Tour Boothden next Sunday

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Boothden back in the olden days. (Photo by Clarence Stanhope/Newport Historical Society)

Remember Edwin Booth, the actor? Perhaps not. Not the Booth who shot Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, but his brother, who had a summer home in Middletown, R.I., designed for him by Calvert Vaux, best known as the designer, with Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park. The house was completed in 1884 and, as the page on Booth from the Newport Historical Society suggests, a lot of history went into and came out of its front door.

A tour of the cottage and a church, St. Columba’s Chapel steps away from Boothden, will be held on Sunday, Sept. 9, at 1:30 p.m., sponsored by the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. The tour begins in the chapel, at 55 Vaucluse Ave., on the Middletown shore facing east from Aquidneck. Attendees will stroll afterward to Boothden.

Here is the Newport Historical Society’s squib on Booth:

In the late 1800s, the Indian Avenue section of Middletown was marketed to wealthy New York and Philadelphia families by the Sturtevant family for summer cottage sites. One investor was the actor Edwin Booth (1833-1893), who was introduced to the area by the Bispham family of Philadelphia, who were friends and partners in the development. Booth, brother of Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, purchased lots there in 1879 and commenced building his summer cottage in 1883. “Boothden” was originally designed by noted architect Calvert Vaux, whose son Downing Vaux was engaged to Booth’s daughter Edwina. The scandalous break up of Downing and Edwina hampered the building process and Booth waited out the summer in hotels and guest houses as builder Truman Peckham completed the house in 1884.

Edwin Booth only spent four years at Boothden. Money problems, Edwina’s later bad marriage and his brother’s legacy took a toll on him. The house (which would not sell) was willed to Edwina in 1893 and ultimately sold in 1903. Ironically, located one half a mile away off Vaucluse Avenue, lies the remains of Baptist minister Obadiah Holmes (1606-1682) Abraham Lincoln’s fourth great grandfather.

Boothden’s history did not end when it left the hands of the Booth family. The cottage went through a cycle of owners in the 20th century, high and low (a Time magazine publisher among the latter). Finally, earlier in this decade, an enlightened owner decided to bring it back to its former beauty (with modern lifestyle interventions, of course). The work is by Barrington designers Andreozzi Architects (of Bristol, president of our ICAA chapter), landscape designers Le Blanc Jones, and builders Kirby-Perkins. An in-depth article on the place from its origins to its recent restoration ran in Period Homes in 2016, by architectural historian (and ICAA chapter board member) John Tschirch. “The Stunning Boothden Restoration” tells the full story of Boothden’s rise, its decline and how it stands today, “revitalized” in Tschirch’s word. “Paradise,” he adds, “never looked so tempting.”

So check it out!

David Andreozzi and John Tschirch will be guiding the tour.

Reservations are required at $55 for the general public and $40 for ICAA members.

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Boothden as restored. (Photo by Aaron Usher)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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