to bring back to a former or normal condition
to make new or like new
to bring back to youthful strength, appearance, etc., to make more vigorous, dynamic, and effective.
Homes of the Brave chronicles the rejuvenation of an 1811 Federal home in Newport, Rhode Island. The blog serves as a resource for other brave souls saving American treasures and shares links to preservation-related books, websites, products, tradesmen, and experts. I hope this blog will prove helpful and I hope you’ll share personal stories of your rejuvenation projects.
Our Home – Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, RI is an idyllic isle where a sumptuous variety of seascapes, seafaring history, and stunning architecture reign supreme. A myriad of Colonial, Greek Revival, and Victorian structures lovingly preserved as homes or thoughtfully repurposed as inns, galleries, boutiques, eateries and offices define the City-by-the-Sea and enchant residents and visitors alike with vestiges of the past. Newport was a thriving seaport in centuries preceding the Revolutionary War. After the Civil War, prosperity redefined the coastal hamlet and Newport experienced a building boom of epic proportions. Architects from the nation’s most venerable firms descended upon the city armed with their wealthy clients’ visions for summer “cottages” that resembled European chateaux and villas.
While colossal mansions were being built along Bellevue Avenue, the Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive, intellectuals and artists from Boston and Philadelphia were commissioning impressive residences just a few blocks away from Millionaires Row. Noted architects turned Newport into an architectural laboratory where many styles were tested and perfected. And like a symphony, countless carpenters and tradesmen from around the world filled the air with the distinct rhythm of sawing and hammering and the melody of progress.
Today, an excursion to Newport might include a tour of the Breakers, lunch at Castle Hill, shopping on Thames Street, sunset cruise aboard the Schooner Aquidneck and dinner on Bannister’s Wharf. While concluding the day with spoonfuls of a decadent chocolate and coconut snowball in hell at the Clarke Cooke House, it is nearly impossible to image that this tony resort experienced decades of hardship following the Revolutionary War.
War Torn Newport
In his book, Newport, A Lively Experiment 1639-1969 ( Redwood Library and Athenaeum, 2006) Author Rockwell Stensrud describes desolate Newport following the war and British Occupation:
“The whinny of a tired horse, the clatter of cartwheels rolling over battered cobblestones, decrepit store signs hanging limp along Thames Street. The nearly empty harbor. Crude graffiti covering the walls of the Redwood Library. The ramshackle State House, the unkempt Parade and desecrated churches. The remains of Long Wharf being surreptitiously surrendered to the sea. The young mother searching for bread or milk, the former soldier limping on his cane along Water Street. Shattered shops and abandoned homes. Newport, circa 1785 – and beyond. For decades.”
Homes of the Brave
In 1811, Isaac William Sherman and his bride Elizabeth were among the few Newporters who possessed the means to build a home. The Shermans built their Federal home on a parcel in close proximity to some of Newport’s sacred places, including the original town spring, Quaker Meeting House, Touro Synagogue, and Colony House. On July, 4, 1811, a Son of the American Revolution climbed the Colony House’s steps and proudly read the Declaration of Independence……the occasion marked the 35th consecutive reading. From the Sherman’s newly constructed stoop they could hear faint echoes of “We hold these truths to be self-evident” wind up their narrow lane followed by cheers from the crowd assembled for the annual tradition.
The following year, the Shermans shared other resilient Newporters’ fears of a second British invasion during the War of 1812.
Then in 1815, the Shermans and their neighbors mustered more faith and courage to withstand the Great September Gale, a monster hurricane with 135 mph winds and severe flooding.
From 1815 to 1829 not a single home was built in Newport. When construction of a home began in 1829, children were released from school to witness the historic event!
Despite a trifecta of economic devastation, political unrest, and a wallop from Mother Nature, the Shermans persevered and managed to raise ten children in their special home.
In the ensuing years, a succession of owners altered the home with a modest three-story addition that would accommodate three families up until 2014. Twentieth century improvements were few and included new electrical wiring, a new roof, new plumbing, and vinyl replacement windows. Much of the home’s original fabric remains intact and wide plank floors, decorative millwork, six mantels, and original doors and hardware distinguish the home with boundless charm.
When kindred spirit, Architect John Grosvenor, and I first saw the Sherman House last spring, we were not deterred by the building’s dilapidated state. The faded yellow homestead with a broken chimney spoke to us. We imaged resuscitating the structure and eventually moving to the in-town location with the promise of walk-ability and ready access to Newport’s cultural attractions.
In our hearts and minds, John Ruskin’s sentiment rang true:
“Old buildings are not ours. They belong to those who built them, and partly to the generations of mankind who are to follow us.”
We bought the Sherman House as-is and thus the nine-month rejuvenation of our new home begins.
From the onset our friends have been reacting with a common refrain, , “You guys are brave…..really brave.”
Coming Next: Brave Soles in the Walls