Annual Historical Society House & Garden Tour

Sat, 08/12/2017 - 11:45am
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The following was sent in by the Block Island Historical Society:

The Block Island Historical Society is hosting the Annual House and Garden Tour on Thursday, Aug. 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — rain or shine.

Tickets will be available on the day of the tour: $40 adults; members and students, $35. The tour will begin near The Spring House Hotel at the Theve house (ca. 1891) and end at the home of Susie Wright on Spring Street, with spectacular views of Old Harbor and the Clayhead bluffs in the distance.

The tour will highlight old and new architecture, including recently designed summer cottages. Each year, the Historical Society asks a small group of homeowners to open up their doors to over 200 participants with self-guided access in order to get a rare glimpse into the Island’s historic and architecturally inspiring homes. This annual event has been a tradition that helps support the Society’s operations and educational programs. This year, seven homes and select gardens have been chosen along Spring Street and Southeast Road. 

This area of the island was originally farmland and Spring Street was extended to Southeast Road after the breakwater was built in 1871 to allow delivery of materials to build the Southeast Lighthouse (1873) on Mohegan Bluffs. Potato fields lined the roadway where the Newhouse cottages now stand. The cow photograph on the poster for the Historical Society’s current exhibit was taken from a point just below the Spring Cottage. The Robison Cottage and Green Hill Cove Cottage are located off Southeast Road. According to folklore this area was deeded to Nathanael Greene in the 1700s, thus the name Green Hill Cove and Greene Farm. General Greene was a major general of the Continental Army under George Washington in the American Revolutionary War. He was also married to Block Island’s Katy Littlefield. 

In his “History of Newport County RI”  (1888), Richard Bayles writes, “As a place of rest, Block Island has been comparatively unknown to the pleasure seeker till within the past few years. Hotel enterprise has however done much to disseminate a general knowledge of the place and the little sea girt isle with its natural charms, its equitable climate and its many superior advantages as attractions, receives now a host of tourists every season.” 

Houses on the Tour:

1. Theve House (1891) 

Built in 1891 for Arthur D. Ellis, a successful manufacturer of woolen textiles from Massachusetts, who was a regular patron of The Spring House in the 1880’s. He eventually decided to build a cottage on a nearby lot to accommodate his large family.  The house was later owned by the island doctor, Dr. Carroll Ricker. The classic two-and-a-half story Queen Anne Style house cost $10,000 at the time to build. It has a distinctive circular porch, and includes much of the original furnishings found in the house when acquired by the Theve family in the early 40s’. The old horse barn behind the house has been converted into an apartment, and the main house is used as a summer rental property.

2. Newhouse Cottage (Cyr Family Cottage, 1924)

A short walk past the driveway and across the street from The Spring House Hotel you will find the Sea Breeze Inn and former Gallery established in 1981 by the late Mary Newhouse. The main house is nestled among beautiful gardens. Owned since 1979 by husband Dr. Robert Newhouse and family, the Sea Breeze complex is still running after 35 years as a lovely B & B by daughter Andrea. All three daughters have helped develop the property into a very special compound of artistic excellence.

3. Spring Cottage (circa 1888) 

Nestled into the bend of the road just south of The Spring House is the Rountree family cottage. Linus Dodge (1892-1991), who lived just up the hill, recalled that the Spring Cottage served ice cream in the horse and buggy era. During the years 1953-1972, the Spring Cottage served the overflow of guests for the Spring House Hotel, which was owned and operated by the Mott family. In 1972 the cottage became the summer residence of Venetia Mott Rountree. The cottage is of the American Gothic Victorian style, with vertical board-and-batten siding –the only building of that construction on Block Island today.

4. McManus House (Welcome Dodge and Bathsheba Littlefield Dodge House, 1865) 

This 1865 classic farmhouse boasts original ash floors and many other historic details. This house is a fine example of the one-and-three-quarter story house form that is so prevalent on Block Island (see exhibit in second-floor galleries of the Historical Society museum for details). These houses allowed more head room in the second story and also allowed space for small windows close to the floor in the second floor rooms. This five-acre property on Old Harbor Point has wonderful views of Old Harbor.  

5. Robison Cottage (Greene Farm, circa 1850 -1900)

The Robison cottage was originally built as a classic island farmhouse on land originally owned by Nathanael Greene. In 1884, Victorian writer Pettee wrote: “Besides the houses already enumerated, there are many farmhouses where a few boarders are taken during the summer months, and some of which afford superior accommodations, at a very moderate rate. In addition to the usual varieties of food, the tables are generally abundantly supplied with fish and lobsters, fresh from the sea. The Block Island mutton has always been famous, and excels in flavor to that found in other sections of this country; no doubt owing to the peculiar climatic conditions and excellent grazing.” One can imagine sheep grazing in the fields below and adjacent to the ocean. The front porch, with its sweeping views and the beautiful interior carpentry, are not to be missed. 

6. Green Hill Cove Cottage (2017)

Captain Faile’s 1925 cottage overlooking Green Hill Cove has been completely rebuilt with exquisite detail and construction by Scott Heinz and his crew of craftsmen and fine woodworkers. Though a simple upgrade was originally planned, the house was in such poor condition that local architects Dan Costa, Scott Heinz, and friend and design consultant Rick Foreman, combined their skills to make this a new “classic” Block Island cottage. 

7.  Wright House, “Over the Hill” (1858 renovated farmhouse)

This compound includes three buildings – a caretaker’s cottage (not on the tour), the main house, and a guest cottage. The house was built in 1858 and is the year-round home of Susie Wright. It sits high on the crest of a hill and is named “Over the Hill.” This renovated farmhouse can be traced back to the Dodge family — one of the original European island families. Built as a 4-bedroom farm house it was renovated in 1992. This is a great place to start or end the tour — with commanding views across the ocean to the northeast.

NOTE: House markers at the roadside will identify each house. You may enter the tour at any point; you are not required to follow the tour in any order. The Historical Society’s 75th Anniversary exhibit “Surrounded by Sea” will be open to all House Tour participants. Please show your ticket at the museum entrance.