Historic Structures

Redwood Library, Newport Rhode Island

Date added: September 3, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island Library

The Redwood Library is a notable specimen of the architectural taste of the early 18th century. As an important work of the architect Peter Harrison, it is a key building in the introduction of English Georgian architecture in America.

Redwood Library was the outgrowth of the Philosophical Club which had been organized under the title of "The Society for the Promotion of Knowledge and Virtue by a Free Conversation". The membership and history of the Library is a record of events and personages important in the history of Newport.

Contract for "Erection of Library building":
"Articles of Agreement Indented made and concluded upon the ninth Day of August in the twenty-second year of his Majesty's Reign. George the second, King of Great Britain etc. Anno Dominie One Thousand seven Hundred and forty-eight, Between Wing Spooner, Samuel Green, Thomas Melvll and Israel Chapman, all of Newport, in the County of Newport and Colony of Rhode Island, House Carpenters, of the One Part, and Samuel Wickham, Esq., Henry Collins and John Tillinghast, Merchants, all of Newport aforesaid. Three of the Directors of the Redwood Library in Newport, aforesaid, of the other part: Witness, That the said Wing Spooner, Samuel Green, Thomas Melvil and Israel Chapman, Do Hereby Covenant, Promise and Engage to Erect and build in Newport aforesaid on the Lott of Land given by said Henry Collins for that purpose a House or Building to be called the Redwood Library, suitable and convenient for depositing therein a large number of books given by Abraham Redwood, Esq., for Public use: That is to say, to do and perform all the Carpenters and House joyners Work in and about said House of the following dimensions and in the manner hereinafter express'd, Viz; The large Room to be thirty-seven foot long, and twenty-six foot broad in the inside, and nineteen foot high. At the west End (which is the Principal Front) is to be a Portico of four Columns according to the Dorick Order, with a Pediment over it, with Pilasters to suit the Columns. The Projection of the Portico form the Outside of the Building to be about nine foot, and the Roof to be continued out so much as to form the Pediment: The length of the Columns to be about seventeen foot Including Base and Capital, and the thickness of twenty-six inches just above the Base; The Building to be fram'd Brac'd and Studded the outside and Roof to be boarded with Feather edg'd Boards, the Shingles to be shav'd and joynted and to be laid: The outside to be covered with Pine Plank worked in Imitation of Rustick, and to have a Dorick Entablature with Triglipphs, etc. continued from the Portico quite Round the Building and to have a Plain Pediment at the East End. At the West end next to the Portico, to be two small Wings or Outshots for two Little Rooms or offices, one on each side and both alike in form and Bigness, each to be about twelve foot square and (with a small Break or Recess) to Range in a line Parallel to the West End of the Building or innerpart of the Portico. The Roofs of these Outshots to be slooping from the lower part of the Entablature so as to form a Kind of half Pediment on each Side of the Portico, with a Cornice only to be work'd around instead of the whole Entablature, the height of them to be about eleven foot at the outermost Side and seventeen foot at the Inner side or where they joyn the Body of the Building, and to be plank'd as the other in imitation of Rustick: in front of said Building to be four whole windows and two Attic windows, on each side four whole windows and three attic windows: In all twelve whole Windows and nine Attick Windows: The whole Windows to be six foot high and three foot wide, and the Attick Windows to be three foot square within the Frames, of which are to be red cedar and quite plain without any Architrave on the Outside. At the East end to have a Venetian Window only: To have three outside doors. Viz., One large One in the middle of the Portico, eight foot six Inches high and three foot nine Inches wide, and two Small ones in the back part of the two Outshots, and to have four Inside Doors, to consist of eight Pannels each and cas'd with Double Architrave. The Sides and Ends of the Great Room within to be furr'd out and even with the Posts, and the celling to be furr'd out with a small Cove next the Walls about two foot Downwards at the Bottom of which over the Attick Windows an lonick Cornice to run quite round: To be wainscotted about five foot high from the floor quite round the great Room: The jambs of the Windows to be wainscotted With Architraves round and Seats In the lower Windows: within Great Door which is the entrance from the Portico a small [obliterated] is to be partitioned off for a Porch with a door on the inside and therein to erect a small Plain Stair Case, to go up to the Roof of the Building. The Floors to be laid with Plank Rabbitted or with Double Boards. About four foot from the Walls or Sides of the Great Room must be a sort of Partition erected about ten feet high, with openings over against each window, on both Sides of which must be placed Shelves for the Books; there must also be five or six Desks for laying the Books on in convenient Places, and the whole to be finished and compleated well and workmanlike according to a Plan or Draught drawn by Mr. Joseph Harrison, and agreed on for that Purpose, on or before the last Day of October, which will be in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and forty-nine. For and in Consideration whereof the said Samuel Wickham, Henry Collins and John Tillinghast Do hereby Covenant, Promise and Engage to pay or cause to be paid to the said Wing Spooner, Samuel Green, Thomas Melvil and Israel Chapman for said Work the Sum of two Thousand and two Hundred pounds in good and passable Bills of Publik Credit of said Colony, old Tenor; Six Hundred pounds thereof when the Roof Is shingled, and the Remainder when the Building is finished; and to find and provide for the carrying on and finishing said Building all the Stuff and materials needful and necessary as the same shall be wanted. And for the true performance of these Articles and every clause thereof, the said Parties Bind themselves each to the other joyntly and severally firmly by these presents in the penal sum of Four Thousand Pounds, Current passable Bills of Public Credit of said Colony, old Tenor, to be forfeited and paid by the Party failing the other Party.

