Jennys Lane Historic District

Barrington Town, Bristol County, RI

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The Jennys Lane Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Jennys Lane Historic District consists of 31 lots containing 30 private residences in an approximately 25-acre area near the center of Barrington, Rhode Island. Twenty-five of the 30 residences are considered contributing resources. Five are considered non-contributing resources: three because of their relatively young age, two because they exhibit extensive alterations, and one because it is a vacant lot (formerly occupied by a ca. 1943 house which was recently torn down). The district begins at the intersection of Rumstick Road and Jennys Lane, following Jennys Lane east toward the Barrington River until its intersection with Mathewson Road. The district includes all the properties on either side of Jennys Lane, one property on Rumstick Road, four properties that front Mathewson Road, and a boat house located on the river. As in most of Barrington, the topography in the Jennys Lane Historic District is quite level, with no significant hills. The lack of curbing and sidewalks in the district contribute to the neighborhood's quiet, residential character. While Jennys Lane is lined with mature street trees, giving it a sheltered feeling, Mathewson Road, bordered by the river, is more open.

The Jennys Lane Historic District was developed mostly in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as large landholdings were subdivided to take advantage of Barrington's growing reputation as a summer community and suburban enclave. This pattern, evident throughout Barrington, was fueled in part by the establishment in 1855 of passenger rail service connecting Barrington with Providence. (Train service ceased in the mid-20th century; the railroad bed is now occupied by the East Bay Bike Path, which stretches from Providence to Bristol, to the north of the district.) Development concentrated in areas around the town's three railroad depots, one of which was located in Barrington Center, and in locations with water views. The earliest developer in the area was Allen C. Mathewson, a Providence jeweler and Barrington native who returned to the town in the 1860s, establishing a large estate that occupied much of the eastern part of the district. His gentleman's farm included a large house near the corner of present-day Mathewson Road and Chapin Street (demolished in 1959). Mathewson developed two hotels for summer visitors and built several speculative houses in the area. The bulk of his estate was subdivided a few years after his death in 1878. The western part of the district was platted in the early twentieth century by two families: the Gladdings, whose family home still stands at 32 Rumstick Road, sold off house lots on the south side of Jennys Lane beginning in 1910, while the Hoffmans divided up property on the north side the same year.

The Jennys Lane Historic District presents a unified character, with residences dating primarily from the 1850s through the 1920s. The district includes examples of the Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles, as well as more vernacular forms. With a few exceptions, the houses in the Jennys Lane 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 20,000 and 40,000 square feet, though some are well over an acre. Lots are generally landscaped with lawns, trees, shrubs and foundation plantings. Many properties have garages, typically early-twentieth-century structures located at the end of a driveway, to the rear of the residence. In general, the residences in the Jennys Lane Historic District retain their historic materials, design and character and exhibit a high degree of integrity.

The history of the Jennys Lane Historic District exemplifies Barrington's transition to a summer community and highly desirable suburb. At the middle of the nineteenth century, just a few buildings had been constructed in the district, the earliest being the Greek Revival / Italianate-style George Anthony Gladding House at 32 Rumstick Road (1849). Gladding, a carpenter, also designed and built "The Gables" at 41 Mathewson Road (ca. 1850), this time employing the Gothic Revival style. (The property would later be expanded and operated as a hotel; see below.) Gladding later worked in partnership with his brother-in-law, Lewis Thompson Fisher, who settled in Barrington in the early 1860s, building the Italianate-style house at 33 Jennys Lane (1863).

Gladding is also credited with building a residence for Allen C. Mathewson, whose influence on the Jennys Lane Historic District would be considerable. Born in Barrington in 1808, Mathewson moved to Providence in 1822, learning the jewelry business at G&A Richmond. Seven years later he and Bradford Allen founded Mathewson and Allen, a jewelry manufacturing company that ultimately had a factory in Providence and an office in New York City. In the company's early years, Mathewson would reportedly travel to the Canadian border through New York State via horse and wagon selling his products. He and his first wife, Eliza, had five children, two of whom survived to adulthood: George Allen (1834-1874), who joined his father's business, and Elizabeth (? -1905). Soon after Eliza's death in 1856, Mathewson married Harriet (Richmond) Britton, a widow, with whom he had a daughter, Bessie (1859-1936).

Mathewson retired to his hometown of Barrington around 1860, accumulating a large amount of property—reportedly 97 acres at the time of his death in the area opposite Tyler Point, including much of the Jennys Lane District. He "spent large sums of money in improving farm lands and establishing a model farm, which was an object lesson to the town." The estate included a large, 2-1/2 story, 16-room mansion located just south of the district, near the intersection of Mathewson Road and Chapin Street (demolished in 1959). Mathewson became a prominent Barrington resident, serving as State Senator from 1862-1864, leading a Committee to raise funds to pay Civil War soldiers, serving on the Barrington Centennial Committee in 1870 and becoming a strong supporter of St. John's Episcopal Church.

In Barrington, Mathewson expanded his fortune through real estate, promoting the Jennys Lane area to summer visitors and year-round residents. He had a hand in the development of two summer hotels in the area: "The Gables" at 41 Mathewson Road (a residence built ca. 1850, which Mathewson sold to Frances and Moses Kimball of Boston in 1866, at which point it became a hotel) and his own mansion, which his daughter operated as "The Mathewson" after his death. He also built a number of homes in the area, some as speculative investments. The earliest of these is the Allen C. Mathewson / Elizabeth Lynde House at 48 Jennys Lane (ca. 1862), a Second Empire style residence built by Mathewson and inherited by his daughter, Elizabeth Lynde, after his death in 1878. The Italianate-style Allen C. Mathewson/John C. and Abby Burrington House at 39 Mathewson Road (ca. 1868) was built by Mathewson, sold to Eliza Paine in 1871, and almost immediately transferred to John C. and Abby Burrington, whom Mathewson had persuaded to move to Barrington. Mathewson is also credited with building the Italianate-style Nelson and Adeline Newell House at 53 Jennys Lane (1869). Around 1870, Mathewson built the Allen C. Mathewson Boathouse at 38 Mathewson Road, on a pier where he supposedly kept a sailboat that he "used for transportation to New York on business." The boathouse also increased the neighborhood's picturesque image; a sketch of it appears in the Rural Improvement Society of Barrington's 1890 promotional pamphlet, and it is pictured in Some Representative Views of the Old Town of Barrington, Rhode Island, published in 1906.

Allen C. Mathewson died in 1878, and his large estate was ultimately divided among his heirs, including his two surviving children, Elizabeth Lynde and Bessie Thompson. (The two daughters donated a bell in their father's memory, which was installed in the Mathewson Memorial Tower at St. John's Episcopal Church, built in 1888.) As noted above, Elizabeth inherited the property at 48 Jennys Lane while Bessie inherited the mansion and the boathouse. With her husband, Walter, a stationer in Providence, she operated her father's former residence as a summer hotel.

Historic maps and town directories indicate that in the 1880s, present-day Mathewson Road was sometimes referred to as Water Street or Shore Road, though it appears to have taken on its present name by the turn of the century. Present-day Jennys Lane has undergone a number of name changes. It appears on the 1886 Plat of the Division of the Estate of Allen C. Mathewson Dec'd as "Mathewson St. or Jennie's Lane," but was referred to as Golden Rod Avenue in other sources from the time. In the 1890s, it was called Burrington Avenue, after the family who resided at the corner lot at 39 Mathewson Road in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By 1917, however, the name had reverted to Jennys Lane. Information about the origin of the name varies. One source claims that the house at 41 Mathewson Road was once occupied by the Jennys, an African-American family, and that one of its members delivered her laundry work by walking a dirt path that now bears the family's name. Others claim that Jennys Lane was named after a slave of Matthew Watson, who owned a brickyard on Nayatt Road in the late eighteenth century; Jenny and her husband, Cambridge Watson, apparently lived on the east end of present-day Jennys Lane, near the river.

By 1900, eleven of the 30 houses in the Jennys Lane district had been built, over a period of 50 years. The residences were concentrated on Mathewson Road and the south side of Jennys Lane. The north side of Jennys Lane remained largely undeveloped, with only the house at 48 Jennys Lane in place. This would change dramatically in the first two decades of the 1900s, when nine houses were constructed, largely the result of two subdivisions: the Gladding Plat and the Hoffman Plat. George A. Gladding, whose house still stands at 32 Rumstick Road, died in 1893. His property, which included several acres between Jennys Lane and Chapin Road to the south, had been surveyed the previous year, and three houses were soon built by his children: the Alverin Gladding House at 7 Jennys Lane (1889), mentioned above; the Italianate-style Charles F. Gladding House at 15 Jennys Lane (1906) was built by his third son, who worked as a druggist in Providence; and the Colonial Revival-style Fannie Brownell House at 3 Jennys Lane (1911), built by his daughter. (The remainder of Gladding's property would be developed as the Homestead Estate of Julia A. Gladding, his widow, after her death in 1910.) In the meantime, Allen C. Mathewson's grandson, William A. Mathewson, had constructed a Colonial Revival-style home at 56 Jennys Lane (1903). Listed in the 1908 town directory as a taxidermist in Providence, William Mathewson was working in real estate by 1910. (Olive Lane, to the south of the district, is named for his daughter.)

