Beriah Brown House« View more Historic Houses
41 Mill Street
Newport, Rhode Island
The Beriah Brown House, built c.1709, is a large two-story, five-bay plan building with a gambrel roof and a large center chimney. It was originally located on South County Trail (Rt. 2 at the 104 intersection) in the rural area of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. The Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) acquired the already disassembled house in 1972 and then rebuilt and restored it at its current site on Mill Street in 1975-76.
The 1709 date represents the first known construction, which probably consisted of a simple one-room structure of one or two stories. The building reached its final eighteenth-century configuration just before and after the Revolution at the hand of Beriah Brown, namesake of his grandfather who built the first structure. Although the house increased in size and refinement through time and generations, it never attained the elegance and architectural detail many Newport houses acquired as the owners' fortunes grew and styles changed. The house has, however, been recognized as a significant example of Rhode Island architecture.
The structure was scheduled for demolition in 1972 to make way for industrial developments. A private client hired A. W. Baker of Westport, MA to document and dismantle the building, and a considerable amount of written, drawn, and photographic work went into the project.
Problems developed with the planned sites in Rhode Island where the Brown House was to be reassembled, and what had been anticipated as a short time span between disassembly and reconstruction turned into nearly three years. Stored materials were suffering from time and weather. New prospective sites were sought, but the only ones located were not in Rhode Island.
Finally, NRF was appraoched by Anne Baker about acquiring the house. NRF purchased the frame and pieces for the cost to disassemble, move and store the house. After considering many different locations, the Mill Street site was chosen for the reconstruction.
When the house was purchased, about eighty-five percent of the frame was usable, as were mantels, doors, the main stairway, and much trim. Fireplace surrounds were missing from a few of the first-floor rooms, lost to improved heating devices and blocked fireplaces. The house had been in continuous use for roughly two hundred and sixty years and its condition, prior to disassembly, suggested benign neglect during much of the twentieth century, rather than the kind of periodic modernizations that were often the undoing of many other buildings.
The first Beriah Brown, the original builder, came to Rhode Island from Rowley, Massachusetts sometime between 1683 and 1709. He married, started a family, acquired considerable land holdings, and established a successful farm that was occupied by the Brown family for six or seven generations.
When he died in 1717, the house was passed on to his son, Alexander. Alexander's son Beriah (namesake of the grandfather ) was born in 1715 and inherited the house when Alexander died in 1758. This Beriah Brown was probably the most prominent member of the family. He was educated beyond the norm of the day and was made sheriff of King's County, a position he held for nearly forty years. He ran a large, successful farm, did well with land transactions, and had significant political influence during his lifetime.
Although the house is no longer in its original location, an important continuum of rural eighteenth-century Rhode Island architecture has been preserved. It is always difficult to site a rural building in an urban setting, but this house, with its gambrel roof end-to-the-street, does not appear at odds with its new location. When the interior of the house is viewed, however, the difference between rural and urban eighteenth-century Rhode Island architectural detail does become more evident.