Images of this Property
5 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more.
About this Property
Excerpted from the Providence Preservation Society’s Guide to Providence Architecture with additions1
This simple, 2½-story home served for a time as the home of prominent artist Edward Bannister in the 1880s and 1890s. Bannister was the only black founder of the Providence Art Club and was a leader of the local art scene at the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1930s, the Reeves family bought and remodeled this structure to house their antique and decorative arts collection. Following its acquisition by Brown University in 1989, it was used for storage.
The house was placed on the 10 Most Endangered List in 2001 due to a lack of a plan from Brown University to use the building for anything other than storage for refrigerators.
In 2009, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society proposed the relocation of 93 Benevolent Street to Heritage Harbor Museum as part of its “Creative Survival” exhibit. A Brown University spokesperson stated, “Brown recognizes that it is an important historical building, and that’s why we’ve offered it.”. If the society can raise the necessary funds to move the building, “it’s theirs.” Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons — the first African-American to head an Ivy League university — assured the public that the building will be preserved either way.2
In 2015, Brown University restored the exterior of the house to its original condition by removing the brick veneer. Photographic documentation was used to recreate lost features. Brown added a bronze marker on the house, reading: “Home of Christiana Carteaux Bannister and Edward Mitchell Bannister from 1884 to 1899, this property is closely associated with prominent members of Providence’s 19th-century African-American community.” That marker is no longer visible and may have been removed by the owners.
About Edward M. Bannister
Excerpted from the Smithsonian’s artist biography page3
Edward Mitchell Bannister’s (1828 to 1901) determination to become a successful artist was largely fueled by an inflammatory article he read in the New York Herald in 1867, that stated “the Negro seems to have an appreciation for art while being manifestly unable to produce it.” Less than a decade later, in 1876, Bannister created a sensation when one of his paintings won first prize at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. He was the first African-American artist to receive a national award.
In 1848 Bannister moved to Boston where he held a variety of menial jobs before he became a barber and eventually learned to paint. In 1857, Bannister married Christiana Cartreaux, a Narragansett Indian who was born in North Kingston, Rhode Island. Christiana worked as a wigmaker and hairdresser in Boston, and her Rhode Island background might have prompted the Bannisters to move from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island, in 1870.
Since Bannister’s artistic studies were limited, it is remarkable that twenty-eight years after first learned to paint, one of Bannister’s paintings, Under the Oaks, was selected for a first-prize bronze medal. Bannister related in considerable detail that the judges became indignant and originally wanted to reconsider” the award upon discovering that Bannister was African American. The white competitors, however, upheld the decision and Bannister was awarded the bronze medal.
In spite of his limited training and experience, Bannister was among Providence’s leading painters during the 1870s and 1880s. He was well liked and respected by his fellow citizens. On January 9, 1901, Bannister died while attending a prayer meeting at his church. Shortly after his death, the Providence Art Club mounted a memorial exhibition of 101 of Bannister’s paintings. Bannister’s grave in North Burial Ground, Providence, is marked by a rough granite boulder ten feet high bearing a carving of a palette with the artist’s name and a pipe. Bannister was the only major African-American artist of the late nineteenth century who developed his talents without the benefit of European exposure.
After historic restoration, Brown University put the property into their Brown to Brown Home Ownership Program and sold it to a private individual. The house sold in 2016 for $320,000. It is a five room, 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath, 1,164 sq ft home according to public tax records.
While Edward M. Bannister is not the original owner/builder of this house, he is a well-known and respected resident. Even then, he only lived here for about 20 years. Nothing is know about the original owner or builder from what we have seen.
From the College Hill Historic District nomination form, Edward F. Sanderson & Keith N. Morgan, January 1976
Edward Bannister House, before 1857. Probably originally a simple 2-1/2 story, gable roofed cottage; the home of the prominent black artist Edward Bannister. The house was remodeled 1938-41 when the exterior was faced with brick and other alterations completely changed its character.
The house is older than most maps we have access to. It is present on 1899, 1908, 1920, 1937, 1951, and 1955 maps. Links are to source material.
