There are a lot of stories behind Providence’s diverse and grand architecture. For 38 years, the Providence Preservation Society has been telling those stories with its annual Festival of Historic Houses. This year they’re showcasing the historically significant and visually intricate homes in the Upper Elmwood Historic District. The festival kicks off June 2 with a preview party at the Webster Knight House and self-guided tours begin on June 3, allowing visitors to explore more than a dozen historic properties.
“PPS chose Upper Elmwood for this year’s festival… [because] the architecture holds its own against the best in the country,” says Sarah Santos, director of advancement at the Providence Preservation Society. “Most homes there were built during Providence’s industrial heyday as comfortable ‘suburban’ homes, as the city’s population boomed and expanded southward.” One of the festival’s highlights will be the Webster Knight House. Built around 1896, the house’s namesake was the son of Robert Knight, who, along with his brother Benjamin, founded the Fruit of the Loom brand. With its elaborate, ornate design features, the house is the largest and oldest example of Colonial Revival architecture in the neighborhood.
Among the many beautiful works of architecture on the tour is the eye-catching Henry Ballou House, built in 1894 and originally owned by a dealer in woodenware, crockery and glassware. The house’s current owners live on the first floor and rent out two units on Airbnb, giving guests a chance to experience the building’s ornate architecture firsthand.
“Upper Elmwood residents have been beyond gracious and enthusiastic about welcoming the PPS Festival to their neighborhood and opening their homes,” says Sarah. The owners and occupants, she reports, want to preserve and maintain these pieces of history and the community they love. “The homes on the tour are prime examples of how grassroots preservation efforts on the part of residents can revive a neighborhood and begin a rebirth.” Festival proceeds will go to PPS’s preservation work and to restoring the Knight Memorial Library.