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12 Dennison Street
This house is a small, gambrel-roof cottage built sometime between 1793 and 1826 and is on the original site. The style of the house, however, is such that it could have been built at any date after 1730. Indeed, 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 12 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 16 Dennison. For all but about 6 years, 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 1970.
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.
The house still had its original chimney, as well as simple elements of interior trim, when it was purchased by NRF. Years of neglect, however, necessitated considerable work to the sills and frame during restoration.
Photo of the house before restoration.