6 historic R.I. sites new to National Register

01:00 AM EST on Sunday, December 13, 2009

 By Linda Borg Journal Staff Writer

Six Rhode Island sites, from a medieval-looking stone mansion to a row of attached factory houses, are the latest additions to the National Register of Historic Places. The state has thousands of properties and neighborhoods listed on the National Register, thanks to its rich colonial and industrial past and a strong preservation movement. Most of the neighborhoods in Providence and Newport are on the National Register, according to Rick Greenwood, deputy director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission. “We are a very old state,” he said, “and we have been a very active state during key periods. We have a lot of historical buildings packed into a pretty small area. We are also fortunate to have a community that is very interested in historic preservation.” In fact, for such a small state, Rhode Island has one of the highest concentrations of historic properties on the National Register, Greenwood said. The latest designees include the Moses Taft House, a Federal-style domestic cottagein Burrillville; 49 units of factory housing in Manville dating to the 19th century; the Borders Farm, nearly 200 acres of fields and two historic farmsteads in rural Foster; Blackstone Boulevard, a 100-acre historic district on the East Side; the Stonybrook Estate Historic District, nine buildings along the Sakonnet River in Middletown, including a rambling stone house in the late medieval mode; and the Benoni Rose House, a Victorian house in North Kingstown. The application process works as follows: the owner — and sometimes the commission — assemble information on the history and architectural integrity of a particular property. The heritage commission’s staff reviews the application, which is then submitted to a state review board composed of historians, architects and other experts. If the state board approves the application, it is sent to the National Register in Washington, D.C., for its endorsement. Greenwood said it isn’t easy to have a property listed on the National Register. The building has to be true to the era that it represents, something preservationists call integrity. “They can be a great work of architecture or representatives of the vernacular or common style of architecture,” Greenwood said. “The three-decker is an example of vernacular architecture and we have them on the National Register.” Often, it isn’t one building but a collection of properties, like the factory houses in Manville, which constitute a neighborhood of historic significance. Most owners are not driven by financial considerations when they apply for historic status, Greenwood said. Owners tend to be proud of their property and they want others to recognize the historical value of their home. Homeowners do receive a state income tax credit for improvements they make to historic register properties. Placement on the register does not protect a property from destruction, however. “You or I could list a house on the register and tear it down the next day,” Greenwood said. “If you really want to protect a property, you have to live in a community with historic district zoning.” On Benefit Street in Providence, a property owner can’t demolish a house without approval from the city’s historic district commission. Rhode Island has 17 communities with historic districts. Owners can also apply for an easement, which conveys a form of ownership to the state. The easement allows the owner to receive a tax break in exchange for giving the state control over all or part of the property.

Copyright 2009 Providence Journal