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33 Washington Street
The Ann Webber House is a two-story house with two interior chimneys and a gambrel roof. The house is built on the five-bay plan, which was extremely popular in eighteenth-century Newport. A considerable number of houses were constructed according to this plan, and the style remained a preferred favorite over an extended period of time. Built c.1794, the house sits on the original site. It was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in 1969 and restored in 1971-72.
The house is also representative of buildings constructed on a center-hall floor plan. This plan includes four rooms per floor, with one room in each corner. Each room has a fireplace and also opens onto the center hall. In many cases, the center hall on the first floor runs from the front door straight through to the back wall of the house. Here, there was often a back door on an axis corresponding directly to the front door.
The stairway is a straight run, rather than turned, a design element that may be a confirmation of a later date. Earlier houses of the Georgian period (1740 to 1770) favored turned stair runs with landings at each level. After the Revolution, design elements of the Federal style (roughly 1780 to 1812) began to be incorporated into interiors, and straight-run stairs with light, delicate balusters and handrails were an important part of this style.
The doorway of the house, with its fanlight window, is also in the Federal style. This may have been a period modernization, something that was done quite regularly in Newport from the late eighteenth century through the early nineteenth century. The existing doorway was found in the basement of the house, a fact that does not necessarily mean it was ever on the house in period.
Research originally dated this house to 1815, with Edward Gladding listed as the owner. Later information, however, indicates that the house existed earlier than originally believed and that it was owned by Anne Webber in 1794.
Adding to the debate over the exact date of the house is the existence of a bake oven in the rear wall of the large kitchen fireplace (located in the original south chimney). Generally, bake ovens located in the rear walls of fireplaces were built prior to the mid-1770s. Later, the positioning of bake ovens shifted to the sidewall of fireplaces or, in some cases, to the side of the firebox altogether. This was separate from, but next to, the fireplace (and still on the same chimney).
Questions regarding the date of the house also arise from the presence of granite in the foundation, a material that would not have been commonly used in foundation work until after 1815. The presence of granite may indicate any one of a number of possible explanations. This could include later repairs to the foundation, the enlargement of a smaller building to a larger and more formal plan, or the moving of the entire house (or part of another house added onto the original structure) at some unknown date.
Currently, the earliest records pertain to Ann Webber's ownership in 1794 and little material evidence remains in the house to determine a better build date. The details of a house's interior fabric that usually assist with its dating were non-existent when NRF purchased the Webber House in 1969. Twenty-five years earlier an owner had sold all of the interior woodwork, which included paneling, stair trim, and moldings, to a salvage dealer. During the restoration, interior woodwork was brought in from NRF's inventory or reproduced using known examples.
Despite the loss of interior detail, the house revealed a basic eighteenth-century room plan. It had several twentieth-century additions of uncertain structural quality, however, and the early frame had suffered a considerable amount of deterioration through years of neglect. Much structural work was necessary during the restoration, as well as the fitting of the interior with appropriate trim and detail.
The Ann Webber House was part of a multiple purchase of four buildings. This included the Webber House, as well as a two-story building behind it. This latter building appeared to have been built in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and had essentially been abandoned for a number of years. It contained virtually no detail and little structural substance, so it was demolished as part of the rebuilding and restoration process. The purchase also included the Isaac Dayton House and a nineteenth-century Victorian, now demolished and the site of the Jaheel Brenton Counting House.
Photo of the house before restoration.