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Alfred Drowne Road Historic District

Barrington Town, Bristol County, RI

The Alfred Drowne Road Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Alfred Drowne Road Historic District presents a unified character, with residences dating primarily from the 1850s through the 1920s, with about half having been constructed between 1870 and 1910. The district includes examples of the Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles, as well as more vernacular forms. With a few notable exceptions, the houses in the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District are of a similar scale and massing, ranging from 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 stories in height, and have similar setbacks from the street. The sizes of the house lots vary; most are between 10,000 and 25,000 square feet, though some—all located in the northern part of the district—are considerably larger, with a few occupying well over an acre. Lots are generally landscaped with lawns, trees, shrubs and foundation plantings, and in many cases property lines are delineated by hedges or low fences. In general, the residences in the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District retain their historic materials, design and character and exhibit a high degree of integrity. Some houses have been expanded, mostly with additions that have been sensitively incorporated into the original architectural design. Many properties have garages, including nineteenth-century converted barns, early-twentieth-century garages and more modem examples. In most cases, the garage is located at the end of a driveway, to the rear of the residence.

The District represents a relatively concentrated period of growth, with approximately half of the residences dating from between 1870 and 1910. This is typical of the period, when suburbanization occurred beyond the edges of major American cities. During this time, Barrington grew from a small, agricultural community to a desirable suburb of Providence, about six miles to the northwest, to which the town became linked by railroad in 1855. One of the town's three train depots was located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Alfred Drowne Road and the railroad tracks now the East Bay Bike Path—within easy walking distance of all the properties in the district—making this area of town a focus for development. The District includes excellent examples of the Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles, as well as more vernacular expressions of the Victorian period. The District as a whole, and individual properties within it, maintain integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. The period of significance is ca. 1830-1940s, from the date that the first house appeared in the district, to the date of construction for the most recent contributing property.

Barrington's initial shift from a farm town to a bedroom community was due largely to regional transportation developments. In 1855, the Providence, Warren and Bristol Railroad began service between East Providence and Warren, with the primary purpose of supporting the brick industry. The railroad also offered passenger service, however, and had established a regular schedule by 1858. In 1860, the railroad linked up with the Fall River, Warren and Providence Railroad, thus connecting Barrington to Fall River, Massachusetts and Providence. Three depots were located in Barrington, at Alfred Drowne Road, Nayatt and Barrington Center. As Barrington became more conveniently linked to urban centers, local farms were subdivided into house lots. This process both anticipated and facilitated the influx of commuters desiring a quiet, rural home life and easy access to the city. For the most part, the subdividing of Barrington was carried out by individual landowners, resulting in a patchwork of self-contained, residential tracts.

Although plats were laid out largely by individuals, with no overarching town-wide plan, there were concerted, organized efforts to promote Barrington's newfound suburban status and heighten its appeal. A shade tree committee was formed in 1876, and in 1881 the Rural Improvement Society of Barrington, the first organization of its kind in Rhode Island, was established. The Society advocated for good roads, street trees and other civic improvements, while also promoting Barrington as a desirable place to live. A pamphlet published by the Society in 1890, titled Barrington on the Narragansett as a Place of Residence, boasts "No form of vice has habitation here; no police, no saloon; no jail or almshouse is needed; and as the rate of taxation is very reasonable, and the value of real estate very low, it offers a most attractive inducement as a place of residence for people of moderate means." Even better, this idyllic locale was within easy reach; the pamphlet includes photographs of Barrington's three railroad stations—the grounds of which were planted by a "competent florist"—and notes that Barrington is easily accessible from "any point between Providence and Newport" and offers "a train service commensurate with the present demand." As of 1886, there were nine trains traveling each way daily between Barrington and Providence, an increase from the five trains that traveled each way every day ten years earlier and a testimony to the town's growth.

The land that comprises the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District was once farmland owned by the Allin family. According to research on file at the Barrington Preservation Society, the William Allin House, not extant, a 17th century stone-ender, once stood at the northwest corner of Alfred Drowne Road and Washington Road. In the early 1800s, the land was owned by members of the Drown sometimes spelled Drowne family, whose New England roots date back to the 17th century. Alfred Drown 1797-1890 purchased property in the area in March of 1833. The property included an 18th century house, which had apparently been moved to the site from another location around 1830. One of his sons, Benjamin Franklin Drown 1822-1894, occupied the Benjamin F. Drown House at 27 Alfred Drowne Road (ca. 1856).

