Norman Isham

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Norman Morrison Isham
Born(1864-11-12)November 12, 1864
DiedJanuary 1, 1943(1943-01-01) (aged 78)
Resting placeElm Grove Cemetery in North Kingstown, Rhode Island
Alma materBrown University
Occupationarchitectural historian, preservationist, author
Known forPreservation of colonial-era buildings in Rhode Island
Isham's diagram of the 1653 Mowry House, a stone-ender in Providence, Rhode Island from his 1895 book[1]

Norman Morrison Isham (1864–1943) was a prominent architectural historian, author, and professor at Brown University and RISD. He was an ardent preservationist and a pioneer in the study of early American architecture.[2]


Norman M. Isham was born in Hartford, Connecticut on November 12, 1864, to Dr. