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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51 Touro Street
The Wilbour-Ellery House is a three-story, understated, Federal-style house with two interior chimneys. It was built c.1802 and stands on the original site. The building was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in 1975 and restored in 1976-77.
The house still had much of the original woodwork and trim when it was purchased by NRF. There were two small nineteenth- and early twentieth-century additions, which had accommodated medical offices. These were removed, as was the recessed nineteenth-century entry. In the summer of 2002, the house was painted in more period-appropriate colors than those chosen during the initial restoration.
This house is unique in that the builder has definitely been identified as Joshua Wilbour. Wilbour was known in Newport and is mentioned in newspaper ads of the period as a builder and plane maker. He bought this lot in 1800 and in 1802 sold the lot and building to John Wood, leading one to believe that the house was probably built on speculation.
While the exterior of the house embodies the simple elements of Federal design, the interior is built in an earlier style and the rooms have a Georgian feel. The two front first-floor rooms, however, are the exception. They show Federal design elements contemporary to the house. The west room has an Adamesque mantelpiece and alcoves that are framed with elliptical arches. The east room has rather elaborate cornice and chair rails with acanthus leaf detail. It would seem that Wilbour drew inspiration by looking around him at the built details in existence, rather than to the English pattern books of the day.
William Ellery III bought the property in 1809. He was the son of William Ellery, Jr., the Rhode Island signer of the Declaration of Independence. An odd turn of chance regarding the house and the Ellery family occurred after it was purchased by NRF, when an elegant Federal doorway was offered. It was to replace the recessed late nineteenth-century doorway that had been added to the building. NRF later discovered that the Federal doorway originally came from the William Ellery, Jr. house on upper Thames Street, a house that had been torn down around 1900. The doorway, however, had somehow survived in storage for more than seventy years to find use on the son's house during its restoration.
The building currently houses the administrative offices for the Newport Restoration Foundation.
Photo of the house before restoration.