The cities of New England and Providence in particular have a long and rich architectural history, spanning hundreds of years and dozens of different styles. Through the mid-19th century one of the most popular and visually pleasing styles of architecture in New England was the Greek Revival or Neoclassical style. Brought over from England1, this style was used by numerous New England architects to design all manner of buildings. In Providence some of the more famous Greek Revival architects include Russell Warren and James Bucklin. These architects used the ancient Greek temples and public buildings as the models for their designs. Glimpses of Greek Revival style can be seen to this day all over Providence.
While many Greek Revival buildings include an ancient Greek-style entablature, pediment and even interior, one of the common features that almost all Greek Revival buildings include are columns. For this reason, I examined various examples of Greek Revival columns in Providence architecture and then attempted to compare these column designs both to each other and to actual ancient Greek structures. In many instances it is likely that Greek Revival architects looked to illustrations of these ancient buildings in works like Stuart and Revett’s Antiquities of Athens2in order to create their 19th century designs.
I have included here seven examples of Providence buildings with Greek Revival columns. For each example a short history of the building is given, followed by a description and a comparative analysis of the columns.
Temple of Diana-Propylea at Eleusis3
Manning Hall was designed by Warren, Tallman and Bucklin, architects who commonly worked with the Greek Revival style. The building was constructed in 1834 and named after the first president of Brown University. It was originally constructed to house both a library and a chapel4. It now houses the chapel and a small portion of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.
Manning Hall is a well known example of a copy of a Greek temple. The entire building, including the columns, was modeled on the Temple of Diana-Propylea in Eleusis as illustrated in The Unedited Antiquities of Attica published by the Society of Dilettanti5. The façade displays four Doric order columns, each with a square abacus, a rounded echinus and a fluted shaft ending at the stylobate. The column is also painted a dark brown color both at the top and the bottom. This, perhaps, serves as a reminder of the painted surfaces of ancient Greek temples. Although the architectural plan and the column style are borrowed from the Temple of Diana, the columns of Manning Hall are typical examples of the Doric order. They could easily be compared to columns from other Greek Revival structures such as the Beneficent Congregational Church (discussed below), which was also designed by James Bucklin.
251 Benefit St.
Doric capital and base from the Parthenon as illustrated by Stuart and Revett
The Providence Athenaeum was originally designed by William Strickland and constructed in the years from 1836 to 1838. Strickland was a nationally famous Greek Revival architect and he designed the library building in the form of a Greek temple. The front shows a “distyle in antis” portico in the Doric order.6 While the interior was later remodeled by James Bucklin, the exterior has remained essentially the same since its original construction.
The two Doric Athenaeum columns are perfect examples of their order. They resemble to a great extent many of the well known examples of Doric order architecture such as the Parthenon and the Gate of the Agora in Athens.7 Each column begins with a square abacus, a flattened circular echinus and a necking groove about two inches down the shaft. The shaft is fluted and relatively wide compared to Ionic columns of the same height. The shaft rests directly on the stylobate without a base. Everything about these columns is typical except for the building material. They are made of granite, whereas most ancient Greek buildings were constructed with marble or limestone.
257-267 Benefit St.
Ionic capital from the Ionic Temple
as illustrated by Stuart and Revett
Athenaeum Row consists of five houses along Benefit Street designed by Russell Warren and built around 1845.8 Each house has its own Ionic portico consisting of two ionic columns.
Although there are a few minor deviations, the columns of Athenaeum Row are similar to those of the Ionic Temple on the Ilissus as illustrated by Stuart and Revett.9 Each column has the rams’ horn volutes and the slender fluted shaft typical of ionic columns. The two main differences between the Athenaeum Row columns and the columns from the Ionic Temple are the small decorative flower on the Athenaeum Row capital and the differently shaped bases. But the general shape of the volute, the style of the shaft and the proportions are all very similar. Even the small area beneath the echinus which shows an “egg and dart” pattern and the two small wing-like shapes just above the ends of this area are all incorporated in the capital of the Ionic Temple.
65 Weybosset St. and 130 Westminster St.
Designed by the noted Greek Revival architects, Russell Warren and James Bucklin, and constructed around 1828, the Providence Arcade is the last remaining arcade shopping center. It was built by Cyrus Butler but was not immediately successful. The design was adapted from a typical Greek temple form, including two porticoed entrances, one on Weybosset Street and the other on Westminster Street.10 Both exteriors exhibit an Ionic order façade with a row of evenly spaced columns holding up a smooth entablature.