- 1899 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 2, plate 119. — Sanborn-Perris Map Co, “Insurance maps of Providence, Rhode Island V. 2” (1899). Sanborn Maps for the State of Rhode Island. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. For a downloaded and cropped version of this map, see the reference at 89 Benevolent Street
- 1920-1921 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 2, Plate 21 (page 18) — Present, noted as a two and a half story wooden building (in yellow)
- 1920–1951 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 2, Plate 21 (page 28) — Present, but noted as a brick-faced wooden structure (red lines) with a stone addition (in blue) off the back. This is likely the “wing” addition with its “thick stone walls” as noted in the Gowdey documentation below, built circa 1938 to 1941
We believe that the cottage they mention further into the following story was the small neighboring house at 89 Benevolent Street, now extant.
From the Mary A. Gowdey Archives, Providence Presentation Society at gowdey.ppsri.org
Those who occasionally stroll or drive leisurely along Benevolent Street are wont to wonder about a narrow, red-brick dwelling near Brook Street. It stands just a few feet in from the side-walk, guarded by an iron fence with pointed pales. No grass grows between the fence and the face of the house. The ground there is paved with heavy stone blocks. At the right of the house there is a garden — lovely to see in summer. A gate at the path is securely padlocked.
On close inspection, iron bars are barely discernible behind the muntins of the windows. A formidable-looking stone ell may be glimpsed at the rear. The front door, approached by wide stone steps, is in the shade of an indented porch whose supports are stout iron posts.
The big surprise coms to those fortunate enough to be invited inside. The rooms are crammed with fabulous antiques, the like of which may be seen only in the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design, the Metropolitan Museum or other museums of note.
Mr. and Mrs. Euchlin D. Reeves, who live next door, call the house and its collection their little museum.
Before being remodeled in 1938-41, the building was a simple wood cottage. Well-built approximately 100 years ago, the exterior walls were lined inside with brick. The house is one room wide; a living room, dining room and kitchen stood in line on the first floor. A stairway climbed to two bedrooms on the second floor. The atleration [sic] project was gradually carried to completion by John H. Duggan who followed Mrs. Reeves’ dictates and served as advisor as well as builder.
Rough red brick was sought to give the exterior rich texture. A shallow cornice replaced the old roof overhand, giving the structure an early 18th century appearance. A handsome waterspout was made to order, being copied from a spout on Holyrood Castle in Scotland. The wing with its thick stone walls is reminiscent of a portion of a palace in Tokyo. The porch columns supplanting old wooden supports are lally columns painted brown-gray to tie with the trim.
After the changes had been made to the house and the garden established, with a stone terrace for afternoon teas, Mr. and Mrs. Reeves bought and moved into a cottage next door.
By that time they had accumulated enough antiques, along with those handed down in both families, to furnish both places.
Mrs. Reeves is the great-great-granddaugher of John Brown, the builder of the John Brown house which is one of the city’s finest old mansions. Mr. Reeves comes from an old South Caroline family. His native home is Reevesville, S.C.
The brick house, separated from the newly-acquired home by the garden, was supposed to be a guest house. But, Mrs. Reeves confided, the choicest pieces in the collection are housed in the brick house. When guests come to spend a weekend or longer, she an Mr. Reeves retire in the museum and let the guests remain in the cottage.
She realizes it would be inhospitable to caution guests about reverence due chairs once owned by George Washington and Lowestoft china so rare it could never be duplicated.
Euchlin and Louise Herreshoff Reeves amassed over two thousand pieces of Chinese export porcelain and British and Continental European ceramics that are now the centerpiece of The Reeves Collection of Ceramics at Washington and Lee University. An 82-page catalog celebrating 50 years of the collection is available online.
Louise Reeves is also a collected painter whose work has hung in Paris salon’s as well as New York and Rhode Island venues.
PPS Staff. “Bannister House.” Providence Preservation Society, Guide to Providence Architecture. Captured 4 Feb. 2023 from https://guide.ppsri.org/property/bannister-house ↩
DOWNING, NEIL. “Black contributions kept alive.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Local News, 1 Mar. 2009, pp. B-02. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15242491E212B3B8. Accessed 4 Feb. 2023. ↩
Perry, Regina. “Free within Ourselves: African-American Artists in the Collection of the National Museum of American Art.” National Museum of American Art in association with Pomegranate Art Books, 1992. Captured 4 Feb. 2023 at https://americanart.si.edu/artist/edward-mitchell-bannister-226 ↩