Gilbert Stuart Birthplace
Gilbert Stuart Birthplace
Front elevation of house, date unknown
|Location||Gilbert Stuart Road, Saunderstown, RI|
|Governing body||Gilbert Stuart Birthplace|
|NRHP Reference #||66000004|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||December 21, 1965|
The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum is a small museum located in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, USA. On December 3, 1755, Gilbert Stuart, a famous American portraitist of the 18th and 19th centuries, was born in the colonial-era house located on the property. The museum consists of the 1750 house in which Stuart was born, an operational snuff mill, an operational grist mill, a mill pond, streams, a fish ladder, nature trails, an herb garden, and a Welcome Center and gift shop.
The house on the property was built in 1751, and Gilbert Stuart lived there for five years. Stuart's father operated the family business in the basement of the house, where a water-powered snuff mill was located. His father, an immigrant from Scotland, worked in the snuffmaking industry; he ground dried tobacco leaves into snuff, a fine powder used widely in the colonial era. The original snuff mill located in the house was actually the first such mill in the American colonies; previously all mills had been located in Europe, particularly in England. When Stuart was seven-years-old, his family moved to Newport, Rhode Island.
The house served as a private residence and a tavern during the 18th Century, with the original snuff mill and water wheel being lost.
In 1930, the Birthplace was restored to its colonial state by Norman Isham, and was opened to the public as a museum in 1931. Many of the house's original wood beams remained intact. It also retained its original four corner fireplaces, one in each room in the house. An English snuff mill built in the early 1730s was transported to the property during the restoration, and it is considered faithful in design to the original snuff mill. In addition, a new water wheel was built and attached to the side of the house, allowing the mill to operate by water power from Mattatuxet Brook.
An original colonial-era gristmill was built in 1757 and owned by Benjamin Hammond. Although fitted with a water wheel, the mill remained inoperable until 2007, when a celebration entitled "Old Mill Day" welcomed the connection of the waterwheel to the mill's operating gears.
The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace operates guided tours of the birthplace and gristmill Thursday through Monday, and is open from May until October. The house is furnished with original colonial furnishings in every room, though no piece of furniture is original to the house. Each room is also fitted with reproductions of Gilbert Stuart's most famous works, including the famous Athenaeum Portrait of George Washington (which is portrayed on the one-dollar bill), The Skater, Dr. Hunter's Spaniels, John Jay, and Catherine Brass Yates. Tours of the museum focus on the life and artwork of Gilbert Stuart, as well as descriptions of the colonial furnishings and objects.
The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace operates a unique Junior Docent program, in which children and adolescents can volunteer to give interpretive tours of the museum dressed in colonial attire. The program is designed to teach children about history and the workings of a museum. Junior docents only conduct tours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace is located on twenty-two acres of property. The museum features nature trails, which bring tourists to the site of an old colonial burial ground, the Benjamin Hammond cemetery, a scenic overlook of Carr Pond, and the foundation of a colonial fulling mill. The grounds also feature an herb garden, a timber dam, and a boat dock from which rowboats can be rented for use on nearby Carr Pond.
- Casey Farm
- Smith's Castle
- List of National Historic Landmarks in Rhode Island
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Washington County, Rhode Island
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- NHL Membership Documents (accessed November 15, 2008)
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- Gilbert Stuart Birthplace. Junior Docents. Accessed: 28 July 2007.
- Woonsocket Connection. Gilbert Stuart Birthplace. Grounds. Accessed: 28 July 2007.