Other Drowns lived in the area in the mid 1800s. Henry F. Walling's Map of Bristol County, Rhode Island, published in 1851, shows two buildings on a short road extending off the west side of Washington Road, roughly in the location of present-day Alfred Drowne Road. The buildings are labeled H. Drown and N. Drown—likely Alfred's younger brothers Hiram 1798-1866 and Nathaniel 1810-1888. The two buildings shown on the map are probably the Alfred Drown House and William Allim's stone-ender, which was owned by Hiram Drown as of 1838. It is not clear why Alfred Drown's name does not appear on the map, though perhaps the property was shared among the siblings. Research yielded little information about Nathaniel Drown; Hiram Drown was "occupied as a farmer, and was a good citizen, honest and upright." He and his wife, Emeline, had five children, including Samuel Marvin and Charles Ellery, both of whom built houses in the District in the 1860s.

No additional dwellings were constructed in the District until after the arrival of the railroad in 1855. As did farmers in other parts of Barrington, Alfred Drown saw potential profit in this transportation development. He sold land to the Providence, Warren and Bristol Railroad in 1856 for the construction of the Alfred Drowne Road depot and served as the station agent. In July of 1857, he sold a substantial parcel to Dr. Joshua and Louise Chapin, who constructed the Joshua B. Chapin / David A. Waldron House at 26 Alfred Drowne Road. The Chapins built their house in the Italianate style—with a symmetrical facade, tall windows some round-arched and decorative eaves brackets which was popular at the time. It is likely that the large barn to the south of the dwelling, which was converted into a residence in the 1990s, was built by a subsequent owner, David A. Waldron, who lived at 26 Alfred Drowne Road from 1865 to 1898.

In the 1860s, the District began to develop somewhat more rapidly. Hiram Drown's sons, Samuel and Charles, both built houses on Washington Road. The Samuel M. Drown House at 209 Washington Road 1863 was built in the Greek Revival style, with a three-bay-wide, front-gable main block featuring corner pilasters, cornice returns and a classical door surround. In contrast, the Charles E. Drown House at 219 Washington Road 1868 was built in the Italianate style, with tall, narrow windows, bracketed cornices and a porch supported by square posts with decorative turned woodwork. Around the same time, Thomas Bicknell erected a home on the east side of Washington Road. Like the Charles E. Drown House across the street, the Thomas W. Bicknell House at 220 Washington Road ca. 1866 exhibits characteristics typical of the Italianate style, including a symmetrical, three-bay facade, eaves brackets and paired windows.

Sometime soon after Hiram Drown's death in 1866, a large piece of the Drown farmland was sold to Henry Staples, who proceeded to subdivide the land for sale as residential building lots. The 1868 Staples plat, which established the street grid from First to Sixth Street on the east side of Alfred Drowne Road, represents one of the earliest residential plats in Barrington. On the plat map, the present-day Alfred Drowne Road is called "Alfred Drown's Lane." By 1870, the whole neighborhood had taken on the name of its early settlers; D.G. Beers' atlas from that year labels the train depot "Alfred Drowne Road Station." Around the same time, the east-west portion of Alfred Drowne Road was known as Elm Avenue, as shown on maps from 1871 and 1883, due to the large number of elm trees that lined it.

Several houses in the district were built on lots shown on the 1868 Staples plat, all around 1870. These include the G.W. Thayer House at 70-72 Alfred Drowne Road by 1870, the house at 92 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1870, the Reuben T. Hunt House at 96 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1870 and the house at 100 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1870. These are relatively simple houses with Victorian design elements, such as gable-end cornice returns; bay windows; 2-over-2, double-hung sash; and, in the case of 70-72 Alfred Drowne Road, substantial, bracketed drip caps. Two additional properties were built a little to the north, also on the east side of Alfred Drowne Road, in the 1870s. The William T. Lewis, Sr. House at 66 Alfred Drowne Road 1871 is an excellent example of the Italianate style, which dominated residential construction during this period. The George C. Townsend House at 56 Alfred Drowne Road 1876 is a more vernacular expression of the time.

