form, with a squat, prominent corner tower and wraparound spindlework porch, in the late 1880s when Ball enlarged it to accommodate summer boarders. The hotels illustrate the endurance of and variety within the mansard-roofed hotel formula. The earliest, the Surf ( BI1.2; 1873, 1888), on the north side of Dodge Street at Water Street, eccentrically incorporates steep Stick Style gables into the mansard, a charming, untutored commingling of forms and styles then new to the island. Its larger later section and the full-width front porch, which binds the stepped-up sections together, seems an attempt to give the building a more monumental presence, like that of the National Hotel ( BI1.3; 1903), on the south side of Water Street at Dodge Street, whose sunbonnet-dormered mansard was retardataire by the time it was built but nonetheless immediately identified the building as a hotel to visitors approaching from the water. The Blue Dory Inn ( BI1.4; 1897–1898), on Dodge Street 300 feet west of Water Street, shows the longevity of the simple gable-roofed, center-entrance form, here brought up to date with an angled corner pavilion and offset bay window. Like many harborside houses, this served its owner both as residence and as source of income as a boardinghouse. Darius B. Dodge's cottage orné ( BI1.5; 1874), on Dodge Street, built the year regular ferry service began, was perhaps the first to break with the island's strong vernacular building tradition and caused considerable comment at the time of its construction: the Providence Evening Bulletin noted that it “really makes more pretensions to style than any private residence upon our island.”

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Old Harbor Historic District", [Block Island, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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