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George Phillips Farm

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1840; original ell later lengthened. 31 North Rd. (pole 31; .1 mile from intersection with Balcom Rd.)

This very late one-and-one-half-story, central chimney Federal house is interesting for its porch, an elliptical vaulted enclosure beneath a pedimented roof supported on attenuated, turned, post-like Tuscan columns. Two other houses in Foster, both twenty-five years earlier than this house, have comparable porches (see FO16 and FO19). Records indicate that an earlier house on this site burned. Could the porch be a sentimental reconstruction or a salvaged relic? In any event, the country carpenter who put it up used an augur to drill a series of holes in diagonal bands across a quarter-round molding to edge the support under the pediment, hoping thereby to give an illusion of rope molding. It was a familiar country dodge, using the tools at hand to suggest a grand effect which was economical in both time and skill compared to what its carved equivalent would have required. Country, too, in that the two bands of sparkle from the drill holes running the depth of the porch under its eaves are discordant with the severity of the rest of the treatment. The same molding occurs under the eaves of the main mass. (Its continuation partway along the eaves of the ell indicates that a portion of this was original to the house, which was subsequently further extended without the trim.) The placement of fussy ornament along the edges of forms to mitigate their starkness—like a ruffle on a sleeve, the lace of a doily, or a row of petunias outlining flower beds—is particularly attractive to the provincial. The ornament does not participate in articulating the larger composition, but rather plays an alleviating role. Yet there is charm and poignancy in such ornament too: charm in the directness of its handling; poignancy in the carpenter's intent to elevate his craft toward “art,” and in his client's willingness to pay for the “extra” for the pleasure it brings, while perhaps also elevating his image within his world.

Inside (not open to the public), the main body of the house has a five-room arrangement quite common to Foster houses. Whereas the normative arrangement for such a plan is a double parlor in front separated by the entrance hall, with bedroom, central kitchen, and pantry in back, here one parlor and the kitchen are in front, with two bedrooms and a pantry behind the kitchen in back. It is a practical use of a conventional plan and was common in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century farmhouses where a second parlor would have been superfluous. Like most farmers in areas where soils are poor, Phillips had an adjunct job; he also operated a sawmill making furniture and shingles.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


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William H. Jordy et al., "George Phillips Farm", [Foster, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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