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Ambition doesn’t even begin to characterize this bravado seen here. It was designed and built by architect/builder John Holden Greene, Providence’s provincial genius of the late Federal era, for a Boston-born, well-traveled China Trade merchant who married Lydia Allen, a member of one of the town’s richest families. (For a remarkably parallel marriage by a Providence newcomer, compare the story of Edward Carrington; the Dorr and Carrington families later intermarried.) Thirty-two when this was designed and built, Greene was just hitting his stride architecturally with this house. It clearly pleased his patrons, for several other Allen family members would call on him in the years to come for their own houses. While large three-story houses had begun to appear in Providence about forty years before this, none was so programmatically elaborate. Here the main block, the service ell set back from the façade, and the connected servants’ quarters and barn were built all at once, forming perhaps the town’s earliest example of such a spread. The dexterous siting of the complex is far more sophisticated spatially than that of houses built previously on the steep eastern side of the street (and obviously requiring far more money and land to do the trick). Greene’s approach of turning the house side to the street and developing terraces up the hill in front of functionally separate sections became formulaic for him (Benoni Cooke House and Truman Beckwith House). Greene came to his profession through an apprenticeship with a builder, and his approach to design made heavy use of pattern books, as seen here in details such as the “Gothick” trim on the front porch and just below the roofline. The striking stepped massing of the main block, maybe inspired by Alexander Pope’s villa at Twickenham, seems to have encountered epigones in Providence’s hinterlands but does not enclose spaces nearly so unusually as might be assumed. It is, nonetheless, a splendid gesture that, together with the contemporary St John’s Church, also by Greene, marks the first flourishing of architecture unique to Providence.

– 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.