Development in the area continued at a similar rate in the following decade, with four additional houses being built by 1890. The William T. Lewis, Jr. House at 41 Alfred Drowne Road 1882 was constructed by the son of William and Eliza Lewis, who resided at 66 Alfred Drowne Road. The Arthur W. and Mary Lewis House at 76 Alfred Drowne Road 1883 was constructed by William, Sr.'s brother soon after. The Orrin S. Anthony House at 214 Washington Road ca. 1885 was constructed at the corner of Washington Road and Lincoln Avenue, on property that probably once belonged to Thomas Bicknell, just to the south. Bicknell, along with a few others, platted 348 residential lots on the east side of Washington Road in 1871, outside of the district boundaries. The plat map shows Bicknell 's property, which included elaborate landscaping and an extensive circulation system, occupying the entire block between Lincoln Avenue and Bradford Street to the south. The home was built in the Queen Anne style, which was an extremely popular residential style in the last two decades of the 19th century, with a cross-gable roof, cut-wood shingle siding, and decorative vergeboard with stick work in the gabled peaks. The Joseph A. Townsend House at 47 Alfred Drowne Road Ca. 1890 was built soon after.

By about 1890, Alfred Drowne Road contained approximately 16 houses and was a well-established neighborhood. By 1883, the area boasted a post office just outside the district, at the southwest corner of Spring Avenue and Washington Road and supported two grocery stores, established in the late 1870s location not known. Alfred Drowne Road also had two churches outside the boundaries of the district: the Methodist Episcopal Church 1875, 1926, 1955, et seq. on Washington Road and Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church 1891, listed on the National Register on Chapel Road. The Alfred Drowne Road Water Company, which provided residents of the neighborhood with water via wells dug near the railroad depot, was formed in 1887, with David A. Waldron of 26 Alfred Drowne Road as its first president. In its 1890 promotional pamphlet, the Rural Improvement Society of Barrington referred to Alfred Drowne Road as a "thriving village." The makeup of the residents in the district reflected that this was a transitional period for the town, as it moved from an agricultural community to a suburb. Members of the Drown family, on whose farmland the houses had been built, remained in the area. Some residents, like Reuben Hunt at 96 Alfred Drowne Road, partner in an oyster company, pursued local work tied to the bay. Others, including members of the Lewis family, commuted to middle- and working-class jobs in Providence jewelry factories.

The majority of the houses built in the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District after 1900 were executed in the Colonial Revival style, though the Queen Anne style persisted. The Charles J. and Mary S. Coutanche House at 84 Alfred Drowne Road 1905 features decorative, cut wood shingles; ornate drip caps; and several stained-glass windows, all typical of the Queen Anne style. The George Anderton House at 33 Alfred Drowne Road 1907 is a rather unusual and elaborate example of the Queen Anne. Occupying a large lot that backs onto present-day Allim's Cove, the 2-1/2 story residence features a cross-gable roof; decorative wood-shingled walls; a deep, wraparound porch supported by banded concrete columns; and a porte cochere. Three Colonial Revival style houses were built around 1910, including the 2-1/2 story, three-bay-wide house at 46 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1910 and two substantial Dutch Colonial Revival-style homes at 50 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1910 and 53 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1910. A more modest Dutch Colonial Revival-style cottage was erected in the southern part of the district in the 1910s: the Angelina Carpenter House at 87 Alfred Drowne Road by 1917.

Five residences appear on the Sanborn fire insurance map and on the Barrington Assessor's Office field cards by 1921; they may have been built in the 1910s, but other sources, such as town directories, do not provide definitive evidence. The house at 45 Annawamscutt Road by 1921 is a typical Colonial Revival-style four-square. The residence at 45 Alfred Drowne Road by 1921 exhibits features of both the Colonial Revival style—such as a hip roof and classical columns, and the Craftsman style such as paired windows and deep roof eaves. Research suggests that the Craftsman-style residence at 46A Alfred Drowne Road by 1921 was originally an outbuilding; a structure, labeled as an automobile garage, appears in roughly the location of this house on the 1921 Sanborn map, on the rear of the lot occupied by 46 Alfred Drowne Road. The Thomas and Amelia Lord House at 67 Alfred Drowne Road by 1921 is an excellent example of the Craftsman style, which enjoyed immense popularity in the 1910s and 1920s. The side gambrel roof with deep, bracketed eaves; deep front porch; continuous, shed-roof dormers; and grouped window sash are all hallmarks of the style. The home at 97 Alfred Drowne Road by 1921 was built around the same time.

