Perry Homestead Historic District
The Perry Homestead Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
The Perry Homestead Historic District consists of six residential properties, all of which have strong historical associations with the Perry family. Four of the residences are located on Margin Street, overlooking the Pawcatuck River to the west, and two are on Beach Street. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Perrys undertook ambitious restoration and renovation projects in the district, updating three of the 19th-century residences with Colonial Revival and Classical Revival style treatments, and restoring the Colonial-period Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street). At the same time, members of the Perry family oversaw landscape projects designed to integrate the properties into a cohesive whole. The result is a compact, unified district that, while rooted in an earlier period, reflects the prevailing design modes of the early 20th century.
The Pawcatuck River forms the western boundary of the Perry Homestead Historic District, creating a waterfront setting that contributes significantly to the district's character. Between the river and Margin Street is a swath of narrow, terraced lawn with a continuous bulkhead (retaining wall), constructed of large fieldstones with a granite cap, likely dating to the late 19th century. Two wooden docks extend into the river, in front of the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street) and the Larkin-Lewis-Perry House (8 Margin Street), and a set of stone steps leads into the water in front of the Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street). Both sides of Margin Street are planted with an assortment of deciduous shade trees, including locust, silver-leafed elm, and Norway maple. These trees replaced American elms, which were either lost in the 1938 Hurricane or succumbed to Dutch elm disease. A sidewalk runs along the east side of Margin Street, and there is granite curbing on both sides of the street. A variety of low walls run in front of the houses on Margin Street, separating them from the sidewalk: a granite wall topped by a wood picket fence in front of the Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street); a cobblestone wall between the Larkin-Lewis-Perry House (8 Margin Street) and the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street); and a granite wall in front of the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street) and the Thomas Perry, Jr. House (2 Margin Street). This last wall continues around the corner on Beach Street, defining the northern property boundary of the Thomas Perry, Jr. House (2 Margin Street).
The properties within the Perry Homestead Historic District share a verdant, park-like landscape featuring wooded areas, open lawn planted with large specimen trees, and intimate garden rooms. An asphalt-paved, shared drive, likely dating from the 1910s, may be accessed from both Margin and Beach streets, and forms a large loop in the area between the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street) and the Larkin-Lewis-Perry House (8 Margin Street). Contained within the loop, near Margin Street, is a depressed greensward, once used as a grass tennis court. To the east of the former tennis court is a small, hedged garden room anchored by a large, barrel-vaulted, wood lattice arbor with integrated seats. The garden room is surrounded by a sparse orchard of dwarf fruit trees and tree lawns with specimen trees, including tulip, beech, yew, cedar, and London plane trees. Other enclosed garden rooms are located at the northern and southern ends of the district, at the Thomas Perry, Jr. House (2 Margin Street) and the Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street). The asphalt-paved drive provides access to five outbuildings located at the rear of the Margin Street properties: a carriage house, garage, studio/playhouse and workshop on the Charles Perry House property (4 Margin Street) and a carriage barn associated with the Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street). A former pasture, now overgrown, is located to the rear (east) of these outbuildings.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Thomas Perry (1765-1826), a cousin of Oliver Hazard Perry, the celebrated naval hero of the War of 1812, and of Matthew Perry, who opened Japan to world trade, purchased over 100 acres of farmland at the southern edge of Westerly village. A schoolmaster and Quaker from nearby Charlestown, Perry came to Westerly to serve as cashier at the recently-established Washington Bank—the only paid position at what was to become the region's primary financial institution, now known as Washington Trust. Thomas Perry guided the nascent bank through financial crisis and the War of 1812, while the community grew from an agricultural base to a trading port and ship building center. Over the course of approximately 200 years, six generations of Perry family members would serve as the administrative officers, CEOs, treasurers, presidents, trust officers, and directors of the bank in a tightly-orchestrated line of succession.
