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Great house, great story. Corliss was the inventor of the most widely used industrial steam engine of the nineteenth century. In his mature years after his first wife’s death, he married a beautiful, much younger woman who made good use of what she claimed was her fragile health, cajoling her doctor into insisting that she flee New England’s cold, damp winters for Bermuda. Hearing the prescription, Corliss confidently replied, “I will build Bermuda for Mrs. Corliss.” He did, and this is it. Corliss used his engineering skills to build a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled building, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, shielded from insects by its then-innovative screens on the windows. But as advanced as its engineering was, its form was old hat, a high-corner-tower Renaissance Italian villa introduced into American architecture more than thirty years before the time of its construction. While Corliss’s smoking room atop the tower (dainty Mrs Corliss couldn’t abide cigar smoke) allows views of the Newport Bridge almost twenty-five miles to the south, the design approach here is typical of so many self-made men, who know what they want and design it themselves. In 1929 Corliss’s great-nephew, movie-mogul Charles Brackett (producer of Sunset Boulevard among others), inherited the house. Brown University has owned the house since 1952, and it has been home to the Department of Philosophy since 2013. It underwent a long, thoughtful restoration at the turn of the twenty-first century, overseen by Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

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© 2023 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.