By 1921, Alfred Drowne Road had been significantly built up; 35 of the 43 residences in the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District were in place by that time. Residents of the recently constructed homes included doctors, businessmen involved in the jewelry and textile trades, and clerks, many of whom commuted to Providence. By the early 1900s, Alfred Drowne Road had established itself as a middle- and upper-middle class enclave.

Two homes were built in the district between 1921 and 1928, as evidenced by Sanborn fire insurance maps from those years. These include the classic suburban Dutch Colonial Revival style home at 9 Alfred Drowne Road between 1921 and 1928 and the Colonial Revival-style home at nearby 21 Alfred Drowne Road between 1921 and 1928, which occupy small lots on either side of the Alfred Drown House at 13 Alfred Drowne Road, representing early 20th century infill construction. The Colonial Revival style Henry and Doris Hathaway House at 79 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1930 was built in the southern part of the District around 1930 information on file at the Barrington Assessor's Office shows that the Hathaways paid taxes on this plot of land in 1929, but as of 1930 owe taxes on both the land and a house. The last contributing property to be built within the boundaries of the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District was a large, brick and clapboard, Colonial Revival style house with a full-height, pedimented entry porch at 63 Alfred Drowne Road 1940s constructed in the 1940s.

The Alfred Drowne Road Historic District continued to be occupied by middle-class families in the mid 20th century. Residents included Herbert Sturdy, Jr., who worked for an Attleboro Falls jewelry company 27 Alfred Drowne Road; Eugene Spaulding, a salesman in Providence 31 Alfred Drowne Road; Fred Broomhead, a Providence caterer 53 Alfred Drowne Road; Harry Pattee, who worked in insurance 55 Alfred Drowne Road; Robert Brown, a professor 60 Alfred Drowne Road; and Phillip Hornby, a traffic manager 83 Alfred Drowne Road.

By this time, residents of the neighborhood likely relied on automobiles to get them to their jobs in Providence and elsewhere. Train service ceased after the hurricane of 1938, which had damaged the railroad tracks. Ridership was also likely waning; during this period, automobile ownership among the American middle class was growing substantially, prompting the creation of automobile suburbs, which were not tied to railroad tracks or streetcar routes. Older, established suburban plats, like the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District, also showed the impact of the automobile. Residences in the district that were constructed in the 1910s and 1920s often were accompanied by a garage; examples include 46 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1910, 50 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1910, 53 Alfred Drowne Road ca. 1910, 67 Alfred Drowne Road by 1921 and 97 Alfred Drowne Road by 1921, all of which appear on the 1921 Sanborn map with garages. Older homes added garages to their lots or converted existing barns; the 1921 Sanborn map shows garages at 26 Alfred Drowne Road 1858, 1873, 1899, 56 Alfred Drowne Road 1876, 70-72 Alfred Drowne Road by 1870 and 220 Washington Road Ca. 1866, among others.

By the mid 20th century, the Alfred Drowne Road Historic District looked much as it does today. Since the 1940s, when the last contributing property within the district boundaries was constructed, changes have been minimal. Some houses, such as 76 Alfred Drowne Road, have been sensitively expanded with additions that respect the building's historic character and architectural style. Modern infill in the area has been limited; four properties located along Alfred Drowne or Washington roads are considered non-contributing due to their relatively young age. These include 78 Alfred Drowne Road and 216 Washington Road, built in the 1950s, and 10 Alfred Drowne Road and 71 Alfred Drowne Road, of very recent construction. The influence of the railroad on the neighborhood is apparent in its moderately sized lots, relatively dense development, and through the presence of the East Bay Bike Path, constructed in the late 1980s on the former track bed which serves as a physical reminder of the railroad. The district contains excellent examples of most of the major residential building styles of the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles, as well as Victorian Vernacular homes. The neighborhood's relatively concentrated period of development, with most houses constructed between 1870 and 1910, resulted in a very coherent streetscape. The district's visual characteristics and history speak to the transformation of Barrington from an agricultural community, peopled by farmers like the Drown family, to a thriving middle class suburb.

‡ Joanna M. Doherty, Preservation Consultant for Barrington Preservation Society, Alfred Drowne Road Historic District, Bristol County, Rhode Island, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
3rd Street • 4th Street • Alfred Drowne Road • Annawamscutt Road • Short Road • Washington Road