Longfield House

also known as Charles Dana Gibson House

This gothic revival wood frame house has been languishing since the 1990s as developers have come and gone

About this Property

Last Tenant

The last owner and occupant of this house was Josephine Gibson Knowlton, who died in 1969 and left the house to her grandson. Since then the property has changed hands many times with different people and different ideas for how to give it a new life. Something about this house, no matter how decaying its condition might be, is charming and easy to envision revitalized.

Its history and significance are well-documented. The property has been documented in the National Register since 1972, it was photographed again for HABS in 1979, and Roger Williams University students have completed detailed architectural drawings in 1981.

Current Events

The house might finally be getting its new life. The Bristol Planning Board approved a proposal from Edward Redmond to rehabilitate the historic home and develop a 12-home condominium, 5 building complex on the property.


From the National Register Nomination form, by Lombard John Pozzi, July 1972

Longfield, a comparatively unaltered example of the American wooden Gothic Revival style of architecture, was built in 1848-1850 for Charles Dana Gibson, grandfather of the artist of the same name. Its design is attributed to Russell Warren, who worked in Rhode Island, South Carolina, New York and Massachusetts.

The house is somewhat set back from Hope Street and faces west. […] The main structure is two stories in height and is surmounted by a crossed-gable roof, consisting of four gables with an added fifth full-gable dormer facing south in the rear wing. The main roof is pierced by four chimneys, of which three are internal; the easternmost one is placed just within the end of the rear wing so that it does not project from the wall.

The symmetrical three-bay front has a single-story porch across its entire width; this porch is typically “Gothic” and reminiscent of those to be found on A.J. Davis’s “Lyndhurst” at Tarrytown, New York, and Joseph Wells’s “Pink House” in Woodstock, Connecticut. It has octagonal posts and caps, bracing, and a roof railing punctuated by octagonal pinnacles on the centre “pavilion” of the porch, which is somewhat higher than the side portions. A full roof-gable is directly over the central front entrance. The main doorway employs full-length sidelights, chamfered casings, and a three-section transom above. Wooden labels are over all exterior doorways and windows of this house. Narrow wood clapboards cover all exterior wall surfaces excepting the added rear laundry-garage ell, which is sheathed with vertical boarding. The slender corner posts are chamfered to an octagonal section and spring from larger square bases. The first-floor windows of the three main rooms are long casements with transoms above, while those of the second floor are double-hung. Above the front entrance are two joined, pointed Gothic windows with out-swinging casements. Of the six, smaller, attic windows, only the two in the front and in the westernmost of the two south gables are lancets; all attic windows have six-paned sashes. The south porch employs octagonal posts, caps, and bracing similar to the front porch and has an excellently-detailed Gothic railing at the first-floor level; a porch along the north side of the house is a much simpler, later addition. The, front chimneys, symmetrically placed with relation to the front façade, are each capped by a cluster of four chimney-pots. The rear wing has two additional brick chimneys of Gothic flavor.

Internally, there is a-spacious central hall. The wide main stair, running along the north-wall, has turned and carved walnut balusters and a molded handrail, above sawn brackets. At left is a library measuring l5’-6” by 24’-0”, with a 10’-8” high ceiling. The mantel in this room is cast iron; other features are the door and window labels, which are similar to those of the exterior (close inspection of these indicates that they may have been added during a refurbishing of the house in 1917). Originally a huge, custom-made black-walnut bookcase of Gothic design, carved by Weeden, stood along the now-blank east library wall. Above the library windows are black-walnut pelmets with carved center ornaments.

Across the front hall, in the southwest corner of the house, is the parlor, which measures l6’-O” by 23’-6”; to the rear of this is the dining-room, 15’-4” by 18’_O”. Both parlor and dining-room have Italianate marble fireplaces.

The library, front hall, and parlor all have heavy plaster cornices; door and window casings vary throughout the house. Doors are of the four-panel variety. The windows in the library, parlor, and dining-room are of floor-length, casement type, with transoms above. Sliding, louvred inside shutters fit into wall pockets. […]

Changes made to the house have been relatively minor. About 1907, the original cut-out bargeboard trim was removed from the gables. The front porch was rebuilt with a steeper shingled roof and all its Gothic bracing was removed as were the wooden crockets (the Gothic bracing has, however, been replaced). The Gothic window over the front porch may have had its sill level raised. The side porch — which originally was accessible only from the south parlor window and was a very small, half-octagon-shaped protrusion with Gothic balustrade, bracing and parapet railing — has been enlarged. Exterior window blinds, original to the house, are stored in the cellar. The rear entrance porch was totally rebuilt in 1963. The original partition in the front southwest bedroom which separated that room from a dressing-room has been removed. Longfield originally had a wood-shingled roof and was painted a “light red with darker trimmings,” consistent with preferred and “instructed” Victorian treatment. The house at present is white with olive-black trim. […]


Gothic trim, but the caged newel and scrolled stair-end brackets recall the Federal period, while the trim and marble mantels in some rooms are derived from pattern-books showing Greek Revival detail. In accord with Andrew Jackson Downing’s then-popular and much-publicized theories of the pictorial relationship of house and landscape, Longfield was originally- painted light red with darker red trim.


