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William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)

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Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House
c. 1720. Between 1748 and 1758, alteration and enlargement. 54 Washington St. (owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County; open to the public)
  • Garden
  • William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)
  • William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)
  • Parlor
  • Front door
  • Parlor detail
  • William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)
  • William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)
  • William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)
  • William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)

Next in line on Washington Street are more large gambrel-roofed houses on the scale of the Duhane-Potter House, all built from c. 1725 to the mid-eighteenth century. All employ the five-bay, central-door format. All but one have paired interior chimneys spaced to permit a central hall through the house with four rooms on either side. The early history of the William Hunter House is confusing. Did Deputy Governor Nichols, who was also a privateer and owner of White Horse Tavern ( NE46), commission the radical enlargement and remodeling of an earlier (c. 1720) house when he purchased the property in 1748? Or (more likely) was it Colonel Joseph Wanton, Jr., who purchased it in 1756 shortly after Nichols's death, and who himself subsequently became deputy governor? Or was it altered on two occasions? In any event, by 1758 it seems to have looked approximately as it does today. Like the other big gambrel houses on the water on Washington Street, this one had a commercial dock—the largest of all, in fact, which was once advertised as the “best wharf in Newport … extending 400 feet into the channel,” and so large that in 1799 two warships docked here at the same time. Wanton was a Loyalist who fled the Revolution. His abandoned house became the quarters for Admiral de Ternay, first in command of the French fleet during the Revolution. Then, as Loyalist property, it went on the auction block, and it passed through several owners before William Hunter bought it at another auction in 1805. He lived in it until 1826, when he was called to Washington, prior to his service from 1834 to 1844 in Brazil, ultimately as United States minister.

This house (like the Duhane-Potter House), is especially wide, with two pairs of windows on the side elevation indicating very precisely the four rooms on each floor and two widely spaced windows in the attic. Most remarkable about the front elevation of the Hunter House is the door, with its broken scroll pediment and extraordinary carving of pineapple, sunflower, pomegranate, and foliage—the same motif as that at the Colony House and probably also carved by Jim Moody. The door has led a peripatetic existence. It was originally on the garden (water) side of the house, with a simpler enframement to the street of which no image exists. In the vagaries of the building's history (eventually it became a rooming house), the door was ripped off in the late nineteenth century and taken to the nearby Dennis House ( NE15), where it first adorned an entrance to an extension added at this time to the rear of the house and was later moved to the front. After the Preservation Society of Newport County bought the Hunter House, the door was returned in 1950 to its new location as the frontispiece, with the proviso that a replica be made for the Dennis House.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "William Hunter House (Jonathan Nichols–Colonel Joseph Wanton House)", [Newport, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 522-523.

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