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Foster Center Baptist Church (Foster Center Christian Church)

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Foster Center Christian Church
1882. 1959, 1972, additions. 185 Howard Hill Rd.

Architecturally, the buildings at the heart of Foster Center are more rewarding as a pretty ensemble adapted to a varied topography at a major rural intersection than they are individually. But both separately and taken together, they suggest interesting architectural reflections, particularly the 1822 school and the 1882 church.

Although the school (or so it functioned until 1952) might be considered Greek Revival because of the simplified entablatures over the transomed doors and the breadth of their frames, which are minimally capped by a molding, its date is very early for the style in such a remote location, and, in fact, little about it suggests the Greek Revival. No breadth of corner treatment or window frames, nor sculptural emphasis of the gable, marks the building as anything but carpenter vernacular of the period, while the fussy, rather flimsy cupola seems to be mostly a twentieth-century injection. Could it be that the most prominent features of an older vernacular structure were later redone in the Greek Revival manner (and perhaps even renewed when the library conversion occurred in the 1950s)? In any event, let the doors at least stand for Greek Revival, so that we can set them against those on the church across the way.

The church is not exactly an architectural gem, but is fascinating as Greek Survival. It means to be a typical Greek Revival country church—one of seven we shall look at in Foster, which alone among Rhode Island towns has preserved so many of them. This, the first in the itinerary, is the latest in the series. It boasts the basic hallmarks of the Greek Revival country church: doors broad-framed and heavily capped; corner boards with the barest suggestion of a capital; gable, cornice, molding, and side elevation entablatures classically derived; above all, the platform on which it stolidly sits, the most telling sign of a country church in this style. But look again. The memory persists of the typical chunky cubical cupola, yet no such survival escapes its time. In contrast to the firm containment of the simple rectangular shape of the entrances into the school under their “Greek” entablatures, here Renaissance hoods do the capping. They appear to be lifted off their frames, an effect which the stretched transoms reinforce. Hence it is not geometrical containment that prevails here, but rather the further exaggeration of an already elongated feature. The equally basic rectangle of the window between the school doors, and the stretch of the blank clapboarding which makes all three shapes resonant, is here converted to a contrast of square-headed and arched shapes rather closely packed. To variety of shape therefore add variety of style, with allusions not only to Greek and Renaissance, but also to round-arched Romanesque, a style which began to be popularized for Protestant churches during the mid-nineteenth century. As for the cupola, it, too, hardly possesses the bulk and command of its typical Greek Revival counterpart. Relatively small and thinly detailed, with four-directional pediments more elegant than forceful, it apparently derives from the roof ventilator of a Victorian carriage house. Corner posts and roof moldings are likewise thinned from the bulk that authentic Greek Revival demands.

As in some other village churches (see SC1, FO20, and FO34), the pulpit stands against the entrance wall, in an arched niche made by double-doored vestibules on either side. Though much changed, with little original furniture, its rear wall now completely opened to the parish hall behind, the interior exudes a comfortable community quality. The church front was shifted from South Killingly to Howard Hill, presumably the better to accommodate the overblown parish house to its site.

Finally, look across South Killingly Road to the tiny cottage which once housed the town clerk (1904). If this, too, can be construed as Greek Revival, then this corner boasts Greek Revival, Greek Survival, and Greek Revival Revival (or perhaps Greek Re-Revival).

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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