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Stephen H. Smith House (Hearthside)
Hearthside is among the most interesting Federal houses in Rhode Island, vernacular rather than high style, and very idiosyncratic. Stephen Smith owned the Butterfly Mill, across the road (see next entry). He was also a Blackstone Canal commissioner and a prominent member of the Friends Meeting; he is buried in the cemetery of the Saylesville Meeting House ( LI13). He reportedly built his house from the winnings of a Louisiana lottery. Its two-story porch suggests southern connections. By legend—but legend of such antiquity that it may approach the truth, and, indeed, some unusual explanation seems necessary to account for this unusual house—he built it to win a reluctant Providence lady. Its magnificence notwithstanding, she supposedly decided against settling in such a remote location, and Smith lived out his active life in Hearthside as a bachelor, together with his brother's family.
The romantic circumstances apparently surrounding its inception may have contributed to the theatricality of this house, surpassed in this respect among extant Federal houses in Rhode Island only by the unique Linden Place in Bristol ( BR13). Instead of the customary gable, the side elevations of this random stone house are topped in a heaving curve derived from scrolL-shaped pediments. Between these end walls the roof rolls down over a two-story porch supported on tapered square piers (another rarity in New England Federal houses). The entrance is conspicuous by its generous enframement in glass from side lights and fanlight, but made more so by the echoing curvature of the commanding scroll-topped dormer on the roof above. A wheel window for a door to what was originally a parapeted upstairs porch combines with two rectangular openings on either side in a configuration which, with wit (or at least with country ingenuity) invokes a Palladian window. The unusual multiple scroll pediment curves which crown Hearthside doubtless derive from the exceptional use of this element by Joseph Brown in his 1774 house in Providence ( PR51), where the wheel window is also to be found. Aside from the attraction a conspicuous building in the metropolis may have had for a provincial. Smith may have settled on this Providence landmark as a lure for the lady who was so strongly attached to the city. The interior preserves its original wainscoting and fireplaces (two of them in marble). Both its fine state of preservation and its picturesque eccentricity made it a favored house in Colonial Revival publications, whose authors and editors were always on the hunt for whatever was piquant in colonial and early national architecture.
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