NRF promotes and invests in the architectural heritage of the Newport community, the traditional building trades, and Doris Duke’s fine and decorative arts collections, for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of all.
As a leader in the preservation of early American architecture, NRF supports research and education in areas directly related to its collections and issues of critical concern to the field of historic preservation.
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16 Dennison Street
The house at 16 Dennison is on the original site where it was built between 1831-1846. It is an early nineteenth-century cottage with little interior or exterior detail. The exception to this is the center chimney and the original simple stairway that serves all three levels. For most of its history, 12 Dennison and 16 Dennison were sold as one lot from the earliest recorded deed in 1793 until The Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) purchased this house in 1968 and restored it in 1973.
It is uncertain exactly when this building appeared on the property. In 1812, Robert Robinson purchased this land at auction which included "buildings hereon used as a Spermaceti Works and the apparatus therein." The house at 16 Dennison today may or may not be one of those buildings. However, it is likely that the "dwelling house" that was on the property when it was acquired by Robinson Potter in 1826 was either this house or the one at 12 Dennison.
This property represents two major aspects of the Newport history: the spermaceti candle making industry and Irish immigration. From 1803 to the 1820s, the 12 and 16 Dennison lot lists an "oil works" referring to the manufacturing of candles from spermaceti, the oily head matter of sperm whales. This was a booming industry for Newport - in the 18th century this city produced half of all of the spermaceti candles used in the 13 colonies.
The Ronayne family, immigrants from Ireland around the time of the great potato famine, began to buy property along Dennison Street in the 1870s, including this lot. John Ronayne is typical of the sort of Irish immigrant pride that characterizes this Fifth Ward neighborhood of the late-19th and 20th centuries. He "made good" as a teamster accumulating some wealth and several properties. In1893, John Ronayne split the 12 and 16 Dennison Street properties in his will to give one house to each of two nieces, Mary and Kate Ronayne. In 1899, these sisters sold the properties as a reunited single lot to Michael and Katrina Curran.
While the Dennison Street properties are not the most architecturally interesting, part of the NRF's plan was to control the land and buildings around the Samuel Whitehorne House, which was slated by Miss Duke to become a museum property. In the late 1960s, this area was run down and unstable, and was seen as an area ripe for potential demolition and development for commercial purposes. It was hoped that the purchases by NRF would stabilize the area immediately around the Samuel Whitehorne House, as well as preserving some interesting vernacular buildings.
Photo of the house before restoration.