Though Rhode Island architect Russell Warren (1783-1860) lived in Tiverton, he didn’t limit his designs to Rhode Island. He designed a fair amount of buildings throughout New Bedford. His majestic, and grand designs gave New Bedford a certain character that made her unique. Whether commercial buildings, grand church or stately Whaling Captain home, his buildings represented the economic strength of New Bedford due to the booming whaling industry. Enough of his homes still stand that architectural bus tours are given. For those buildings that remain no more, we still have images. I don’t profess to be even an amateur architect, so this article will not be filled with “shop talk.” I won’t insult those who are professional architects or more knowledgeable. However, I don’t need to be those things to admire and appreciate Warren’s designs…and neither do you.
Russell Warren was born in Tiverton, Rhode Island. in 1783. Historical records show two Russell Warrens that were born in 1783. One died in 1860 and the other in 1862. One was born in Fall River and the other in Tiverton. Fall River was called Tiverton until 1865. These may be two separate individuals or one and the same. One (or both) were born to parents Gamaliel Warren and Ruth Jenckes. If the last name looks familiar, it’s because Richard Warren was a member of the Leiden contingent and passenger on the Mayflower. He also was also a signer of the Mayflower Compact. Gamaliel Warren was a descendant of this Richard Warren, so it may be possible for the architect to trace his lineage directly to Richard Warren of the Mayflower.
Russell got his start in life, not as an architect, but a carpenter. This practical field experience surely benefited his future career, lending him a perspective that perhaps many architects would not have. While known for an eclectic approach to design, he is best remembered for his Greek Revival style, which is in abundance here in New Bedford. However he was also fond of Egyptian Revival and Federal Style designs. At the start of his career, or first phase from 1800-1823 he honed his “chops” by building stately mansions in Bristol, Rhode Island. He did such a good job that his name spread and he began to branch out to Fall River, New Bedford and even the Carolinas where he lived part time. The whaling boom in New Bedford made many people wealthy and there was no shortage of money to be spent on churches and homes.
I came across eight buildings in particular that he designed and seven are still standing. Not to sound like a broken record, but boy do I hate one way dialogue. I certainly don’t write these articles to talk at people and walk off into the sunset like a callous rube. Not only do I enjoy writing about these historical topics, but I enjoy discussion of them even more. Please, join the discussion and add corrections, share anecdotes and make additions. If you know of any other building that is still standing or have images of buildings that are gone, by all means share them! For ease, I will list his buildings in alphabetical order.
1. Double Bank Building c. 1831
In 1831 when the building was erected, the population of New Bedford was 7,592 people and purchased this lot for $2,000 or what would be today approximately $55,000. The Double Bank Building has picked up a few monikers over the years. It is also called the J.J. Banc Building, Best Banc Building or the Merchants & Mechanics bank building. The reason it is called the double bank building is because two rival banking institutions hired two different builders to erect it, Robert Chase who built the northern half (for Mechanic’s Bank) and Dudley Davenport, who built the southern half (for Merchant’s Bank). Indeed, there is actually a difference in entasis between the four columns that Chase built and the four that Davenport built. In layman terms, it is to say the columns differ in where they curve. Intentional? Difficult to confirm, but anyone who is a craftsman, master carpenter or architect would be well aware of the minutest of details.
The interior of the building were similar to one another and as far is known there are no major “unintentional” differences. However, I have come across documents that mention the rivalry between the two institutions continued after the building was erected. When one bank would beautify their half, the other half would attempt to outdo them, and so they dueled until the two banks eventually left this Greek “Ionic temple” in the early 1890’s. Heavens to Betsy.