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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32 Church Street
The Cotton House, built c.1720, is a two-and-a-half-story building with two interior chimneys and a gable-on-hip roof. The house was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in 1974 and was moved to its current site in 1977 from the original location in the southwestern section of the parking lot it now adjoins. It was restored in 1979-80.
The house is named for Dr. Charles Cotton who owned it in the early nineteenth century. NRF purchased the house from descendants of the Cotton family in whose possession it had remained for one hundred and fifty-seven years. At the time of the NRF purchase, the house still had a significant percentage of original fabric on both the interior and exterior.
The house appears on the Stiles Map of 1758. The date of c.1720 is unfortunately somewhat conjectural. The original structure was probably a small, single-chimney house of one-and-a-half or perhaps two stories. The house as seen today was obviously enlarged in the Georgian style in the mid-eighteenth century and received further improvements in the early nineteenth century.
On the interior, rooms were added and enlarged and a second interior chimney was constructed. One of the rooms in the small original structure became the Georgian stair hall. In a closet under the stairs are the remains of a bricked-up fireplace that had been part of an early room in the original house. The exterior was unified into a fine Georgian façade, complete with gable-on-hip roof with a dentil band cornice, wider clapboards, and a well-proportioned pediment doorway.
A close look will show that the two chimneys are not of the same size above the roofline, nor are they in line with each other. Had the house been built new in the later Georgian style, elements on the exterior probably would have been more symmetrical and balanced.
The enlargement of early eighteenth-century houses to reflect the Georgian style occurred often in Newport, particularly during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. Newport was enjoying an economic boom that facilitated these improvements, however that came to an end when the British occupied Newport during the Revolution. The economy turned sharply downward (as did the population) and the stylish building trend that had been so much a part of Newport for most of the eighteenth century came to a virtual standstill.