Images of this Property
9 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Contribution from the PPS Architectural Slides Collection
About this Property
#Reason for Demolition
On college hill, the punches keep coming — and right in the face. We’ve gone on and on about the destruction of the College Hill Historic District within these four blocks. Earlier this year, on the corner of Brook and Waterman, two houses were razed for a new apartment building. The same design will be going into this spot as well, putting pressure, we would think, on the remaining house the sits in between these two new buildings.
The two apartment buildings utilizing a similar design style and massing will create a wall of repetition along Waterman Street that will start to change more of the character of the street from a neighborhood of different houses to one of institutional buildings. There is already a bit of this as one moves through the Brown University campus along Waterman Street and that institutional feel will continue as one moves into what would be the neighborhood beyond.
As far as a “reason” goes, there is no clear reason why this house will be demolished. The house is in good repair and the apartments (photos of which can be seen on Zillow) are well-maintained. The commercial spaces in the basement have been utilized well over the years. The exterior of the house is in nice shape with a monochromatic paint job that makes it look rather dramatic from the street. In short, it is beautiful. No one can claim this is a distressed property.
The City Plan Commission (CPC) recently approved another large apartment building which required demolitions on the corner of Wickenden and Brook streets, even though there was strong public opposition to the project. They have become a “rubber-stamp” committee who pushes back slightly on developers, but largely gives into what they want, no matter what historic homes stand in their way. In this case, the developer gets their requests for variants for height and setbacks but loses their plans for a roofdeck for noise concerns. The CPC did a weak job of imposing restrictions as the law allows but did nothing to consider the larger impact that these demolitions are having on a once dense historic district.
This was also a failure of the Historic District Commission, which determined that the structure was not architecturally significant enough. If anyone is concerned about the erosion of College Hill, we are all allowing it to happen with such inactions.
This proposal for a 5-story, 28-unit apartment building received Master Plan Approval on September 19, 2023. Units are under rent agreements currently, so we are unsure when demolition will happen.
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From the College Hill Historic District nomination form, Edward F. Sanderson & Keith N. Morgan, January 1976
Rufus Waterman House, 1877. Queen Anne; 2-1/2 stories; mansard; clapboard; double house with dormers and paired-gable central pavilion which includes 2-1/2 story bay windows flanking inset first and second story porches; symmetrical façade with some Queen Anne detailing and basement story commercial shops.
Who was Rufus Waterman?
There is more than one Rufus Waterman House, and many Rufus Watermans. There are three houses — the University Club (1830) at 219 Benefit Street, also known as the Rufus and Emily Waterman House; there is a Rufus Waterman House (1863) at 188 Benefit Street; and this one.
And which Rufus Waterman is this house named after? There was a Rufus Waterman born 1710 in Providence RI.1 One of his brothers, Amaziah (born 1713), had a son named Rufus born in 1746. There was another born in 1817 (son of Henry Waterman and Sarah Thurber), and his third son, born 1844, was also named Rufus (Lt. Rufus Waterman Jr., who also had a son named Rufus in 1870, Rufus Waterman III).
Based in the build date of the house, 1877, and the fact that Rufus born 1817 was a real estate investor, we imagine this house was named for him2. It might be named for his son, born 1844, but until corrected, we think it was the Rufus born 1817.
We were able to find the obituary of Mr. Waterman, who died in 1896. He was a colorful fellow who was involved in so many business dealings that it is hard to imagine how he had the time. His family must have suffered some neglect, though his apparent wealth must have made it a little easier:
“Rufus Waterman passed away last evening at his home, 219 Benefit street. He was a lineal descendant of Richard Waterman, one of Roger William’s associates in the settlement of the State. His father was Henry Waterman and his mother Sarah (Thurber) Waterman of this city. He was educated in local private schools and for about four years attended Charles W. Greene’s academy at Jamaica Plain, Mass.
“He began his merchantile career in the counting room of Grinnell & Sons, dealers in hardware, paints and oils, and was afterwards for one year with Jonathan Congdon & Sons, iron merchants. In 1838 he engaged in the iron business with Charles H. Mason, under the firm name of Mason & Waterman. He subsequently carried on business alone for some time, and then associated himself with Henry T. Cornett, with whom he continued to do business under the firm name of Rufus Waterman & Company until he retired in 1848 to take a prominent part in the Providence Tool Company.
“[…] Soon after, with S. A. Nightingale, George H. Corliss and others, he organized the Providence Forge and Nut Company, and built the works now owned by the Rhode Island Tool Company. He served as director of the consolidated concern in 1875. During this time the Tool Company, in addition to its regular business, manufactured 25,000 Springfield rifles for the Government, and filled several arms contracts with foreign Governments, the most important of which was that with the Turkish Government. The Martini-Henry rifles turned out by the company for the Turkish Government were delivered in time to give the Turks a great superiority in this infantry weapon over their opponents.
“Mr. Waterman was one of the original stockholders of the Union Oil Company, and served as President and Treasurer of the corporation for 20 years after its formation in 1856. He was also connected with other manufacturing and commercial enterprises. He was elected a director of the Exchange Bank in 1841, serving 34 years in that capacity, and becoming the President of the institution after it had become a national bank, in 1868, holding the office until 1875. He was an original stockholder and director of the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company, serving in the latter capacity until 1875. He held a directorship in the Providence Institution for Savings from 1863 to his death. Since 1858 he had been a trustee of Swan Point Cemetery; and for more than 40 years acted as trustee of several large estates.
“His prominence in city affairs was never that of one seeking elective honors, but was due wholly to a general interest in the welfare of the municipality. He was mainly instrumental in starting the movement for widening and straightening Waterman street, and in the improvement of North Main street from Market square to Constitution hill in 1869–70. He was also a leader in the movement for the widening of Governor, Brook, Angell and other streets. In the later years of his life he originated the plan for the layout of the Blackstone Boulevard, and it was due to his indefatigable labors on behalf of this enterprise that it was carried through. He was instrumental in erecting many local buildings, among these being the Providence Tool Company’s old building on South Main street, that of the Rhode Island Tool Company on West River street, the Elizabeth building and Waterman building on North Main Street, and the original National Exchange Bank building on Westminster street.
“[…] He was twice married. In 1838 he married Elizabeth Bowen Greene, daughter of Franklin and Anna E. (Bowen) Greene. She died in 1848. Three sons survive this union, Henry, Richard and Rufus. In 1852 he married Emily Greene, sister of his first wife. There was no issue of this alliance.”
— Evening Bulletin, Tuesday June 2, 1896 from a post captured 28 September 2023 from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21399560/rufus-waterman
He is buried at Swan Point cemetery.
Richard Waterman, born 1675, had a son Amaziah, born 1713, who had four children — Nathan, Elisha, Rufus, and Richard. Richard Waterman was one of Roger William’s associates in the settlement of the State, which partially explains the prominence of this family. Waterman Street is likely named for his memory. ↩
If this is true, it means that all three Rufus Waterman Houses were named for the same Rufus. For the Rufus & Emily Waterman house, aka the University Club, this makes sense, as his second wife was Emily and the obituary says he died at that address (houses are not always named for the people that first lived there, sometimes for the person that lived there the longest). For 188 Benefit Street the build date of 1863 aligns with his activity as well, for his son born 1844 would have only been 19 at the date of the homes construction. The 1877 build date is late, but Rufus of 1817 was alive until 1896 and it could have been a late investment into rental property. It is possible it was built for the Rufus of 1844, as he would have been 33 at the time. An investment along the street of your family’s namesake would have been particularly meaningful. All the other houses named for Rufus Waterman were not actually on Waterman Street. ↩