This is the oldest surviving (and probably the first) house built by an American architect for his own use. When an architect is both designer and client (and in this instance, in the ninety-eighth percentile of wealth in the town at the time this was built), artistic liberty abounds. Brown (1733-1785) was a member of the family with the town’s largest shipping business but seems to have been little involved there, instead turning his attention to scientific matters, including teaching at what is now Brown University. He was an architect in the Thomas Jefferson-gentleman mode, owning English architectural books from which he selected motifs for inclusion in his designs. The eccentric curved gable that caps the façade was adapted from the roof design of a garden house published in William Salman’s Palladio Londinensis (1767), owned by Joseph Brown’s builder, Martin Seamans (now in collection of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University). Detailing on the inside came from the James Gibb’s Book of Architecture (1728), a copy of which Brown owned and is likely the one in collection of the Providence Athenaeum today. The other buildings attributed to Brown are all included in this tour.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture