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Newport Historical Society and Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House

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1729, attributed to Richard Munday. 1884, meeting house restoration, George Champlin Mason, Jr. 187, meeting house moved to present site. 1889, entry porch. 1902, library addition, G. H. Richardson, builder?;. 1915, central wing, Joseph G. Stevens. 1917, front entry porch, Norman M. Isham. 82 Touro St. (open to the public)

It is not the building that houses the historical society itself which is of primary interest here (although much inside may delay the architectural pilgrim). The primary attraction is rather the twice-moved Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House, which is embedded in the society as one of its stellar “exhibits.” How fitting that fate should have brought side by side the synagogue and this meeting house to commemorate Roger Williams's vision of a colony tolerant of all religions. And how fortunate that these two religious interiors, both small and intense in their different ways, are juxtaposed for comparison. The meeting house was originally a very plain clapboard building, only 36 feet by 26 feet, located behind its present site on Barney Street (east of Spring), which was moved to Touro Street to serve as the historical society's first building, then moved back and encased in brick when the society acquired its present quarters. (The meeting house may move again as part of a plan to give it more prominence facing Touro Street on a separate foundation and adjacent lot.)

The entrance is at the center of one of the long walls in the canonical meeting house position, with balconies around three sides. Opposite the entrance and filling half of the center wall of space is the climactic wineglass pulpit, with paneled extensions on either side and a sounding board projecting overhead. The wineglass shape, the inset paneling arched at the top (typical for the early eighteenth century), the “Union Jack” diagonal paneling of the underside of the sounding board, and the twisted balusters of the stair are all to be found at Munday's Trinity Church (see above). Only these similarities, which may suggest the same craftsmen for both structures, account for the attribution of the meeting house to Munday also. Outstanding are the craftsmanship and variety of the turned balusters—among the first of their type in Newport, and soon to become the rage in houses of the wealthy until around 1750. The raised paneled faces in the balcony also appear in Trinity. Only the topmost segment of the wainscoting was originally paneled, the rest being plain. When the box pews which once completed the interior were destroyed in the nineteenth century, the lumber was used for the completely paneled wainscoting which now exists. Across from the pulpit, a clock by William Claggett still ticks on the balcony front.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Newport Historical Society and Seventh Day Baptist Meeting 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, 543-543.

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