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18 Thames Street
The David Bramen Sr. House is unique in that, although small and originally built c.1706 on the hall/chamber plan, it clearly represents three distinct periods of early architectural style. The house is on its original site and was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in 1969. It was restored in 1971-72.
The first period is indicated in the earliest section of the current house, where there are heavy framing timbers. The second period involves the style of joinery found in the addition east of the chimney, indicating that a change to the building took place sometime between 1740 and 1760. This addition effectively doubled the size of the house. The third style period (1785 to 1795) included changes to the stairway on the interior and to the windows, doorway, and roof treatment on the exterior.
The original structure would have had a large first-floor hall and a second-floor chamber of equal size with a large end chimney. This was typical of late seventeenth-century and very early eighteenth-century Newport and Rhode Island houses. The framing of this section of the house has heavy gunstock posts with large chamfered summer beams and girts. Surviving corner braces on the second floor indicate evidence of casement window frames that let into these framing members, as well as corresponding evidence on the exterior planking.
Changes made to the house between 1740 and 1760, such as the framing of the east room, which doubled the size of the house, indicates work methods and techniques from this period. In the west first-floor room, or original hall, all the framing posts, girts, and summer beams were cased with beaded trim boards, giving a bit of style and elegance to match the new east rooms. Fortunately, the west chamber on the second floor did not receive the new casework to the frame members, thus allowing these exposed timbers to be clearly displayed in their earliest form.
The final phase of construction took place between 1785 and 1795. Window frames of a size then standard, with molded sills and heavy flat caps resembling stone, were installed. The pediment doorway is also believed to date from this period. Another important yet subtle feature is the overhanging cornice at the front façade. In the attic, additional roof rafters were sistered to the tops of the original rafters. This detailed work allowed the change in roof angle that creates the wide overhang at the front, while the rafters to the rear remain unsistered, thus maintaining the absence of a pronounced overhang on the rear.
The stairway in the house is also thought to have been added during the late eighteenth-century. Although the space is somewhat too small to accommodate the structural elegance sought during this period, the balusters and handrail do reflect the style of this timeframe.
The chimney was removed in the nineteenth century, but as often happened, the work was done so simply and crudely that many clues remained for NRF's rebuilding. The stone base was left intact, giving the overall size of the chimney, as well as a pattern for the placement and size of the fireplaces on the first floor. The patches in the floors and the roof boarding indicated sizing and placement throughout the rest of the house.
When the building was purchased, two small, single-flue chimneys (probably built to service coal stoves or kerosene heaters) were still in place. These chimneys had been built with eighteenth-century bricks, probably from the original chimney that had been removed in the nineteenth century. These later chimneys were removed during restoration and the bricks then used to reconstruct the original fireplaces.
The physical evidence for dating the house and tracking its changes is fairly clear, but the paper documentation is somewhat lacking. Originally, NRF dated the house as c.1700. Later, dendrochronology work (tree ring dating based on core samples of timber from a given structure) provided a date of 1706. Learn more about dendrochronology.
Mention of the Bramen House first appears when Miriam Johnson offered the house for sale in the Newport Mercury of August 29, 1774. The Revolution seems to have intervened, however, and it was not until 1788 that the house again appears on record as having been sold by Johnson to David Bramen, a caulker, for "thirty Spanish silver milled dollars." From that date forward, the house remained in the Braman family until it was sold to NRF in the 1960s. At the time of sale, Braman descendants were not living in the house, however, but using it instead as income property with three or four apartments.
Photo of the house before restoration.