Samuel Lewis House

also known as Thomas Doyle House, Schmidt Electric Company

An almost 200 year old brick house has seen many changes, from home of a three term Providence Mayor to an industrial business

About this Property

Redevelopment

This modest brick house has truly survived through significant changes. The Jewelry District started as a predominantly residential neighborhood. As Providence grew, land west of the Providence River became the center of the Providence jewelry industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.1

In its early life, the house was a residence. It was built by Samuel Lewis, a brick mason, who proudly fabricated the house with the material he knew well. It was sold soon after construction and rented to Thomas Doyle and his sisters. It was later sold to Doyle and remained in his name until his death in 1892. Sisters Sarah E. and Charlotte O. become owners after a transfer from Thomas’s widow Almira.2

The National Register nomination form notes the significance of the district and this property specifically:

One of the houses in the district, 137 Chestnut Street, is significant for its associations with two prominent members of a Providence family, Thomas A. Doyle and his sister, Sarah E. Doyle. Thomas A. Doyle was mayor of Providence for eighteen years between 1864 and 1886, during which time he oversaw the completion of numerous public works and the improvement of the city services. Sarah E. Doyle, as a teacher in the Providence High School and a leading advocate for the establishment of the coeducational Rhode Island School of Design and the Pembroke College for Women associated with Brown University, was one of the most effective spokesmen for women’s education in Rhode Island and the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.3

As mayor, Thomas Doyle was significant, having served a total of 18 years over three nonconsecutive terms. He was the 9th, 11th, and 13th mayor of Providence4:

Doyle is considered by some historians and even was regarded in his lifetime to have been one of Providence’s greatest mayors. During his tenure Providence grew from “a large manufacturing village” to a “little metropolis”. Doyle was instrumental in leading Providence to become a modern city. 5

Sarah Doyle (1830–1922) founded the Women’s Club in 1886 and served as its first president. She was a member of the women’s committee that created the Rhode Island School of Design. She was the first women to receive an honorary degree from Brown University, and through her friendship with President Elisha Benjamin Andrews, established a separate women’s college. Doyle formed the Rhode Island Society for the Collegiate Education of Women in 1896. The group raised funds to construct Pembroke Hall (Wikipedia) on university land.6

The house was purchased in 1903 and presumably, Sarah and Charlotte moved to another residence. It changed hands again in 1910 and then in 1911. It operated as a rooming house in 1914 and would change hands two more times before being used for jewelry supplies and specialties in 1920. Another jewelry company would occupy the building in 1932 and then in 1939, the Schmidt Electric Company would remain more than forty years.7

By 1951, the two-story commercial/industrial flat-roofed warehouse building had been constructed and connected to the southern side of the house.

In 1988 the home underwent a renovation and remains in much the same condition.

Current Events

The house is being rented as commercial space. In 2019, a proposal would have constructed a 12-story building with 131 apartments next door. The developers withdrew their plans by 2022.

History

From the RIHPHC Providence Survey, “A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources,” Wm. McKenzie Woodward & Edward F. Sanderson, 1986

[…] One of the few surviving Federal houses on the west side of the Providence river, this house has been converted to a small factory and has a large addition on the rear. It is rare to find such a relatively modest house built of brick. The reason is simple: Samuel Lewis was a mason.


From the National Register nomination form for the Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District, 1985

Samuel Lewis House (c. 1825): This is a 2 1/2-story, end-gable, brick house with a side-hall plan, built in the Federal style. Three bays wide and five bays deep, on a raised basement of ashlar and rubble- stone masonry, the house has its front door slightly recessed within a doorway with a round stone arch, with a keystone. Over the door there is a fan light with a decorative wooden molding. The windows have flat stone lintels and wooden sills. The facade has all-stretcher brickwork, while the side walls have a brick bond of nine rows of stretchers to one of headers. There is an internal brick chimney.

