Wanton-Hunter House, Newport Rhode Island

Date added: August 31, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island House

This justly celebrated Colonial Mansion is one of the oldest, if not the oldest house now standing on Washington Street. From the historical researches made thus far it appears to have been built prior to 1730, though owing to the water-soaked condition of the old records the exact date has not been as yet definitely determined. Here gracious hospitality was dispensed for years by its original owner, Deputy Governor Jonathan Nichols, Jr., son of Deputy Governor Jonathan Nichols, both these public-spirited gentlemen taking an active part in the affairs of the Colony. Both died in office.

After the death of Deputy Governor Jonathan Nichols, Jr., the house became the property of Colonel Joseph Wanton, Jr., who also filled the office of Deputy Governor, and who lived here for a number of years. He was a Royalist, and during the Revolution found more congenial residence in New York, where he died on August 7, 1780.

Soon after the death of Deputy Governor Wanton, the house became the property of the Hon. William Hunter, U.S. Senator and Minister to Brazil, its long established tradition for generous and far reaching hospitality being still further enhanced while in the possession of the Hunter family. Subsequently sad changes came upon the old mansion, through the installation of modern heating and modern lighting, immediately before my father, the late Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer, became its owner, and, at this time, many of the most beautiful features were ruthlessly thrown out, including the small caned glass windows which now would have been priceless, and many, though not all, of the quaint Scriptural tiles, the majority of which still enrich a number of the fireplaces, the most interesting of these being a particularly fine double row of tiles still existing in the de Ternay room, (Northeast room).

The most interesting and unique architectural features of the Wanton-Hunter House today, incidentally it should be noted, the entire interior is built of SanDomingo mahogany, are undoubtedly, the superb mahogany paneling of the two lower stories, the beautiful proportion of its rooms and large halls, and the wonderful teak and mahogany staircase leading to the third story which is unusual, as, generally, these elaborate stairways only extend up two stories. Every rung of its balusters is hand-carved in three distinct patterns. It is thought highly probably that this staircase is the work of Peter Harrison, as the balusters resemble other work of the kind known to have been by him. The famious northeast room contains some of the most beautiful paneling in New England, the delicately moulded columns ending in acanthus tipped corinthian capitals, while its lovely shell-topped cabinets with their toddy shelves are also noteworthy. Apropos of these famous cabinets Thomas Wentworth Higginson says in "Malbone an Old Port Romance", there are too most graceful shell patterns which one often sees on old furniture but rarely in houses.