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The John Avery Parker Mansion called the most imposing house ever built. (New Bedford Whaling Museum Photo)

The Grand Designs of Russell Warren; New Bedford Architecture

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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.


Warren Double Bank Building
The “Double Bank” Building shared by Mechanic’s Bank and Merchant’s Bank (New Bedford Whaling Museum Photo).

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.

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About Joe Silvia

When Joe isn't writing, he's coaching people to punch each other in the face. He enjoys ancient cultures, dead and living languages, cooking, benching 999#s, and saving the elderly, babies and puppies from burning buildings. While he enjoys long walks on the beach, he will not be your alarm clock, because he's no ding-a-ling.

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10 comments

  1. Nice job Joe! Interesting to know he was the one behind many of the key buildings throughout NB!

    Seems he was a fan of the columns!

  2. Thanks Freddie! Yes, he sure loved his ionic and Doric columns!

  3. David Harrington

    Great article! The architect Russell Warren, was in fact, born in Tiverton, and died in Providence in 1960. He’s burried in the Grace Church Cemetery in Providence. I’ve visited his grave. He also did several buildings in Bristol and Providence. We’re having a tour of some of his Providence buildings on May 11. Contact Linden Place in Bristol for more info.

  4. Gee, Joe, is there ANY area that you do NOT wander into??? Now it’s architecture!! I just stumbled into this blog, and was immediately taken with the Russell Warren buildings. I will send a scan of a plate I have had for …years..to your email address, and it shows the County Court House, and looks a lot like a Warren design..n’c’est pas?? You can also see Palmer’s Island Light.
    I hope you check your blogs and emails occasionally, as I love to hear from you.

    Regards, Gardner

  5. Great article! However, every building in this article either has Ionic or Corinthian columns, no Doric ones. Art history classes are compelling me to speak out! πŸ˜€

  6. Thank you for the correction Tania! I am not an architect or artist, let alone a crappy one! I just love these buildings and wanted to showcase them. I “copied” the term Doric from one of the articles I read and being ignorant of architecture, used it.

    πŸ™‚

  7. Great article! They all look familiar,except for the Pearl St depot..that is still around?

  8. Thanks Stephan! Unfortunately, the Pearl Street Depot was too small. Perhaps, no one expected the system to become as popular as it became. It was torn down in 1886 and replaced with a larger station.

    Russell Warren had passed away 25 years prior, otherwise I’d imagine he would have lobbied for something that was Egyptian or Greek Revival.

  9. Joe, a very good story on Russell Warren. The New Bedford Institute for Savings building (now the National Park headquarters) is probably mis-attributed to Warren. The NBIS is a copy of the original Old Stone Bank (originally Providence Institute for Savings) which is attributed to C.J. and R.J. Hall. The original Providence building was identical to the NBIS building, but it was hugely modified to create the existing gold-domed building. You can see remnants of the original in the side wings. There is an image of the Providence building prior to alteration here: https://www.providenceri.com/photogallery/set/72157636691303166#

  10. Hi Kit – thanks for the kudos and reading!

    The NBIS building is actually one year older and the inverse is true: the Providence building was a copy of Old Third District Courthouse/NBIS. The NBIS building was erected in 1853 and the Providence building was erected in 1854.

    If you look at the Rhode Island Historical Society’s records they state “…a new building was constructed at 86 South Main Street in 1854, which was expanded in 1898 into its present form.” (http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/mss943.htm)

    This is also backed up by the Rhode Island State Census in 1885:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=QT7QAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=r.j.+hall+providence+institution+of+savings&source=bl&ots=w4p9cdiUBv&sig=U6NmibVkKADybxtQlNjz6KH_moE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-LQvVbqLMMHbgwSO7oOwAw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=r.j.%20hall%20providence%20institution%20of%20savings&f=false

    Having said that, I HAVE seen the mention that the Halls are responsible for the design of the NBIS building, however I have only seen one mention of it and there is no source – it states “…research has shown.” That page has been taken down and now only accessible as a cached page.

    I am not doubting the possibility – the buildings were virtually identical. Too much of a coincidence. That leaves us with two possibilities: the Halls copied (perhaps even collaborated) Warren’s NBIS building or that the Halls are responsible for both buildings. However, these two particular Halls did not build outside of Rhode Island.

    There is definitely a story here. I will dig some more and see if I can’t access Spinner Publications archives. If you have more, I would love to see it. Please send to nbgarts@gmail.com.

    There may be an article here – if we can prove the Halls are responsible with source documents, it’ll be huge,

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