Bristol was incorporated September 1, 1681, and developed with a 24-block grid pattern (8 blocks along Hope and 4 blocks from Thames to Wood Streets), which is still evident today. The original streets intersect at 90-degree angles, and includes a public common, on which the original meeting house was built. The basic street pattern was kept when "small" streets were added. In addition to this walk, wander around the streets and enjoy the town: with the street pattern you won't get lost! Many buildings have plaques with the date(s) of construction and the original owner. (photos by Ashley Bernardo)
Start your walking tour of downtown Bristol at the Visitor Center in the Burnside Memorial Hall, 400 Hope Street, east side of the street. The tour is approx 1.3 miles.
1. 400 Hope Street, Burnside Memorial Hall, 1883. This building was named after Ambrose Burnside, who fought in the Civil War and then was Senator and Governor of Rhode Island. Constructed and used as the Town Hall until 1969, this Richardsonian Romanesque Revival building was dedicated by President Chester A. Arthur and Rhode Island Governor Augustus O. Bourn of Bristol. Today the building serves as an annex to the present Town Hall and houses the Bristol Visitor Center.
2. 375 Hope Street, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 1861
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church was founded in 1718 by the London- based Church of England’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. This is the fourth church built on this site. The firstchurch was burned by the British on Sunday, May 25, 1778. The present building dates to 186 and is in the High German Gothic. The original spire was removed after the Gale of 1891 and the tower was altered to its present configuration. The clock was installed in 1871.
3. 341 Hope Street, John Howe House
“Four Eagles”, 1808 This two-story nearly square Federal house is noted for the four eagles on its balustrade, carved by sailors on board the “Yankee,” famous privateer during the War of 1812 and presented to their Captain, Benjamin Churchill, who purchased the house in 1822. Howe, the builder of the house, was a graduate of Brown University and a lawyer. Byron Diman a former RI Governor purchased the house in 1825 and made three enlargements during his ownership.
4. 344 Hope Street, Royal Diman House
, 1792 Diman, a cooper (barrel maker) and trader, built this 21⁄2 story asymmetrical Federal house. The interior was restored with elaborate Federal wood work and moldings salvaged from several houses on Thames Street demolished in the 1930’s to build the Premier Thread Factory, (now part of Stone Harbor Condominiums, see number 8.)
Return to Church Street (1/2 block) and turn towards the waterfront.
5. 9 Church Street, William Throop, Jr, 1805/1879
This brick Federal house, now painted gray, has stone pilasters flanking the front door, possibly carved by Throop, who was a stone carver. His shop, located on the DeWolf wharf on Thames Street, was washed away during the September 1815 gale. Brick was an expensive, luxury item, so few houses were built of brick. If you look to the house on your right, notice that it has brick ends.
As you approach the waterfront you will be at Rockwell Park. The original streets were platted (laid out) into the harbor to the ship’s channel. In addition to the park, which is open to the public, is the Prudence Island Ferry. Turn to the right and continue north on Thames Street.
6. 259 Thames Street, Bank of Bristol/DeWolf Inn, 1797
, with 20th century restorations. The DeWolf brothers built this as Bristol’s first bank. Following a varied history, it was restored to the 18th- century original appearance in the late 20th century.
7. 267 Thames Street, DeWolf Warehouse/ Tavern, 1818
. This long 2-story structure was built as a warehouse by the DeWolf family members who were active in the Triangle Trade between the United States, West Indies and Africa. The alley between the Tavern and the Bank of Bristol was originally open water serving as a slip for ships.
8. 345 Thames Street, Namquit Mill, 1843
. This mill is one of Bristol’s first mills. Mills were often located by water so that goods could be transported easily. As many other mills, this mill has been renovated and is now part of the Stone Harbor Condominiums.
Continue north to Bradford Street and turn right.
9. 1 Bradford Street, J. Howard Manchester’s Store / Bristol Phoenix Building, ca. 1854
, with later additions. Mr. Manchester was a contractor in plumbing and tin roofs. This large 21⁄2 story Greek Revival building has housed our local newspaper, the Bristol Phoenix (established 1837) as early as 1894 and continually since 1928.
Continue on Bradford Street towards Hope Street then turn right (south) on Hope Street.
10. 570 Hope Street, Colt Memorial School, 1906-1908, 1913
. Built of Georgian marble, with window units cast of solid bronze. The columns on this American Renaissance edifice were each carved from a solid block of marble. The school was given to the Town by Samuel Pomeroy Colt as a memorial to his mother, Theodora G. (DeWolf) Colt. All the homes on the site of the school were moved to other locations in the downtown.
11. 525 Hope Street, Rogers Free Library, 1877
. This Richardsonian Romanesque Revival library was designed for Maria (DeWolf) Rogers, and built as a memorial to her late husband Robert Rogers, a banker and collector of books. The library burned in July, 1957, and was re- designed in 1959 by local architect, Wallis E. Howe. The new addition onthe north was added in 2008, housing most of the library’s collections. A portrait of Maria (DeWolf) Rogers can be seen inside.