Longfield is significant as a notable and picturesque site and house in Bristol’s outskirts; as a very good and only slightly altered example of Gothic Revival architecture interpreted in wood; as a building attributed to Russell Warren; and for its initial and continued association with DeWolf, Gibson and Knowlton families.

Its probable architect, Russell Warren (1783-1860), was a figure of more than local importance. Rhode Island-born and self- educated, he had a career which spanned — and his work included — all the styles of six decades … from the federal period of the early 1800’s through the twenty-five-year dominance of the Greek Revival, and on into the romantic Gothic and Italianate styles of the late 1830’s through the 185O’s. Warren began his practice in Bristol, working chiefly for members of the DeWolf family and at first designing in a free version of Federal style, the in the Greek Revival manner. He also worked in Providence (e.g. the Arcade), Newport and elsewhere in Rhode Island, in Fall River and New Bedford in Massachusetts, and in Charlestown, South Carolina.

In the mid-1830’s he spent a year in New York with the noted architectural firm of Town and Davis, which in that decade had begun to popularize the Gothic style — particularly as it could be applied to country houses or “cottage ornés.” What was learned at Town and Davis was later used at Longfield, which is indeed a sizable “cottage” and is a major surviving example of the “Stick Gothic” style — with sawn, angular trim, pointed openings etc. — in the state. […]


Part of Longfield’s importance stems from its ownership. The house was built on DeWolf1 land for Charles Dana Gibson (who married Abby DeWolf) and it is still held in the same family. The grandson of the builder was the artist Charles Dana Gibson who graphically chronicled the “Gilded Age.” His sister, Josephine Gibson Knowlton, châtelaine of Longfield, was among his models for the still-remembered “Gibson Girl.” Longfield was a center for social and artistic gatherings until Josephine’s death in 1969. She has recorded the history of the house and the family in Longfield (1956) and in Butterballs and Finger Bowls (1960). […]

In the News

Bristol board approves historic Longfield condo plan

by Christy Nadalin
East Bay News | September 13, 2018 (abridged)

As reported early in the summer, the sale of the Longfield, the iconic landmark at the north end of Hope Street, is currently pending, and the outcome depends on whether or not the proposed buyer, Edward Redmond and Preferred Realty Services, are able to get their plans approved.

Built in 1848 in the American Wooden Gothic Revival style (unusual as the Gothic style is typically executed in stone), Longfield’s first owners were Charles Dana Gibson and his wife Abby deWolf, grandparents of the notable graphic artist. Abby deWolf was the granddaughter William deWolf who, along with his brothers, made a fortune in the slave trade during the latter half of the 18th century. […]

Set on over an acre at 1200 Hope St., Longfield passed through several owners since its inclusion on the National Register, and over the years deferred maintenance has spiraled into outright disrepair. At present, the 5,300 square-foot interior of the house is stripped down to the studs, although its historic architectural details have only been minimally altered over the years and the intricate woodwork remains throughout the property. It has been on the market for more than three years, with a current asking price of $499,000.

12 units in five buildings

Mr. Redmond and Preferred Realty Services have proposed developing the property while restoring the historic house. The project will provide a total of 12 dwelling units, with two in the existing house and 10 more in new structures set off a new one-way street that circles through the property, beginning at the south entrance off Hope Street.

Three new, two-story buildings would each house two homes, with units split left and right, and a fourth building would house four units, split both left and right, and up and down. There would a total of 30 parking spaces spread through the complex.

The proposed plan has been designed by local architect John Lusk, whose portfolio includes notable historic preservation projects of structures including Seven Oaks and the Linden Place Barn, which was renovated to house the Bristol Art Museum. Mr. Lusk’s design seeks to maintain the integrity and setting of Longfield, and add gardens and exterior lighting that will highlight the property.

The project is in conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s standard for historic preservation, and the new structures have been designed to be contextual with the historic house while being lower in height and smaller in volume, as though they are the original carriage house(s) for the estate.

The density of the new structures proposed is similar, though less dense, than the nearby properties on Gibson Road. According to planning officer Diane Williamson, the project will need some relief from the town, primarily in the form of density variances. An avenue for that relief may already be in place, in the form of a never-before-used rule that entitles a developer more flexibility when a project is tied to the preservation of a historic property.

A multi-unit development such as this one “would not otherwise be allowed in an R-10 zone,” said Ms. Williamson. “But this would enable a creative way to preserve the house.”

