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53 Bridge Street
The Thomas Townsend House is a two-story, gambrel-roof building with a single interior chimney, and is quite typical of small, eighteenth-century houses with three and four bays. The house is on its original site and was built c.1735-1750. It was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in 1968 and restored in 1974-75.
This three-bay-plan house has three heated rooms around the central chimney on each floor. Detailing in the building is, for the most part, simple and straightforward. However, some details are distinctly Federal in style, such as the fanlight doorway and certain trim details on the two main first-floor rooms, all of which seem to date from the 1795 period of Townsend's ownership.
The house appears on the Stiles Map of 1758 and was owned, prior to the Revolution, by William Gardner. Thomas Townsend, an innkeeper and a member of the Townsend family of cabinetmakers, bought the property in 1795.
The Townsend family controlled quite a bit of property in the area of the Point during the eighteenth century, building and occupying houses and workshops in relative proximity to one another. While Thomas was not a cabinetmaker by trade as the majority of Townsends were, he would have had an interest in residing near the family enclave.
Thomas (1742-1827) was the youngest son of cabinetmaker Job Townsend. Newport records indicate that Thomas built a house on Third Street on land given to him by his father. This house was completed c.1767 when Thomas would have been about twenty-five years old. He was probably, at that time, a joiner involved with one of the family shops in the area. There are very few documented furniture pieces attributed to him, but two exist that are definitely of his hand.
In the late 1780s, when he was in his mid-forties, Thomas changed careers and became a successful innkeeper, operating the Townsend House on the northeast corner of Thames and Pelham Streets. In 1795, while working as an innkeeper, records indicate he bought the house at 53 Bridge Street. He died in 1827 at the age of eighty-five.
NRF purchased the house as part of a transaction that included the William Gardner House at 53 Bridge and the land at 14 Third Street (now the site of the relocated Daniel Lyman House). Such package deals occurred frequently in the early days of NRF. Property owners would often lump properties together as a way to unload deteriorating buildings and escape the financial perils of a declining low-rent market. As a result, NRF would at times find it necessary to buy two or three buildings in order to obtain a desired eighteenth-century structure.
Photo before restoration.