12. 515 Hope Street, Bristol Post Office, 1962
. The Post Office includes exterior woodwork and windows salvaged from the Bosworth / Wardwell House built in 1815, which previously stood on this site. Step into the lobby and notice the beautiful Federal design of the transom over the front door.
13. 500 Hope Street, Linden Place, 1810.
This ante-bellum Georgian mansion was designed by Russell Warren and built for George DeWolf, at a cost of $60,000. DeWolf went bankrupt in December 1825 and fled Bristol with his family to one of his Cuban plantations. His financial collapse threw the town of Bristol into a depression which lasted into the 1840’s. This site is owned and operated as a house museum by the Friends of Linden Place, providing a glimpse into Bristol’s history. Walking tours with a focus on the DeWolf family and their trade are given on an on- going basis. www.lindenplace.org
or call 253-0390
14. 474 Hope Street, Bradford- Diman-Norris House, 1792 / ca. 1810
, moved back from street 1845. This Federal house replaced an earlier Colonial house, burned by the British on Sunday May 25, 1778. During ownership by the Norris family, Russell Warren was hired to make renovations, including extending the house one bay to the north, adding a third floor, Chinese Chippendale style balustrades and front porch with Ionic columns.
Turn left onto State Street (east)
15. 86 State Street, William Van Doorn / Russell Warren House 1807-11
. This Federal house and the one at 92 State Street were both designed and built by Russell Warren. Warren purchased the house in 1813 and lived there until he moved to Providence in 1823.
16. 92 State Street, Russell Warren House 1810
. Housewright turned professional architect, Warren, purchased this lot in 1807 and designed this Federal house with hip roof for himself. In 1813 Warren moved to the house next door, 86 State Street.
17. 102 State Street, referred to as the “Van Doorn” House, before 1800
. The house is actually two houses that were moved here and framed together. Through research it is believed that the first house was moved about 1832 and the second house by 1835. Back then, materials were very expensive and labor was cheap, so houses were moved rather than torn down.
Turn left onto High Street, where the tour will go one block and return on the other side of the street.
18. 281 High Street, James DeWolf’s Stone Barn/ Guiteras House, 1824 / ca. 1850
. Originally built as a barn, it was converted into a residence by son William Henry DeWolf, who hired architect Russell Warren to do the work around 1850. Notice the dressed granite blocks used to fill in the large original door bay, to make a new recessed front entrance. Today it serves as the parish house of the Congregational Church.
19. 291 High Street, William H. DeWolf / Ramon Guiteras House, ca. 1830 / ca. 1887
. Originally a 2 1⁄2 story, Greek Revival residence, transformed into a Stick, or Eastlake style, residence with addition of tower and stuccoed exterior, in the latter 1880’s.
20. 300 High Street, First Congregational Church, 1856 / 1869 / 1961
. Mid-Victorian, Gothic Revival church and the congregation’s third church building, dating to 1856. The earlier buildings were at other locations in Bristol. This is the Town’s oldest religious denomination organized around 1680, and is the oldest Congregational Church in Rhode Island.
On your left is the Bristol Town Common, part of the original 1680 layout of the town. On the far side of the Common you can see Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, 1911, 330 Wood Street. This buff brick and limestone Gothic Revival church was built to serve Bristol’s Irish and French Canadian population.
21. 250 High Street, First Baptist Church, 1814 et seq
. Also known as the “Stone Chapel,” this two-story gable-roofed Federal church is the oldest surviving church building in Bristol.The original spire was blown off in the Gale of 1869 and never replaced. Gothic compound windows were installed in 1882. This congregation was formed in 1811. The doors were unlocked in the early days so the bell could sound the alarm when there were fires in town.
22. 240 High Street, Bristol County Statehouse / Courthouse 1816-1817, 1836, 1934-35
. This Federal stone (faced with brick and subsequently stuccoed) building was erected as one of five buildings in each of the five Rhode Island counties in which the State’s General Assembly meetings were rotated until 1852. It also served as a Courthouse until the early 1980’s. This was the site of Bristol’s first Meeting House in 1684. Purchased from the State of Rhode Island in the 1990’s it is operated by the non-profit Bristol Statehouse Foundation.
Continue south on High Street and turn right onto Church Street. Enjoy looking at the houses along this block. Turn right at Hope Street and you will be back at the start of the tour.
23. 48 Court Street, Bristol Historical & Preservation Society, formerly Bristol County Gaol, 1828 / 1859
For more information on Bristol’s history and additional guided walking tours go part way up Court Street.
. The main building was built in 1828 with ballast stone (mostly granite) and served as the county jail until 1859. At that time the rear jail block was added and the building served as the Town Jail until 1957. The Historical Society, organized in 1936, campaigned to save the building from demolition in the late 1950’s and rented it until 1975 when it was purchased from the State. The building houses the Society’s museum exhibits spanning Bristol’s three hundred plus years of history. The Society is open on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons and gives walking tours from spring to the late fall. www.bhpsri.org, or call 253-7223 for more information on the history of Bristol.