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.
Backstory and Context
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.
Storer, Agnes C. Wanton-Hunter House, Newport Rhode Island. Historic Structures. August 31, 2010. Accessed February 03, 2018. http://www.historic-structures.com/ri/newport/wanton-hunter_house.php.
Heintzlman, Patricia. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form - Hunter House (updated). State of Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission. July 02, 1975. Accessed February 10, 2018. http://www.preservation.ri.gov/pdfs_zips_downloads/national_pdfs/newport/newp_washington-street-54_h....
City of Newport, RI. Property Records. Accessed February 10, 2018. https://i2f.uslandrecords.com/RI/Newport/D/Default.aspx. Various deeds