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68 William Street
The John Davis House is a one-room-deep, two-story house with a central chimney and a gable roof. It was built c.1804 and stands on the original site. The building was purchased from the Redevelopment Agency of Newport by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in 1975 and restored in 1976.
There are three bays across the front of the house and a chimney with four fireplaces, one in each room. The stairway runs to the second floor at the rear of the chimney, rather than the more normal configuration of a stairway built against the chimney and inside the front entry. Space is very tight, leaving no room for an entry and stairway in the same area.
The land on which the house sits was sold to John Davis, a free African, as a lot in 1804. The next transfer was of a lot and house in 1805, which leads to the belief that Davis had this small, simple house built in 1804, possibly into 1805. It is also apparent from transfer descriptions that the Davis lot included land that 66 William Street now occupies. The division of the property took place after the Davis ownership.
This neighborhood was home to many free Africans in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, particularly the areas around Levin, Thomas, and William Streets (the former two demolished for the development of what is now Memorial Boulevard West). When viewed today, it must be remembered that the four lanes of Memorial Boulevard West and commercial development along this road took shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Until that time, Levin and William Streets ran from Bellevue Avenue to Spring Street and many buildings were crowded into this tight-knit residential neighborhood.
Photo of the house before restoration.