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58 Thames Street
The Captain William Read House is a sizable, two-and-a-half-story house with a gambrel roof and placed end-to-the-street. The house is on its original site and was built between 1740 and 1760. One large interior central chimney dominates the roof. Three peak-roofed dormers on each side add light to the third-floor interior and lend visual interest to the exterior. It is unclear if the house appears on the Stiles Map of 1758, but the design and style of the building strongly suggests the build date. It stands on its original site and was purchased by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in 1971 and restored in 1975 -76.
The building is an excellent example of an end-to-the-street version of a Newport gambrel-roof house. On the exterior, the scale and detail are in particular harmony and balance. The end-to-the street plan places the entry and stair hall in one corner and the living or main room occupying the rest of the street façade.
In the case of this house, the hall and stairway are particularly well executed with turned and fluted balusters and carved devices as part of the stair end scrolls. It is believed by some that the stairway may have been built by a member of the Townsend family of cabinetmakers, although there is no substantive evidence for this beyond similarities to their known craftsmanship]. The stairway between the first and second floors has a twisting run to a landing, then two short runs, one to the front of the house and one to the rear. This is a feature often seen in houses of this period, a design used to eliminate hallway space and leading to rooms in the back of the second floor, thus allowing the chimney to heat the most number of chambers.
When NRF purchased the building, it had a Victorian mansard roof and a Victorian-style doorway. The chimney had been removed and replaced with a small unit that serviced heating stoves and none of the house's original mantels remained. NRF constructed an eighteenth-century-style chimney, and also installed overmantels and paneling appropriate to the period. The eighteenth-century stairway was still intact, however, as were a number of doors, moldings, and some distinct wainscoting. A one-story furniture store filled what is now the cobblestone parking area and the yard to the rear was crammed with a cinder block garage, as well as an assortment of deteriorating sheds. All of these additional structures were demolished by NRF.
It is interesting to note that both Thames and Bridge were waterfront streets. Many houses and buildings on the west side of Thames Street and on the south side of Bridge Street had docks and wharves jutting out into the Basin. The Basin, also known as The Cove, reached west from Thames Street to what is now Washington Street. The north-south limits of the Cove were defined by Long Wharf and Bridge Street, the latter known in the eighteenth century as Shipwrights Street.
Extensive research was conducted on the property in 2013 by an Historic Preservation graduate student; click here to read her paper.
Photo of the house before restoration.