The 100 acres purchased by Thomas Perry included the northern half of the Perry Homestead Historic District, where Perry lived in the 18th-century Daniel Cottrell House, at the corner of Margin and Beach streets (not extant). Over time, the remainder of the original farmstead was sold off for urban and suburban house lot development or given away for public purposes; for example, a Perry family member donated land for the Westerly Hospital, to the southeast of the district, on Wells Street. A short distance to the south stood the Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street), which had been built ca. 1700 for John Lewis. The house passed to the Card family at some point in the 19th century.
In 1849, Thomas Perry's son, Charles Perry, Sr. (1809-1890), built a large, Greek Revival style house at 4 Margin Street, the oldest surviving dwelling in the district to be constructed by a member of the Perry family. Around the same time, two other Greek Revival style residences were built in the district: the large, two-story, 3-bay-wide, center-entry residence at 8 Margin Street, which was built by Captain Daniel F. Larkin around 1850, and the far simpler dwelling at 17 Beach Street, which was probably built by Charles Perry, Sr. to house a caretaker for the Perry family properties. (It is labeled "C. Perry" on maps from 1868 and 1870 and is known to have served as a caretaker's residence by the 1880s.)
In 1873, the Daniel Cottrell House, where Thomas Perry had lived, was relocated to nearby Elm Street, to make room for a new, Second Empire style dwelling at 2 Margin Street. (The Cottrell House no longer stands.) Though land evidence records show that the house was owned by Charles Perry, Sr., it was first occupied by his siblings Thomas, Jr. (1814-1898) and Simeon (1823-1902); Charles, Sr. and the brothers' sister, Ann, joined them there at the end of the 19th century.
Together the three Perry brothers—Charles, Sr., Thomas, Jr. and Simeon—operated a "gentleman's farm," which spanned the two properties at the north end of the Perry Homestead Historic District. According to a mid-20th-century map drawn by Charles' grandson, Arthur L. Perry, which depicts the farm in the 1880-1890 period, there were hay fields, pastures, gardens and fruit orchards, as well as numerous outbuildings. A horse barn, hen house and ice house were clustered to the southeast of the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street), while a complex including a wagon shed, calf room, carriage house, chicken house and pig pen was located to the east of the Thomas Perry, Jr. House (2 Margin Street). A cow barn was located near a pasture, which was enclosed with picket fences and stone walls. The property at 17 Beach Street was apparently occupied by a farm superintendent by this time. Beginning around 1905, Hugh and Carolyn Smith, an African-American couple, came to work for the Perrys, raising five children in this home and remaining until their retirement. Some of their children worked for the Perry families, as well.
Charles Perry, Sr. died in 1890, Thomas, Jr. died in 1898, and Simeon died in 1902, ushering in a new period for the Perry Homestead Historic District. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, significant changes occurred at individual buildings within the district and the character of the district as a whole evolved, as the gentleman's farm of the previous generation gave way to a more formal, designed landscape. Many of these changes were initiated by Charles, Sr.'s son and successor at the Washington National Bank, Charles Perry, Jr. (1851- 1929). The result was an artistically unified Perry family compound.
Soon after his father's death, Charles, Jr. substantially reworked the Greek Revival style residence at 4 Margin Street in the Colonial and Classical Revival styles, first in the 1890s and again in 1906. Changes included the installation of a hipped roof with cornice brackets, to replace the gable roof; the construction of the elaborate, semi-circular entry porch with Ionic columns; the addition of porches on the south elevation; and the addition of bay windows on the south and north elevations. The interior was also renovated, with the addition of Colonial Revival style fireplaces and mantels, and a large sweeping staircase with a Palladian window at the mid-level landing.
In 1911, Charles, Jr. acquired the Greek Revival style Larkin-Lewis-Perry House at 8 Margin Street for the use of his son, Harvey Chase Perry (1881-1978). The house was moved back from to the street, to be in alignment with the Charles Perry House next door. It was also renovated in a manner similar to the Charles Perry House; the hipped roof and dormers were added at this time, as were the side porches. Although its Greek Revival style still predominated, these new elements introduced characteristics of the Colonial Revival style. Later, in 1938, a second story was added to the rear wing of the house.