In Witness whereof, the Parties to these presents have hereunto interchangeably Set their hands and Seals the Day and year first above written."

Articles: For Building the Library:
"Memorandum: That the Parties to the within written Articles of Agreement, notwithstanding what is therein written, Do hereby agree to the following alterations in that building therein mentioned upon the same penalty as within, viz., that the four Pilasters in the front of the House, all the windows in the north and South West of said House: the stair case and Partitions within side, the Venitian Window in the East End, and the wainscott on the north and south Side within the House, as far as the Shelves extend be all omitted, and that instead of the Venitian Window in the East end, there be three small Windows, that the Shelves for the Books be placed against the Walls of the Building, that there be a stair case at the west end of said House, and Ceiling of the Portico to have a cornice and that the Planshear and Entablature and all other Parts of said Building be finished and compleated well and workmanlike agreeable to a plan or Draught drawn by Mr. Peter Harrison, and all Parts of the within mentioned Articles of agreement to stand good excepting such alterations as are made by this Additional agreement. And in Consideration of the Builders Conforming to ye said Draught drawn by Mr. Peter Harrison, and following his directions as to all the Alterations herein mentioned and all other parts of said Building according to the true intent and meaning of said Articles, the within named Saml Wickham, Henry Collins and John Tillinghast Do hereby Oblige themselves to pay to the within-named Wing Spooner, Samuel Green, Thomas F'lelvil and Israel Chapman, the Sum of One Hundred pounds, old Tenor, over and above the two Thousand two hundred pounds within mentioned.

In Witness whereof the Parties to these Presents have interchangeably set their hands and seals the Sixth Day of February in the twenty second year of his Majty's Reign Anno Dominie 1748."

building took place in 1858-1859, designed by George Snell, Boston architect, and built by Abraham T. Peckham, contractor. The north and south wings were extended. A square room was added to the east end of the building. The dimensions of this room were determined by swinging the east wall into position as the south wall of the new room. This wall was duplicated on the north side and a new brick wall was built for the east end. A wide doorway with a semi-circular fan arch above, separated the new room from the older portion of the structure. In 1875, George C. Mason designed the second addition of the building, now used as the delivery room. The third addition was a fireproof stack area designed by John Du Fais in 1912. Norman Isham worked on the interior restoration from 1912-1931. From 1932-1935, John Russell Pope worked on the landscaping of the grounds. In 1940, the present offices designed by Wyeth and King were added to the building. The last addition, is an underground vault at the east end designed by Albert Harkness and Peter Geddes.

Over-all dimensions: Original reading room 37 feet by 26 feet with a 19 foot ceiling, 12 foot square rooms to either side in line with front wall of the reading room, Doric portico to the west; five bay west front; one story with basement. Later additions follow the axis of the original building to the rear, or east, in a series of rectangular units. The first addition was a reading room 25-1/2 feet by 50 feet and the filling in of the reentrant angles of the original side wings. The second addition was the large rectangular central room with smaller projecting rooms to the north and south. The fireproof rectangular stack was the third addition. The fourth addition was the enlargement of the second addition to the south for increased office space. The last addition, is an underground vault at the east end of the building.