Since 1940 the building has been occupied by an electrical repair business. Alterations include an extra window added in the center of the north, side. A two-story, flat-roof, brick building with a long 1-story wing has been erected in the rear of the house and a second- story passageway connects the two buildings.


From an entry at the Mary Gowdey collection, Providence Preservation Society

“1824: September 2. D.B. 49:133. Elias Barstow, housewright, conveyed to Samuel Lewis, a mason, this 40’ x 100’ lot located in the town of Providence on the west side of the river at the south westerly junction of Chestnut and Hospital Streets. (Hospital Street was later renamed Bassett St. Samuel Lewis lived on Point Street.)

“1831: August 8. D.B. 61:139. Samuel Lewis, a mason, conveyed to Hezekiah Anthony this lot with all buildings and improvements. Mr. Anthony paid $2,700.00 for the property.

“The Providence Directory from 1824 shows no one living at this address. Directories are not available between 1824 and 1842. The 1842/44 directory shows Thomas A. Doyle at this residence. It appears that Mr. Anthony remained at his Broad Stret home and rented out the Chestnut Street dwelling.

“1832: The ordinance was enacted incorporating the town of Providence as a City. […]

“1852: While living at Chestnut Street, Doyle was associated with the Grocers and Producers Bank, he became an auctioneer and a real estate and stock broker. He also conducted his successful political career from this address. In 1852 he was elected to the Common Council and served in that capacity until 1857, and as president of the Council from 1845 to 1855. He served as Mayor of the City of Providence for three nonconsecutive times totaling 18 years. His first term as Mayor began in June 1864 and served consecutive years until 1869. (Yearly elections were in June). He lived at this home with his sisters Charlotte and Sarah.

“In 1869 at age 42, Mayor Doyle married Almira Sprague. The [sic] moved to 3 Young Orchard Avenue. His sisters remained on Chestnut Street.

“From her Chestnut Street home Sarah E. Doyle conducted an outstanding career as a community leader. […]

“1939: February. D.B. 818:300. Erick Schmidt purchased the property. It was the Schmidt Electric Co. […]

1988–Present: August 29. D.B. 1873-22. The property was sold to White Columns Properties, Lawrence Jones and Warren L. Purvis, partners.

The property has been beautifully restored and is being used as a pub.”


1990 Providence Rhode Island City Directory page 886 — 137 Chestnut Street listed as vacant.


Maps

  • 1920 Sanborn Insurance Map (page 23) — Labelled the “Egan Mach. Tool Co.”, the building stands alone on the corner without the warehouse to the south. Interestingly, to the east is a building no longer extant at 147 Chestnut labelled “Emergency Hospital”.
  • 1937 G.M. Hopkins Insurance Map — The house stands alone. The entire plot is labelled “M. Robinson” while the hospital building next door is labelled “Swan Point Cemetery Properties.” Maurice Robinson owned the house and operated the “Jewelry Casting Company” from 1932 until 1939.8
  • 1920–1951 Sanborn Insurance Map (page 23) — The cement block building now stands to the south, connected by a small passageway. It is noted that the new building is brick-faced. The shape of the former emergency hospital is still to the east but it is not labelled as such.

In the News

Developer to renew Jewelry District Envisions block as the “front yard” for the section

by James O’Neill
Providence Journal |July 18, 1988 (abridged)

By his own account Laurence Jones - architect, painter and now developer - should not be where he is today.

He says he should be in a small Texas town, pumping gas.

The fact is, Jones, 38, recently pumped the city and state for nearly $200,000 in special low-interest loans to help cover the $850,000 renovation of a 163-year-old historic brick house nestled among factories in the Jewelry District.

The house at 137 Chestnut St., built in 1825 by Samuel Lewis, once home to a Providence mayor and later an electric company, is part of Jones’s plan to renovate a cluster of buildings bordered by Chestnut, Elbow, Hospital and Bassett Streets.

He hopes to fill two low-slung buildings with service stores for the neighborhood, where old factories and warehouses are being turned into office space and luxury condominiums. He also plans to turn two houses into apartments and the Lewis home into a restaurant.