In 1913, Charles, Jr., who appears to have inherited the Thomas Perry, Jr. House at 2 Margin Street, transferred ownership to his son, Thomas Perry III (1880-1975). At the time the house retained its Second Empire styling; a photo from 1913 clearly shows the mansard roof and cupola. Soon after, however, probably around 1915, the house was dramatically altered. The roof was replaced with a gambrel roof; paired windows were replaced with 8/8, double-hung sash; the original front porch was replaced with a full-width, flat-roof porch supported by paired, square, Tuscan columns; and the main entry was rebuilt in the Colonial Revival style, with a fanlight and sidelights, all displaying delicate tracery.
By this time, the Perry family owned four of the five properties that were located within the Perry Homestead Historic District at the time. (The house at 15 Beach Street had not been moved to the district yet; it remained on Elm Street, where it had been constructed in 1900.) In 1919, Charles, Jr. acquired the fifth property: the ca. 1700 Lewis-Card-Perry House at 12 Margin Street. The south end of the house had fallen into disrepair and had been demolished in 1905. Charles, Jr. stabilized the remaining structure, added a bathroom and large closet to the rear, and undertook repairs to the floors and walls. The house was substantially restored by Charles, Jr.'s son, Harvey, and his wife, Lydia, in the 1930s.
With the acquisition of the Lewis-Card-Perry House, Charles Perry, Jr.'s effort to assemble a collection of properties on Margin Street, all under Perry family ownership, was complete. Under the direction of Charles, Jr., the houses at 2, 4 and 8 Margin Street were remodeled to be compatible with one another—uniting the properties aesthetically through the prevailing design mode of the period, the Colonial Revival. The landscape was also reimagined during this period, as Charles, Jr. and, later, his son, Arthur, engaged professional landscape designers to superimpose a more formal, unifying scheme on what remained of the gentleman's farm of the previous generation. Landscape features attributed to Warren H. Manning and Arthur Shurcliff transcended property boundaries and served to join the properties within a cohesive plan.
Warren H. Manning, one of the foremost American landscape designers of the period, was active in Rhode Island in the first decade of the 20th century; his records list private estate clients in Newport, Middletown, Providence and Pawtucket, as well as four in the Westerly neighborhood of Watch Hill. Charles Perry, Jr. would have come in contact with Manning as early as 1899, through his work at Wilcox Park. Located on land adjacent to the newly-established Westerly Public Library, the park project was overseen by the Westerly Library Association. Charles, Jr. was not only a member of the Association, he served as the group's primary contact with Manning. It is therefore not surprising that Charles, Jr. would turn to Manning to provide landscape services at the Perry family compound—and, indeed, Manning's account books show Charles Perry, Jr. as a client in 1903, with invoices for landscape design, though no drawings have been located. Nonetheless, the Perry Homestead Historic District includes characteristics typical of Manning's work, which emphasized naturalistic designs, curvilinear paths, and the careful placement of specimen trees.
At the time, Charles, Jr. was in possession of both the Thomas Perry, Jr. House (2 Margin Street) and the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street). Manning was likely called in to create a unifying design for the two properties. Records show that Manning's site supervisor, H.B. Kelzer, oversaw planting at the Perry properties in the spring of 1904. An early-20th-century photo shows an extensive forest planted to the east of the Lewis-Larkin-Perry House (8 Margin Street), on land owned by Charles Perry, Jr. The large tulip, beech and London plane trees which still survive at 4 Margin Street may have been among the plantings overseen by Kelzer. Other features dating from this period include a curvilinear drive behind the Thomas Perry, Jr. House and the Charles Perry House, shown on a bird's eye view from 1911. It is possible Manning had a hand in designing this drive, though this cannot be proven.
