The Hunter House is a historic home located in Newport, Rhode Island. It may have been built as early as 1719, years before Newport became a popular spot for wealthy families to build their glamorous summer “cottages.” Several owners made additions and renovations to the home over the years. Today, it is owned and operated as a historic house museum by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Hunter House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.
Deputy Governor Jonathan Nichols,
Jr. moved into the home now known as the Hunter House around 1748. It was initially thought that the home was
built specifically for him, but there is some evidence that his construction
may have just been an addition to an older house built as early as 1719. Nichols was a wealthy merchant, who owned at
least one privateer and also operated the Whitehorse Tavern. The tavern is another historic spot in Newport. It has been serving customers since 1673, although
Nichols is the one who gave it its current name when he took it over in 1730.
In 1756, the house was sold to
Colonel Joseph Wanton, Jr. Wanton served as Deputy Governor from 1764-1767. His father was the Governor of Rhode Island in
the years leading up to the Revolution (1769-1775). Wanton Jr. purchased the home along with a
wharf, warehouse, stables, and garden.
The garden – a beautiful spot adjacent to the home on Washington Street
- was sold to the city over two hundred years later (1973) for use as a public
park. It was named after the Storer family,
who lived in the home in the early twentieth century and gave it to St. Joseph’s
Church in 1918.
Colonel Wanton lived in the home until
he was forced to flee the area. He was
accused of helping the British raise troops in and around Newport. Deemed a traitor and a Loyalist, he was run
out of his home when the American forces returned to Newport in 1780. He died shortly after his escape. The property was confiscated by the Revolutionary
forces. The First in Command the French
Navy, Admiral de Ternay, was quartered at the home during the war.
After the war was over, ownership
of the property changed hands several times.
In 1805, it was purchased by an attorney named William R. Hunter. Hunter
became a United States Senator representing Rhode Island in 1812 and served
until 1821. He was later appointed as an
ambassador to Brazil. While Hunter was
in Washington D.C., he had attempted to sell the home. Unfortunately, his advertisement stated that
the wharf was falling into disuse and he was unable to sell it. He eventually died in the home in 1849.
Ten years later, the Old Colony
Steamboat Company purchased the building and began to use it as a boarding house.
During this time, many changes were made
to the homes exterior and interior, which included widening the entrances and the
construction of a rear porch. It changed
hands several more times. In 1918, the Storer family transferred ownership of the
home to the Sisters of St. Joseph with the expressed wish that they use the property
as a convalescent home for invalided religious women.
The church gave the property to
the founding members of the Preservation Society of Newport County in
1945. The Preservation Society worked diligently
to restore the house to its original appearance through careful research. Its spacious two-story frame and clapboard structure
is covered by a balustraded gambrel roof.
The interior woodwork and painted ornament has been artfully
restored. The home provides visitors
with a unique look at the survival of a colorful colonial interior. Today, the Hunter House is opened to the
public as a historic house museum.