Between 1620 and 1636 colonists from England began settling the land of what would become the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. History books tell tales of these brave men and women coming to the New World with nothing more than their religious zeal or a sense of new business ventures. Their goal was to make a better life for themselves and their descendants and in that regard most were successful. They began shaping the land as they saw fit, building public houses, places of worship and most importantly their own private dwellings, that would all soon evolve into the major cities that we know of today. The designs of these buildings were directly influenced by two factors; architecture that these colonists had come in contact with back in Europe and the resources that could be readily found at the site of the new colony.
The Pilgrims of Plymouth had many hardships to face in their first year in the New World but none more difficult than the first winter. The houses that were built were wooden beam, clapboard houses no bigger than one room with a thatched roof. Most were hastily built due to poor weather or lack of laborers while only a few could be considered well built. In a letter written to England in 1623, Emmanuel Altham of Plymouth explained to his brother that out of the twenty houses built so far there were about five that were “fair and pleasant”. Soon new colonies would be founded, such as Providence and Hartford, as religious decenters broke off from Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay looking for freedom from Puritan law.
Remembering that these colonies were separated from European trade, laborers depended heavily on natural resources for the construction of buildings and being untrained in the art of architecture most houses were without a particular “style”. To face the often terrible New England weather, these timber framed homes would be wood inside and out with the exception of a stone foundation. The height would vary between one and two stories with most coming in at about one and a half stories tall with a steep, asymmetrical roof to allow the winter snows to slide off. The most important feature would be the central hearth that the house would be built around effectively heating the two large rooms inside. The evolution of this “style” would be minimal if any in Massachusetts and Connecticut but in the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations something new and unique was developing which would be dubbed the Stone Ender.
Much like its neighbors to the north and west, the colony of Rhode Island had an abundance of woods and stone. Unlike its neighbors though, it also had and still has quite the abundance of limestone. A mere ten minute drive north of Providence and you will eventually pass by Conklin Limestone located in Lincoln. Purchased by the current owners from the Harris family who had operated the quarry from the mid 1650’s most if not all the lime used in early colonial construction can trace its origins from there. This important resource allowed for a unique change in home designs for the colony by doing away with the central chimney. The house would still be predominantly made out of wood and still be around two stories tall but instead of a central chimney, a massive stone chimney would be built taking up most if not all of the end wall. A steep stair way, or in some cases nothing more than a ladder would connect the first and second floor of the dwelling and would usually be squeezed in between the fireplace and the entrance.
Sadly all but a handful of these Stone Ender homes still exist in Rhode Island today. Most would suffer from the effects of disuse or in the case of Newport the effects of British occupation during the Revolution. Others would be modified in the 1700’s into a different style known as “Salt Box.”
The John Bliss house built in 1680 on Wilbur Rd in Newport is Aquidneck Island’s best example of a Stone Ender.
Other examples are found in Lincoln at the Valentine Whitman House and the Eleazer Arnold House built around 1693, the Clemence-Irons House in Johnston built in 1693, The Thomas Fenner House (1677) and the Edward Searle House( 1670 and rebuilt 1677) in Cranston , and the Clement Weaver-Daniel Howland House in East Greenwich(1679). The style would fall out of popularity after the American Revolution when Georgian and federal styles appear, but in the late 20th century with a hand built replica of a 17th century Stone Ender by artist Armand LaMontagne located in Scituate Rhode Island, a final bow for a unique design from time gone by.