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First Baptist Church

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1891, (?) Butterfield, Darling Brothers, builders. 298 Blackstone St. (opposite Spring St.)

The soaring, sheer-surfaced brick Italianate tower captures the view down Blackstone Street, making this Protestant church a landmark in the city (and a dramatic contrast to the onion-domed tower flanked by similarly domed turrets, of St. Michael's Ukranian Catholic Church (1923), nearby at 394 Blackstone Street. An open-arched belfry and four clock faces climax the Baptist tower, both capped by the broad flaring eaves of the tower's pyramidal roof. Its dramatic vertical rise is emphasized by the exaggerated contrast with the low, roughly L-shaped cluster of gables and other roof shapes which make up the body of the church, making the tower seem more appropriate for a mill than for a church. Sheer surfaces throughout are sparingly but effectively interrupted by simply shaped openings, slight changes in plane, and occasional granite trim. The rough finish of the granite provides startling accent to the hard smoothness of brick overall. One of the two entrances is located at the base of the tower as the terminus for a run of three round-arched windows; the other is set back into an enclosed porch, its gable outlined in a ragged silhouette of the rough granite trim. Between them is a single, enormous stained glass window.

Surprisingly, the radical asymmetry in the positioning of the entrances is resolved on the interior, where they give access to a pair of diagonally placed doors which symmetrically fit into the entrance corners of a near-cubic auditorium space. This focuses on a two-tiered niche for the pulpit, backed by an elevated organ. At the pulpit level the space curves inward in plan as though to make a semicircular apse; above, at the level of the organist's bridge, a circle cuts into the inward curve of the apse to make a frame for the pipes, which suggests a Japanese moon gate. It may, indeed, reflect the Japanese vogue in Queen Anne design. In keeping with such taste, the auditorium of the church is spanned by a light-weight structure of finely turned and polished wood, with huge openwork brackets at the four corners, each with its own large circle. They support the ceiling (or so it appears—actually girders and tension rods are probably concealed overhead). Taken together, apse and bracketed structure seem to make this interior unique in the state.

Knowing nothing about the architect, one is tempted to relate the church to some of the more idiosyncratic examples of the English Queen Anne Revival; it may have been designed by a British emigré or inspired by a plate from an English publication such as Builder or Studio. Since the architect's office was in Manchester, New Hampshire, he may have been inspired by brick mills as well, although probably more by osmosis than intent.

Next to the church, at 312 Blackstone Street, is yet another unusual building, a two-and-one-half-story Greek Revival house (c. 1840) in which what should be a pediment becomes a full half story, pulled out over its row of Doric columns, for an effect at once ingenious, charming, and provincial.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "First Baptist Church", [Woonsocket, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-WO24.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 231-232.

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