Historic Structures

Richard Morris Hunt House (Hypotenuse), Newport Rhode Island

Date added: August 12, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island House

The "Hypotenuse" is particularly interesting as a house owned by the architect Richard Morris Hunt, 1870-1881. The house is a rich and varied composition of ornamental detail from several periods probably put together by Hunt. There is also a large room added later which is attributed to McKim, Mead, and White.

The original plan and later additions and alterations are not clear, but the house would seem to have developed through at least four major phases. The original house seems to have been a very small, center chimney style building, which now comprises the entrance hall and stair hall at the center of the house. The floor framing of this part of the house is clearly separate from the rest and earlier, perhaps even 18th-century structure. Ceilings in this part of the house are lower, suggesting that the original house was two stories. During the Greek Revival period, about the second quarter of the 19th-century, this house was enlarged to a little less than the size of the present main block and was at least two stories. Greek Revival detail survives on the first-floor central portion, and on much of the second floor. The present porch columns may also date from this period. The ground floor rooms to the right of the entrance, to the southwest, were remodelled probably ca. 1850, with the large, heavy molding details typical of the period. The stairway from the second to the third floor may also date from this time. When Hunt moved the house to this site, ca. 1870, a bay was added to the southwest side. The dining room at the opposite end of the house, to the northeast, was remodelled, and the roof was altered to its present form. A large parlor was added to the south corner, ca. 1900, attributed to Stanford White. Probably at the same time, a large pantry was added to the northeast side. This pantry has been recently remodelled as a kitchen. The original kitchen, at the rear of the house, the southeast, has been remodelled as a small apartment. The Newport map of 1860 and earlier maps show this lot vacant. The 1870 map is the first to show this or any house on this lot. It was in 1870 that Hunt acquired this property. He already owned a large tract of land at the corners of Bellevue, Touro, and Church Streets with several buildings. According to Mrs. Hunt's memoirs, he moved this house to its present site from "Hilltop" and remodelled it for his friend, Colonel George Waring. Waring later purchased the house and property. According to Newport Directories for this period, Hunt, who summered regularly in Newport, lived at the Bellevue site and never at the "Hypotenuse". The 1876 map of Newport identifies this house by the name, "Hypotenuse" when it was still the property of Hunt. Mrs. Hunt also called it by that name.

Local tradition attributes the rear parlor addition of ca. 1900 to Stanford White. While the standard literature on McKim, Mead and White does not mention this work, including Charles Moore's book on McKim with a full listing of the firm's buildings. The Life and Times of Charles Follen McKim, Boston; 1929, the room is stylistically consistent with the firm's other work of the period. It may well have been overlooked by the biographers, since it was a comparatively small commission.

June 30, 1850, Jenny Lind was a guest of Mrs. DeRahm, On Sunday July 1, she sang at the residence of Henry Schroeder, who owned the house at that time.

Over-all dimensions: Rectangular main block, 55 feet wide, three double bays on facade facing northwest, by 32 feet, 20 feet by 30 feet wing to the south, 12 feet by 16 feet wing to the northeast.

Floor plan: The wide central entrance hall terminates with a fireplace positioned on an axis with the doorway. The stair hall at the rear of the central unit is located behind the fireplace. Closets, passageways, etc. are located behind the stair hall. The remainder of the main block of the mid-19th century house contains the dining room and kitchen, the former pantry, to the left and the original kitchen to the left rear. To the right, a small sitting room or study is located behind the old parlor. The larger later parlor, ca. 1900, extends to the right rear from the study. The stairway leads to the second-floor hall and center front bedroom. Short flights of stairs at either end of this hall lead to the side bedrooms which are located over the higher ceilings of the first-floor rooms. The main stairway continues to the third-floor center bedroom.