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The pointed tower of the Mowry-Nicholson House is a Providence landmark that almost wasn’t. Built in 1856 by the contracting firm Mowry & Steere, this historic home served as the residence for William G.R. Mowry until its purchase in 1867 by William T. Nicholson, owner of Nicholson File Company. Though the house was originally a 2½-story cruciform Italianate villa, Nicholson remodeled the building. The northwest addition, completed in 1887, included the 3½ story tower with quoins, oculus windows and steeply pitched roof. The shed dormer on the cross-gable roof was added in the twentieth century. The house is an excellent example of Italianate architecture and contains 4000 square feet on a double lot. It boasts Palladian windows, an airy porch, a distinctive tower, and Queen Anne detailing. The house served as a single-family residence until the 1920s when it was divided into apartments.

In 1997, a fire caused extensive damage to the Mowry-Nicholson House. The owner of the building, which then served as a boarding house, planned to raze the site and replace the striking home with, what else, a parking lot. Upon catching wind of the proposed demolition, PPS immediately began an advocacy campaign. Not only was the Mowry-Nicholson House, individually listed on the National Register, architecturally significant in its own right, but the house contributes to the Smith Hill National Register Historic District. PPS feared that the conversion of the property would deprive the small historic district of one of its most prominent landmarks, and that necessary variance changes would promote further encroachments by adjacent commercial zones into the residential neighborhood. Neighbors of the Mowry-Nicholson House had long felt that the boarding house was incompatible with the neighborhood and thus supported the planned demolition. Persuaded by PPS’s arguments, however, Smith Hill neighbors agreed to support the preservation of the house. The owner, nevertheless, remained unconvinced. That is, until PPS threatened to challenge the needed parking lot variance, at which time the owner finally conceded. PPS, in appreciation, agreed to advertise the property and launched a mailing campaign offering information about both the home and available low-interest loans and tax credits.

It would be several years until the house was sold. The owner set the asking price far above market value, and though several offers were made through 1999, none were accepted. In that time, nonetheless, the owner completed several repairs to the building, restoring its structural integrity. By 2000, rising real estate valued justified the high asking price. That year, furthermore, PPS called greater attention to the home by including it on the Most  Endangered Properties list. PPS received the commitment of a number of individuals and organizations, including architect Joseph Cornwall, Peter Scotti of Peter M. Scotti & Associates, Josh Driver, co-owner of KLM Drive Plumbing & Heating, and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission to contribute to the house’s restoration.

SAVED:  In 2001, the house was finally sold. Following an additional change in ownership, the property was acquired by Frank Hopton and Ken Parker who converted the home into a bed and breakfast. Builder Scott Weremay and associates Dave Brown and Jose Tirado have rehabilitated the interior into guest rooms and suites while carefully preserving original details and crafting new elements appropriate to the Italianate style. The restoration of the Mowry-Nicholson Home has greatly contributed to the ongoing improvement of Smith Hill. As of February, 2019, the house appears to be in good repair.

© 2019 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved.
Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.