Construction in the 1910s was focused on the north side of Jennys Lane which was part of the Hoffman Plat, a 1910 subdivision of property owned by William H. Hoffman, who lived a bit south of the district at 53 Rumstick Road. Six houses were built on the Hoffman Plat in five years, reflecting the rapid pace of development in Barrington at the time. All were built in the popular Colonial Revival or Craftsman styles. The George S. and Emma S. Boutwell House at 44 Jennys Lane (ca. 1910) is a relatively simple, Colonial Revival-style home. George Boutwell was a tool maker in 1913 and worked as a janitor from around 1917 through the mid-1930s. The large, Colonial Revival-style Henry S. Robinson House at 16 Jennys Lane (1910-11) was built around the same time. Its first owner worked for the Providence Telephone Company. The William J. and Annie Kenyon House at 24 Jennys Lane (ca. 1911) has Colonial Revival-style characteristics, most notably its Ionic porch columns, but its overall form shows the influence of the Craftsman style. Like other residents of the area, William Kenyon was middle class, working as a traveling salesman.

The Colonial Revival style was evident at the A. Brintnall and Laura V. Tingley House at 28 Jennys Lane (1912- 1913) and at the residence at 32 Jennys Lane (ca. 1914). Tingley worked in real estate in Providence, while an early owner of the home at 32 Jennys Lane, John E. Marshall, was a purchasing agent in the city. Easily the most elaborate of the homes built on the Hoffman Plat was the Craftsman-style J. Richmond and Eleanor Fales House at 36 Jennys Lane (ca. 1915). This was a summer residence for the Fales, whose permanent home as of 1917 was in Pawtucket; by 1922 they made their year-round home in Providence.

Three properties were built in the Jennys Lane district in the 1920s and 1930s. The last lot in the subdivision of the Homestead Estate of Julia A. Gladding was developed: the Howard Gladding House at 21 Jennys Lane (1926) was built in the Dutch Colonial Revival style by Charles Gladding's son. The Dutch Colonial Revival-style residence at 10 Jennys Lane (between 1928 and 1939) was constructed at the west end of the street, and the Russell Carpenter House at 61 Jennys Lane (ca. 1939), a Colonial Revival-style Cape, was built at the east end.

By the 1930s, the Jennys Lane district was largely built up. Most properties were occupied by solidly middle-class residents, many of whom worked in Providence and some of whom used their Barrington homes as summer retreats. In addition to those noted above, residents in the 1920s and 1930s included Edwin F. Sherman, a cotton broker who worked in Providence (16 Jennys Lane); Howard E. Gladding, a banker (21 Jennys Lane); Frank T. Hertell, who worked in investments (32 Jennys Lane); Lewis G. Fisher, a salesman (33 Jennys Lane); Dr. Russell H. Carpenter, a dentist (61 Jennys Lane); Albert T. Stearns, a celluloid manufacturer in Providence (17 Mathewson Road); and Samuel Swan, an electrical engineer who owned both 39 Mathewson Road and the nearby boathouse.

By the mid-20th century, the Jennys Lane Historic District looked much as it does today. Since the early 1950s, when the last contributing property within the district boundaries was constructed, changes have been minimal and modern infill in the area has been limited. Three properties within the district boundaries are considered noncontributing resources due to their relatively young age. These include the residences at 11 Jennys Lane (1971), 49 Jennys Lane (2002) and 52 Jennys Lane (2002). The latter two were built within the last five years, replacing historic homes. This trend toward teardowns is also evident at 35 Mathewson Road, which was occupied by a ca. 1943 house as recently as May 2007; now it is a vacant lot. Nevertheless, the district retains a high degree of integrity and displays excellent examples of most of the major residential building styles of the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, 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 1849 and 1915, resulted in a very coherent streetscape. The district's visual characteristics and history speak to the transformation of Barrington from an agricultural community to a thriving middle-class suburb.

‡ Joanna M. Doherty and Mary Kate Harrington, Preservation Consultants, Jennys Lane Historic District, Bristol County, RI, nomination document, 2007, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Jennys Lane • Mathewson Road

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