ROMANCING THE STONE ENDER
An early colonial architectural style unique to Rhode Island
When Preserve RI acquired the Valentine Whitman House from the town of Lincoln in 2021, they knew the property was a rare example of early colonial architecture known as a “Stone Ender”. To better understand this architectural style, Preserve RI undertook a literature search and preliminary field study to better understand this unique piece of Rhode Island history and culture.
Preserve RI would like to thank the Kane Wallace Foundation and Preservation Strategies for making this research possible.
Valentine Whitman House (c. 1696) Lincoln
Stone Enders: A brief history
Stone Enders are some of the earliest structures built by English colonists in Rhode Island in what is known as the “First Period” (1630-1725). Their unique characteristic is one side of the building is made of stone, containing a massive fireplace and chimney, while the other three sides are made of wood.
With few building records from the 17th century, it’s impossible to tell how many Stone Enders were built. Our field study suggests that as many as 59 potential stone enders predating 1740 survived into the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of those have been demolished over the centuries, and two were moved from their original locations.
How many Stone Enders are there?
It was commonly thought that as few as 9 Stone Enders were left intact in Rhode Island, but our research confirms that at least 14 Stone Enders remain standing in some form, and there may be as many as 24! More research needs to be done on the remaining homes to confirm if they are indeed Stone Enders.
Stone Enders were predominantly built in Rhode Island with less than one dozen occurring in the surrounding area of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Today only one confirmed stone ender survives outside of Rhode Island.
Thomas Fenner House (c.1677), Cranston
Mowry Tavern (c.1653), Providence.
Destroyed by fire 1900.
Why are Stone Enders mostly found in Rhode Island?
While the earliest colonists left little documentation, the prevalence of Stone Enders in Rhode Island is almost certainly related to the abundance of stone, lumber and native sources of lime, as well as the likely geographic origins of the settlers and builders in Rhode Island.
The building techniques used to create Rhode Island’s Stone Enders were brought to New England by builders from the English areas of Sussex and Wales.. Stone Enders as a building type originated by applying English building traditions and practices, modified based on the availability of local natural resources of stone and lime.
Originally conceived as a one room house, most Stone Enders in Rhode Island were built with two rooms—side-by-side (one story) or up/down (two stories). The Valentine Whitman House is rare in its size and scale, originally built with 4 rooms on each of its two floors.
Clemence Irons House
The Lime Rock mill in Lincoln still operates today.
The importance of Limestone
Limestone was the essential ingredient for the mortar needed to build the massive chimneys that characterize Stone Enders. In the northern part of the state, limestone occurs naturally and in abundant deposits–the first quarries in the colonies were established in Rhode Island as early as the 1660s to create building materials such as mortar, plaster and whitewash. Along the coast, refuse piles of shells left by Native Americans provided the oyster shells needed to make shell mortar. The natural lime in the north was much more durable than the shell mortar used in the southern part of the state, and may be why more survived in the northern part of the state.
A Glimpse of Newport
The Bliss House is the only surviving Stone Ender in Newport in its original location. While at least seven potential Stone Enders were known to have been built in Newport, six have been demolished. In addition, two Stone enders were moved and relocated to Newport in the mid 20th century.
Samuel Wilbor House (c.1690), Little Compton
Hiding in Plain Sight
With their massive stone chimneys on one side, one would think that Stone Enders would be easy to spot, but many are not easily recognizable. Over the past three centuries, many have had their shapes enlarged and their materials changed, making it difficult to visually identify them as Stone Enders. The most common change resulted in the creation of a center chimney house, burying the “stone end” in the center of the house. Others had the stone side covered up with wood or brick.
John Bliss House (c.1715), Newport
Valentine Whitman: The Crown Jewel of Stone Enders
Valentine Whitman Jr. House (c.1696) is a rare survivor of a Stone Ender that is still intact. It is one of only two confirmed 17th century Rhode Island Stone Enders that escaped enlargement, restoration, or significant post-1850 alterations. The durability of the materials and minimal alterations are remarkable. While Valentine Whitman sustained substantial interior changes in the early 19th century, these alterations did not interfere with the earliest and most important architectural features of the building: its massive timber framing and “stone end”.
Built for the only son of a prominent landowner and one of Rhode Island’s first colonists, the Valentine Whitman Jr. House is exceptional also in its size, scale, craftsmanship and decorative detail. Considered the highest expression of the Stone Ender building type, its large scale relative to other known Stone Enders, and the extensive decorative chamfering found throughout the structural posts and beams in the house, indicate the wealth of the Whitman family.
Valentine Whitman is located on Great Road in Lincoln, in the area originally known as Limerock. The Limerock Historic District is comprised of twenty architecturally and historically significant buildings, three lime quarries, and the ruins of three lime kilns. The access to lime may be another reason for Valentine Whitman’s scale and style. Lime is also found in the paint and plaster of the house.
Preserve RI recently completed a complete rehabilitation of this iconic property, turning it back into a private home and protected by a historic easement. This unique part of Rhode Island’s history is now secure to be appreciated and enjoyed for future generations.
Valentine Whitman Jr. House in the early 20th Century
Valentine Whitman Jr. House following rehabilitation 2022
(Pc. Chris Whirlow)