The landscape improvements overseen by Charles Perry, Jr. involved removing or relocating a number of mid- to late-19th-century outbuildings and features associated with the gentleman's farm operated by Charles' father and uncles. It is not known to what extent Manning was involved in these decisions, though the removal of outbuildings was necessary for some of the design elements attributed to Manning—such as the curvilinear drive and the specimen tree plantings—to be implemented. Ultimately, whether during this period or later, a cluster of buildings including a corn crib, horse barn, ice house and hen house were removed from the Charles Perry House property, as were a formal flower garden, orchards, hay fields, and vegetable patches. At the Thomas Perry, Jr. House property, removals included a wagon shed, pig pen, and a chicken house, among other outbuildings.
Subsequent changes to the landscape at the Perry Homestead Historic District likely waited until after Charles, Jr. purchased the Larkin-Lewis-Perry House (8 Margin Street) around 1911. A bird's eye view from that year shows a curvilinear drive behind the Thomas Perry, Jr. House (2 Margin Street) and the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street). It also shows a drive, which terminated in a circle, at the Larkin-Lewis-Perry House. The existing shared drive appears to incorporate portions of both of these drives, creating a loop road occupying the space between the Charles Perry House and the Larkin-Lewis-Perry House. Historic photos from around this time show the drive by the Larkin-Lewis-Perry House extending to the east, beyond the circle, suggesting the loop road was constructed soon after Charles Perry, Jr. purchased the property. The shared drive provided circulation through the district, and access to three outbuildings that were used in common by the Perrys. The carriage house (former horse barn, ca. 1850) and studio/playhouse (former chicken coop, late 19th c.) were moved to the loop road at some point in the early 20th century. Between these two re-used outbuildings, the Perrys built a three-car garage, reflecting the increasing importance of the automobile.
The construction of the shared drive and loop road represented another step away from the gentleman's farm and another step toward a more formal, designed landscape in the Perry Homestead Historic District. The road cut through what had been hay fields and gardens, and defined a space between the Charles Perry House (4 Margin Street) and Larkin-Lewis-Perry House (8 Margin Street) that could be used in common. Near Margin Street, part of this space is now occupied by a sunken lawn that was formerly used as a grass tennis court; historic photos suggest the tennis court had been installed by the 1920s.
It is not known whether the Perrys engaged a professional landscape designer to lay out the loop road. There is no documentation of Manning being involved at the property beyond 1904. The records of Arthur Asahel Shurcliff (1870-1957) list Charles Perry, Jr. as a client; no date is provided, however, and no plans have been located. Like Manning before him, Shurcliff would have come into contact with members of the Perry family through civic projects in Westerly. Shurcliff designed the grounds of the Westerly Hospital (1920), which was founded under the leadership of and built on land donated by Charles Perry, Jr. Shurcliff was also retained by the Westerly Library Association to design terraces (1929), an octagon fountain basin and surrounding bluestone pavement (1930), and a WWI memorial terrace garden (1937) for Westerly's Wilcox Park. At the time, Charles Perry, Jr.'s son, Arthur L. Perry (1877-1964), was a member of the Association.
Given Shurcliff's activity in Westerly in the 1920s, and his contact with the Perry family, it is possible that he had a hand in designing the loop road and/or the grass tennis court, though this cannot be verified. What appears more likely is that Shurcliff designed the three, enclosed garden rooms in the Perry Homestead Historic District. Placed symmetrically across the family compound, the gardens superimpose a unifying order on the landscape. Their design reflects the Colonial Revival style advanced by Shurcliff, most notably at Colonial Williamsburg. Indeed, in the 1930s, publications showcasing Shurcliff's Colonial Williamsburg gardens created a popular taste for the compact and tidy Colonial Revival garden room. The three gardens may have been designed for Charles Perry, Jr. in the 1920s or, perhaps more likely, for Arthur L. Perry in the 1930s. Shurcliff's project list includes the "Charles Perry/A.L. Perry Residences" at 2-8 Margin Street in 1930 and 1936.
