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Smithfield Historical Society (Elisha Smith House, known as the Smith–Appleby House)

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Elisha Smith House, known as the Smith–Appleby House
1713. 1750, ell. Late 18th and early 19th century, additions. Early 19th century, principal entry. 220 Stillwater Rd. (open to the public)

Elisha Smith built his house as a saltbox, two stories in front, one behind. The roof was raised around 1750 to make a two-and-one-half-story block, and an ell was added. The “house” we see on arrival is really the house-sized ell, a full two and one-half stories in height and the equivalent of five bays in length. Instead of discreetly projecting from the side or rear of the original house, this insubordinate addition butts headlong into one end of the south-facing front, making an L of the total mass. So we must circle the addition and enter the space made by the arms of the L in order to reach what is still the principal entrance. Although this entrance front was probably a full five bays, we cannot be certain because the collision of the addition occurs immediately to the right of the fourth window bay, squeezing these windows against the angle of the L. Assuming a full five-bay elevation from what is visible, here is yet another (and rare) placement for the peripheral windows as a “four-spot” configuration which is very nearly centered between the entrance axis of the elevation and its corner, instead of the usual placement of the peripheral windows closer to the edge. As a result, the mass of the house seems swollen. The rhythm of openings does not so much control the elevation as sustain itself against the swell. (Still, the precise visual effect of the original elevation must remain uncertain because the intervals between the central axis and the peripheral windows on either side are unequal.) The principal door is enframed in the same sort of cove-capped, side-lighted, triptych arrangement just seen in the mill owner's colonial house in Stillwater ( SM21). Like that, it is an early-nineteenth-century remodeling, and probably by the same carpenter.

Other minor accretions further complicate the amplitude of the house. The end result (despite its good repair) is the kind of old-manse picturesque which nineteenth-century writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne savored: gently sagging clapboarded masses with varied roof slants, tilted chimneys, and smallish, multi-paned windows scattered about, on the verge of fixing on some simple, ordered arrangement, which then falls off toward functional randomness. In short, the setting has possibilities for the ambiguities in which legend flourishes: overall a surface of feckless simplicity, with a touch of grandeur in the would-be formality of the front, frustrated by the functional vernacularism which extended the house. Above all, there is a sense of generation, as much in conflict as in harmony.

The same fascinating mix of periods and intentions occurs within. The keeping room shows the heavy framing of the 1713 house, its original beaded vertical planking of wide boards never painted. Upstairs, the bedrooms show a collection of fireplace moldings of the 1750s, and the southwest chamber has a marbleized painted floor of the same time. The northeast chamber is stenciled with an alternating pattern of weeping willows and flowers climbing the plaster wall between rope moldings—Federal motifs, perhaps of the same date as the front door. More of this rare stenciling appears faintly in the tight, boxed stair of 1713.

A forge operated here from around 1750 until the 1840s, and a later sawmill into the early 1870s. Early on, an Appleby married a Smith daughter, and, as their descendents continued to occupy the house for generations (until 1959), it gradually acquired its present name.

The railroad station on the grounds is a former Providence & Springfield depot built after 1867 and moved here from Capron Road. It is a minimal example of its type: a gabled box sided in vertical boarding, plainly bracketed with diagonal bracing on either side and radiating strutwork in the gabled ends. Hard by, and elevated on a high embankment, Interstate 295 shatters the seclusion—a memorial to a time when highwaymen brooked little interference from preservationists, and getting there was all the fun.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Smithfield Historical Society (Elisha Smith House, known as the Smith–Appleby House)", [Smithfield, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-SM26.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 257-258.

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