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Thomas Robinson House

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c. 1725. c. 1760, enlarged and remodeled. ;1872, old kitchen remodeled as a rear sitting room, Charles Follen McKim; porch on garden front and part of north elevation later. 64 Washington St.
  • Thomas Robinson House
  • Thomas Robinson House
  • Thomas Robinson House
  • Thomas Robinson House
  • Thomas Robinson House

The Quaker merchant Thomas Robinson extensively altered and enlarged a small two-room house organized around a central chimney after purchasing the property around 1760. (A corner cupboard in the south dining room represents the principal surviving relic of the original house.) Whereas the windows in the Hunter House are strongly paired on either side of the central door and in the Warren house slightly ad hoc, here the spacing is more regularized, giving a somewhat strung-out quality to the elevation—proof of the subtle variations in visual effect which derive from the simplest shift in placement of the elements within a single elevational format. The molded heads of the windows in the other two houses also contrast with the simpler, more severe capping by a plain projection here. The principal distinguishing characteristics of the house also accord with its more restrained aspect and enhance its elongated quality: double windows instead of the usual single window for the upper stair hall over the door, and especially the double-leaf door topped by a wide and austere pediment. The institutional quality of the double door is exceptional, the only other notable example in the Newport area being that at Bishop Berkeley's Whitehall in Middletown.

Fortunately, the property remained in the Robinson family to the 1990s. It contains furniture by John Goddard, a nearby neighbor, which Thomas Robinson purchased shortly after his extensive remodeling. It also boasts the transformation of the old kitchen into a “colonial” sitting room by Charles McKim, at the time when he was in the vanguard of a few designers who were just beginning to discover colonial architecture (and had been drawn to Newport to pursue his courtship of Annie Bigelow, whose family summered a few houses away). The young McKim's enthusiasm for colonial architecture, together with his Quaker upbringing, must have caught the attention of Benjamin R. Smith (a descendant of Thomas Robinson) when he determined to convert the old kitchen into a sitting room in order to take advantage of the harbor view and its sunsets, while adding a new low service ell to the south. McKim was called in for the colonial portion of the remodeling plus some ornamental touches inside and outside on other portions of the old house. His idea of “colonial” at this time was inspired as much by furniture as by architecture—a pastiche of turned work and linear decorative detail. But it would mature to one of the several styles by which the firm of McKim, Mead and White eventually made its mark on American architecture.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Thomas Robinson House", [Newport, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-NE14.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 523-524.

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