A Peek Inside Longfield, the Charles Dana Gibson House

Longfield stands on 1.4 acres of land at 1200 Hope Street in Bristol. If you travel from Warren into Bristol along Hope Street, it's on the left. It's a white Gothic Revival three-story home.

I'd found it while scrolling through historic homes for sale, and I was touched by the house's description on Zillow.

"This Once Elegant Gothic Revival Style House Called "Longfield" Was Designed By Famed 19th c. Architect Russell Warren. It Is Down To The Studs Waiting For Someone W/Vision and Passion To Finish The Work That Has Begun. The Potential Is Magnificent."
I had to see for myself. Agent Dory Skemp of Coldwell Banker graciously took me on a tour, and gave me some background on the history of the house.

Though Gothic Revival is generally built in stone, Longfield is wood, which makes it a bit more unusual. It was built in 1848 and designed by R.I. architect Russell Warren, who built many homes and churches around Bristol and Providence.

Longfield was designed for Charles Dana Gibson and his bride, Abbey DeWolf, of the DeWolf family in Bristol. The DeWolfs made their considerable fortune through the slave trade, and as the house passed through the family, it was often the center of the social season in Bristol.

Josephine Gibson, one of the last family owners of the house, was a model for her brother's (the younger Charles Dana Gibson) famous Gibson Girls, which became the standard for Caucasian female beauty in the 1890s to the early 20th century.

By Charles Dana Gibson - http://www.squidoo.com/the-gibson-girl-classic-american-beauty?, Public Domain, Link
Josephine died in 1969, and her son sold the house a few years later. Shortly after that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then it's been through several owners, including a family who was unable to afford the upkeep on the house. When it finally sold again, the new owner stripped the house down to the bare studs, but renovation halted a few years ago, and the house has fallen further into disrepair.

Western elevation of the house, 1979, from the Library of Congress

That's where we are now, when I toured the house.

The first thing I noticed was the missing porch, but just as quickly, I saw that the detail on the front door is still there, and still beautiful.

What once was the great hall and staircase are now open to the studs.

The narrow pine floors, which would have been expensive and showy in the time period, are still in good condition. The bricks behind the studs on the right are from the Italianate marble fireplace that stands in the south parlor (below). The wood plank mantel is a recent placeholder.

Opposite the south parlor is the north parlor, which once had  a marble fireplace surround as well. It's tall windows open to where the porch had been, and have pocket shutters that slide into the wall to allow for light and access.

Also in the north parlor is a remaining example of an unusual feature, a capping over the interior door.
Normally those partial surrounds are over the top of a window, on the outside of the house, as they also are on Longfield. It's unusual to find one over a door inside a house.

 Looking back at the picture of the house from the 1979, it appears it may have been painted another color at one time.

At the back of the first floor is the kitchen and dining room, formerly connected by a pantry through the dining room, and a door through the back hallway. Today it all stands open, and contains salvage from the house, including railings from the porch, windows and screens, and wood salvage that can be copied for restoration. Also, an amazing Victorian style radiator. and a midcentury fireplace upgrade.

There's also a back stair that was too unlit to photograph.

As we went back to the stairs, I saw what must have been a storage area behind the staircase.

The staircase itself still has the wonderful sawn carvings and walnut balusters that are original to the house.

Upstairs the gothic window has taken some damage, and the wallpaper is long gone, but thanks to the Library of Congress, you can see an idea of how it was back in the 70s, compared to how it is now.

photo: National Archives

The shutters, including the diamond-shaped center shutter are still in the house. A surprising amount of detail pieces are still there.

A couple of bedrooms are still framed in on the second floor.

The former master bedroom (above) houses the remains of one of seven fireplaces that once graced the house. What had been three other bedrooms on the south side of the house have been more or less combined, and a new stair to the attic added. They store most of the original four-panel interior doors. 

Up in the attic are still the remnants of the two bedrooms that once were, and the upper gothic window. There's no light up there, so I wasn't really able to get photos.

After touring the inside, we circled the outside of the house. In the photo below, you can see part of the porch awning, a closed set of pocket shades on the first floor, and more of the capping on the exterior windows.

The well house, visible in front of the house in the photo from 1979, has been moved to the north side of the house. There's no well under it, but the structure remains.

Nearby is more salvaged wood for copying in restoration.

To me it's remarkable that the house has survived such long neglect. It's a testament to the original builder and the caretakers.

It seems that many houses with Longfield's long history would have its share of births, deaths, tragedies, and celebrations. Maybe a few ghosts?

Either way, it's historic and unique and beautiful. It deserves the passion (and the money) to come back to its former self. I hope it finds someone with both.


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