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M. H. Sanford House (Ednavilla)

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1869–1870, William Ralph Emerson and Carl Fehmer. 72 Washington St. (at Willow St.)

This barn-sized clapboarded and steeply mansarded Victorian summer cottage has little to hold one's attention on the exterior beyond its veranda overlook of the harbor wrapping a good portion of three elevations. Even this is sparely supported. So are the walls, minimally ornamented with simulated stickwork with a roofline corner oriel oriented southwestward to take in the panorama of water and boats. The spectacle is inside, where Sanford, a business partner of Commodore Vanderbilt, splurged in a Victorian fantasy of wood and stenciled plaster. Margery Deane, a Newport reporter, described it in part in the Boston Journal at the time of its completion:

The floors from top to bottom are laid in hard wood, in fancy patterns, no two rooms alike, and waxed. Oak, ash, cherry, hard pine, maple and black walnut.… The woodwork of the parlors is butternut, with ebony trimmings and panels of mottled wood of the root of the butternut tree.… The dining room is black walnut, with mottled panels and a carved wainscoting, and is the only room in the house papered … [in] green and gold, in the imitation of leather.…

Otherwise, the rooms were plastered with colorful stenciled ornament, which Deane described as “Pompeian,” but which included a variety of motifs from exotic sources, especially Egyptian. The pièce de résistance is the entrance hall, rising 35 feet from first floor to a tapered climax in the mansard, surrounded by “a grand staircase; each landing having a fancy piece laid in different colored woods. From each story project balconies with bronze gas fixtures, and near the top is a beautiful stained glass window.” The orieled “sanctum” at the top belonged to Sanford's niece, Kate Field, a writer. In Deane's description,

The room overlooks the harbor and bay, and has a bay window, with mirrors in either side reflecting the view and enabling the person lying on the couch in the window to see everything for miles each way without looking out. The furniture is of the bamboo pattern, and rich Turkish rugs are laid about the room.

The house is often referred to as the Sanford-Covell House for King Covell, who long lived here and preserved these interiors against dwindling fortunes.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "M. H. Sanford House (Ednavilla)", [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, 525-525.

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