In 1930, Arthur L. Perry moved his 2-1/2 story home, built about 1900, from nearby Elm Street to its current location at 15 Beach Street. It is a fine example of the Shingle Style, with a fieldstone foundation; wood-shingled exterior walls; a cross-gambrel, wood-shingled roof; and Palladian windows in the gambrel peaks. (Arthur built a new house on Elm Street, selling the Shingle Style dwelling to Rollin T. Read in 1930.) The move obliterated a large garden belonging to Thomas Perry III and his wife, Margaret, who lived at the Thomas Perry, Jr. House (2 Margin Street). According to Phoebe Franklin, a Perry family descendant and current owner of the Thomas Perry, Jr. House, the pergola garden was built along Beach Street, to the northwest of the Arthur Perry House, as compensation for this loss and to provide a buffer between the two properties. The timing strongly suggests that the pergola garden was designed by Arthur Shurcliff, whose records list Arthur Perry as a client at the same time that his house was moved and the garden was constructed. The garden is enclosed on three sides by a privet hedge, while the eastern side is defined by a pink granite wall. Centered on the wall is a semi-elliptical pool set beneath a wood pergola. The garden beds—now overgrown—were originally planted, at least in part, with roses. Shurcliff had previously designed several rose gardens, including at Willard S. Martin's Greatwood Farm in Vermont (ca. 1908), where the garden is enclosed with stone walls, lined with perimeter planting beds and includes a small, circular pool; and at the Crane Estate (Castle Hill) in Ipswich, Massachusetts (1913-1914), where the circular garden featured a wood pergola along its perimeter and a pool at its center.
Less is known about the origins of the two other enclosed garden rooms in the Perry Homestead Historic District. With their roughly symmetrical distribution across the landscape and stylistic similarities, the three gardens may have been conceived as a whole and executed by the same designer, possibly Arthur Shurcliff. The garden room located within the loop drive appears to have been bound on all sides by a privet hedge (remnants remain), interrupted on the western perimeter by a Colonial Revival style wood arbor with integrated seats. The garden room at the Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street) is enclosed on the north by a row of arborvitae, otherwise by granite ashlar walls that include an integrated wood pergola (the original has been replaced in kind) at the southwest corner.
In 1929, when Charles Perry, Jr. died, the Lewis-Card-Perry House (12 Margin Street) passed to his son, Harvey. Harvey and his wife, Lydia, engaged the noted restoration architect Norman Isham to oversee an extensive restoration in the genre of the Colonial Revival movement of the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1931-1932, Isham supervised the reconstruction of the dwelling's south wing, using salvaged, early-18th-century building materials, as well as the restoration of the interior. Isham may have been responsible for installing the well box and sweep at the property, as well. The Colonial Revival style walled garden would have complemented the restoration work at the house, and may well have been completed around the same time. About ten years later, in 1940, Harvey Perry and his second wife, Julianna, hired Arthur Sylvester of Warren Manning's firm to design a water garden at the Lewis-Card-Perry House. (Warren Manning had died in 1938.) Located to the northeast of the house, the stone-lined fish pond is integrated into a small perennial garden and a curved, dry-laid stone wall.
There have been few changes to the district since the construction of the fish pond garden. A workshop was built to the south of the studio/playhouse, along the loop road, around 1950 and a wood pergola was constructed at the Arthur L. Perry House (15 Beach Street) in the late 20th century. The residences have experienced only minor exterior changes, and still exhibit their character-defining features and stylistic elements. The garden rooms, though largely missing historic plant material, retain their overall layout, dimensions and architectural features (i.e., the pergola, arbor and stone walls). The Perry Homestead Historic District as a whole, as well as individual resources within it, retains a high level of integrity and continues to convey the character of an aesthetically unified, turn-of-the-twentieth-century family compound.
† Richard C. Youngken, Principal, Youngken Associated and Joanna M. Doherty, Principal Architectural Historian, Rhode Island Preservation and Heritage Commission, Perry Homestead Historic District, Washington County, RI, nomination document, 2016, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.