“I’d like’ he says in a soft, clear voice, “to be the front yard for the area.’

The neighborhood has enjoyed a recent revitalization. Jones’ properties are surrounded by the Coro Complex, two large buildings on 4.6 acres that the Downing Corp. plans to renovate for $12 million as the new Rhode Island Group Health Association headquarters; the Imperial Knife complex, which includes 150,000 square feet of space that artists have turned into apartments and studios; the Doran building on Chestnut Street, which contains studios and offices; and a series of buildings along Richmond Street, which businessman James R. Winoker plans to turn into office space and a 337-car garage. Jones’ project would provide stores and living space for these sites.

“We’re grabbing all the little pieces the big-time developers overlooked,” he says. […]

[H]e obtained a fine arts and photojournalism degree from East Texas State University, and graduated in 1977 from Tulane University in New Orleans with an architecture degree.

He worked on two New York City development teams and spent two years in Florence, Italy, studying restorations of historic centers.

Jones moved to Rhode Island and met a friend from Tulane, Warren Purvis, now a psychiatrist at Rhode Island Group Health Association. The two formed White Columns Properties, a reference to their Southern roots. “It’s like two Southerners meet New England,” says Jones.

The two renovated several houses in Elmwood. Now, they focus on the Samuel Lewis Block, as Jones calls the project. […]

Now he stands at the Lewis house. On one side of the building, painted across the brick, a faded white sign advertises the Schmidt Electric Co. The fine brick and other markings, including a coal chute’s weather-beaten wooden cover, hint at the house’s age.

Thomas A. Doyle, Providence mayor for 18 years between 1864 and 1886, lived here. Known as an urban planner, his statue, inscribed “Pioneer in urban renewal,” stands on the lawn of Beneficent House, at the corner of Weybosset and Chestnut Streets. But a greater monument to Doyle is the City Hall building, begun during his last term, in 1875.

Jones says activity around Doyle’s Chestnut Street home once centered on the harbor, but today, as with the entire block, it is a tiny enclave, a valley surrounded by the high walls of renovated brick warehouses.

The view from the second floor — from the front door, even — is expensive. A cluster of downtown office towers rises out of a green lawn sloping up to Route 195.

“I think this should be a great restaurant,” says Jones.

But he needs a tenant. He has received inquiries from lawyers and insurance companies who want the house for office space, but Jones wants a restaurant in the building. He plans to put his studio on the second floor.

He says the building cost him $400,000 to buy, and will cost an additional $450,000 to renovate. He received a $75,000 loan from the Providence Local Development Corp., and $95,000 from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission. The rest of the money will come from other sources.

Jones says that when he first moved to Providence, he was disappointed. The arts scene wasn’t as big as he thought it would be. The city seemed drab. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it. It was depressing.”

But Jones has changed that. “I like it here because I can do something here with my ideas.”

He can preserve a neighborhood, playing the game of giants.

O’NEILL, JAMES M.. “Developer to renew Jewelry District Envisions block as the ‘front yard’ for the section.” Providence Journal (RI), CITY ed., sec. NEWS, 18 July 1988, pp. C-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/1525262459922C50. Accessed 10 Feb. 2024.

  1. “Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District.” National Register nomination form, prepared 1985. 

  2. Typewritten sheet on 137 Chestnut Street, part of the Mary Gowdey collection, Providence Preservation Society. Captured 10 February 2024 from https://gowdey.ppsri.org/gowdey/Chestnut/137%20Chestnut%20St.pdf 

  3. “Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District.” 

  4. Wikipedia, “List of mayors of Providence.” Captured 10 February 2024 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mayors_of_Providence,_Rhode_Island 

  5. Wikipedia, “Thomas A. Doyle (mayor).” Captured 10 February 2024 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_A.Doyle(mayor) 

  6. Typewritten sheet on 137 Chestnut Street. 

  7. Ibid. 

  8. Ibid.