The tall columns have very typical Ionic capitals and bases, but the column shafts are different from the typical Ionic form. They are smooth instead of the customary fluted design. This plain style of shaft is more common in the antae of various temples, such as the Ionic Temple on the Illisus, and in more secular or romanized structures, such as the Aqueduct of Hadrian.11 The Ionic capital is also very similar to the capitals of the columns in Athenaeum row. They have the same style of volute and the same small decorated area directly below the echinus with the “egg and dart” motif. Excluding the Athenaeum Row flower, the only apparent difference in the two capitals is a more pronounced dip in the center of the echinus.
First Unitarian Church
301 Benefit St.
The First Unitarian Church was originally constructed as the First Congregational Church in 1816. It was designed by the architect John Holden Greene. He was asked by the church to incorporate elements of Charles Bulfinch’s New South Church in Boston. Greene’s design consists of a tall central tower, large gothic windows and a façade with an engaged Doric colonnade. The Greek Revival style is continued in the interior with the Corinthian capitals which support the dome.12
The placement of these columns directly up against the stone façade as a sort of frame bears many similarities to the placement of columns in the Arch of Hadrian as illustrated by Stuart and Revett.13 Nevertheless the style of the columns is slightly different from many typical ancient Greek and Roman styles. The order is considered to be Doric due to the general shape of the column and capital and the triglyph and metope entablature, but there are many strange features and modern additions. The normal fluting of the shaft is instead reversed to create rounded fillets and sharp flutes. The typical Doric capital is also altered. The echinus is rounded into a circular band instead of extending to the end of the abacus and the necking is smooth and bordered by two ridges.
Beneficent Congregational Church
300 Weybosset St.
The Beneficent Congregational Church, also known as the “Round Top Church”, was originally constructed in 1809 in the Federal style, but was later redone in the Greek Revival style in 1836 by the architects Tallman and Bucklin. With the new alterations the building has a distinctly ancient Greek look. There is a large, gold-colored dome and a lantern inspired by the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, which stands out quite well.14 But what is also of note is the Doric portico, consisting of four columns and an entablature with triglyphs and metopes. Unlike most buildings in the Greek Revival style a part of this frieze is even painted in bright red and blue, hinting at the colorings of the ancient Greek temples.
Bucklin stayed true the designs of the ancient Greek architects in his column construction. The columns of the Beneficent Church are in many ways typical examples of the Doric style. Each includes the characteristic square abacus, circular echinus, necking and fluted shaft which rests directly on the stylobate without a base. These columns could have been designed after those in many different Doric style temples and secular buildings of Greece, from the Gate of the Agora to the Parthenon to the central portico of the Propylea.15
Old Colony Bank Building
54-56 Weybosset St.
Corinthian capital from the Octagonal Tower
as illustrated by Stuart and Revett
The Old Colony Bank Building was constructed in 1927 for the Old Colony Cooperation Bank and designed by the architects of Thomas N. James Co. While the style is actually Neo-Federal there are aspects of the façade which are distinctly neo-classical, such as the Corinthian columns.16 There are eight columns in pairs of two which sit only a few feet away from the brick face of the building, creating a very thin portico.
While the shafts of these columns are smooth and plain, the capitals are noteworthy. They are in the Corinthian style, although they are not as ornate and detailed as some other examples. These capitals show a great resemblance to the capitals of the Octagonal Tower of Andronicus Cyrrhestes in Greece, commonly referred to as “the Tower of the Winds”.17 Like with the columns of this tower, the Old Colony Bank capitals show the typical acanthus leaves of a Corinthian column in a single row at the bottom. Above, there is row of very plain “Egyptian”-style water-leaves which curve outward at the top. According to Stuart and Revett’s analysis of the Octagonal Tower, this style of capital is both “pleasing in form and effect” and “from its simplicity readily applicable to domestic architecture.”18 It is easy to see, then, why this fairly simple style was chosen and adapted for the construction of the Old Colony Bank Building in the 20th century.
Bibliography Cady, John Hutchins. The Civic and Architectural Development of Providence 1636-1950. Providence: The Book Shop, 1957. Society of Dilletanti. The Unedited Antiquities of Attica Comprising the Architectural Remains of Eleusis, Rhamnus, Sunium, and Thoricus. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1817. Stuart, James and Nicholas Revett. The Antiquities of Athens: and Other Monuments of Greece. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. Woodward, Willian McKenzie. PPS/AIAri Guide to Providence Architecture. Providence: Providence Preservation Society, 2003. Woodward, William McKenzie. Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources. Providence: Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission, 1986.
1 Cady, John Hutchins. The Civic and Architectural Development of Providence 1636-1950. (Providence: The Book Shop, 1957) 107
2 Stuart, James and Nicholas Revett. The Antiquities of Athens: and Other Monuments of Greece. (London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841)
3 Society of Dilletanti. The Unedited Antiquities of Attica Comprising the Architectural Remains of Eleusis, Rhamnus, Sunium, and Thoricus. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1817) Plates II, VI