According to Ms. Williamson, the response from the community has been cautiously optimistic. “Everyone has been saying ‘if that’s what it takes’ about this plan,” she said. “Everyone wants to see this house saved.”

The plans will be reviewed by the Bristol Planning Board at their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Bristol Town Hall, 10 Court St. The meeting is open to the public.

Captured 26 August, 2023 from https://www.eastbayri.com/stories/developer-proposes-12-home-lifeline-for-bristols-historic-longfield,55987

Read older articles

Fine old house is in search of a home

by Alex Kuffner
Providence Journal | April 24, 2014

The house at 1200 Hope St. is called Longfield.

The men who built the 2 1/2-story Gothic Revival between 1848 and 1850 came up with the name, a fitting one at the time. The surrounding meadow totaled 60 acres and stretched unbroken to the shores of Narragansett Bay.

Now, the name seems like just another remnant of days past. The estate has been whittled down to 1 1/4 acres choked with brush and brambles. Nobody has lived in the house for years. It’s slowly falling apart.

Step around the broken glass on the sagging side porch and look through a grime-caked windowpane. The walls have been stripped down to the studs. Scraps of carpet and rolls of insulation sit in one corner, the top of a sink in another.

A fireplace can be seen in one dusty bedroom, its marble mantle all but removed, with only broken pieces remaining. An empty bottle of Jameson whiskey sits atop what’s left of it.

Plans have come and gone to rebuild Longfield. Work started and abruptly stopped. But not much came of it, at least in what’s visible to drivers who pass by the house that sits on the main route through town — or the curious who stop to peer inside.

Craig Kratovil was one of those passersby. A new arrival in Rhode Island, he was taken past Longfield one day last summer by his partner, Margo Katz.

Kratovil, a retired general contractor, was immediately intrigued. Who owned the house? What happened to it? And, could he save it?

The property Longfield sits on was once part of a farm owned by Henry DeWolf, a member of the Bristol family that built its fortune through the slave trade. He gave the land to his daughter Abby upon her marriage to Charles Dana Gibson, the grandfather of the illustrator who created the Gibson Girl.

Gibson hired architect Russell Warren, known for his work on the Arcade in Providence, and Linden Place and other notable buildings in Bristol, to design the house as a wedding present for his wife.

Longfield stayed in the family until 1972, the same year it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Students from the historic preservation program at Roger Williams University documented Longfield in 1980 and 1981 for the Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress. Even then, parts of the house were in bad shape after years of neglect, says Kevin Jordan, the retired head of the RWU program.

Over the past three decades, the house has changed hands several times, most recently in 2012 when Debra DiMaggio of Chicago bought it and, with a business partner, planned to renovate it. There were proposals to divide it into condos and transform it into a bed and breakfast.

Work was done to clear some of the land of encroaching trees. The roof was replaced and new heating and electrical systems were started. But by the time Kratovil and Katz drove by, the work had long come to a halt, victim of the poor economy.

Kratovil has built homes and offices in Massachusetts and Connecticut. At first glance, he thought he could fix up the house and perhaps move in with Katz.

But they soon realized the costs would be too high, so they started looking at other uses for the house. They met Bristol residents who were equally enamored with the property. The group created a website and met with architects and foundations.

They considered turning the house into a museum, a banquet hall or a wedding venue. They settled on using it as a place to house visiting scholars at nearby Roger Williams University, but that plan went nowhere.

Kratovil now talks about making the house over into a restaurant. The front parlors are huge, airy spaces that would be perfect as dining rooms, he says.

But he says that DiMaggio wants $1 million to recoup what she has put into the house, and, Kratovil estimates, it would take nearly as much to fix it up.

”The investment is a huge obstacle,” he says.

But Kratovil doesn’t want to give up.

”The poor house is just sitting here,” he says as he stands outside on a bone-chilling morning. “It needs a purpose.”

He steps around a broken rocking chair in the yard and up to the side porch, walking carefully on plywood panels where a floor used to be.

Peek in through the windows, he says. There are still pieces that have survived intact, suggesting what the house could be.

They include a mahogany staircase that curves elegantly up to the second floor.

And, in a parlor on the first floor, a marble fireplace. Unlike its counterpart in the bedroom, it looks as though it hasn’t been touched.

Its simple beauty stands out all the more because of the desolation that surrounds it.

“Fine old house is in search of a home.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. Features, 24 Apr. 2014, p. TMC_01. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/15241E92EF92B9E8. Accessed 25 Aug. 2023.

  1. AIR addition: The DeWolf family is infamous as well as famous. They were highly active in the slave trade — it is believed they transported over 11,000 enslaved people from Africa to the Americas before Congress abolished the practice with an act in 1808, which “prohibited the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States… from any foreign kingdom, place, or country.” This policy did little to stop slavery in America as many owners of slaves kept children born into slavery and opened plantations outside of American jurisdiction in the Caribbean and South America.