Valentine Whitman House:
Returning a Historic Property Back Into Productive Use
The Valentine Whitman House (c.1696), located on Great Road in Lincoln, is one of the few remaining “Stone Enders” in Rhode Island, an architectural style unique to the state. It is also exceptional both as the highest expression of this style in its scale and detail, and that it has been left substantially unaltered over its 320-year history.
The Town of Lincoln had sought ideas for a sustainable future of this former house museum. Without a significant endowment or revenue streams and the need for substantial investment to stabilize the property, the town turned to Preserve RI for help. Several business models were explored before deciding that transitioning to a private residence made the most sense. The town transferred the property to Preserve RI in July 2021, allowing Preserve RI to invest nearly $600 thousand in rehabilitating the house. Preserve RI will sell the house with a historic easement which protects important architectural details on the exterior and interior of the house in perpetuity.
“Our philosophy is to return historic properties back into productive use, which ensures they are valued and properly maintained. The sale also allows Preserve RI to recoup our investment so we can take on more projects like this in the future” -Valerie Talmage, Executive Director of Preserve RI.
The Valentine Whitman House is Preserve RI’s most ambitious Revolving Fund project to date, requiring extensive work to every part of the house. Some of the bigger repairs include:
A new wood shake roof, restored windows, and new and reused cedar shingles on the sidewalls.
All new electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.
A custom-designed kitchen, renovated and additional bathrooms, and laundry were created for 21st Century comforts.
Original wood floors and plaster walls restored and repaired.
Heritage Restoration, Inc., a premier contractor specializing in old and historic buildings, undertook the rehabilitation project for Preserve Rhode Island.
A Brief History of the Valentine Whitman House
In the late 1690s, Valentine Whitman Jr. built a house along the Great Road, in what is now the Town of Lincoln. Whitman’s house was large and elaborate for its time, with tall timbers, elegantly decorated with chamfers. One end of the two-story house was constructed entirely of granite stone, similar to other nearby buildings: the Clemence-Irons House (ca.1691) in Johnston and the Arnold House (ca.1693) in Lincoln. Eventually, this type of construction became known as the “Stone Ender.” Whitman’s house stands today as an exceptional example of this rare type, with just 14 confirmed Stone Enders surviving today in the state.
Whitman’s house survived an early 19th century conversion into three separate apartments and a mid-20th century subdivision and sale of surrounding farmland into a residential development, leaving the historic house on a parcel of less than two acres by the late 20th century. In 1991, the Town of Lincoln rescued the building from all but certain demolition. For the next thirty years a fiercely loyal and hard-working band of volunteers operated a house museum on the site. Faced with significant costs to maintain the building and a pattern of deferring repair projects because of competing town priorities, the Town had to foresight to conclude stewardship of this historic place would be better done by others. Preserve RI’s philosophy of activating historic places as the recipe to sustain them for the future now sets the Valentine Whitman House on a pathway for preservation.
Valentine Whitman House 2022 (all photos courtesy of Chris Whirlow)