In 1824, heirless Ebenezer Knight Dexter, owner of large parcels of land across the city, left Providence ten acres here for a drill field and park. In the late nineteenth century, the streets on either side of the Dexter Parade filled with stylish houses, many in the Queen Anne manner. Notable among them are numbers 77 and 81 Parade St. They were developed as a pair, with the same clapboarded ground floor and shingled upper story, and sharing the same metal fence. Joseph Hartshorn, secretary for a steam and gas pipe company, commissioned number 81 for his wife and himself, and shortly thereafter number 77 for his daughter and her husband, who served as the company's treasurer. Mrs. Hartshorn died before their house was completed, and her husband never moved in.
At the core of both houses is a high, gabled box, against which peripheral gabled and shed-roofed shapes butt, or past which they slide—all complicated by the variety of features, texture, and ornament customary in the style. In number 81, one angle of the front gable extends across the front elevation in a long diagonal to become the slightly inset shed roof of the cornered porch, while the L-gable of its principal mass remains high. Next door, the slope is back to front. A pyramidal hipped roof spills down (originally in slate) over an L-shaped porch. The gabled entrance to the porch projects forward, just off center of the projection of the principal front gable, thus adding to the multitude of diagonal relationships, as also does the second-story window placement above. Note, too, the bracketed shelter over a canted window set just behind the lower left angle of the principal elevational gable. Its echo occurs over another canted window on the ground floor at the opposite corner of the house, thereby ghosting the literal diagonal which slashes across the front of its neighbor. What satisfaction both architect and carpenters must have experienced in working out these disciplined but lively counterpoints in compositional diagonals, revealed structure, and varied surface treatments in a style that, more than any other in America, glorifies virtuoso carpentry!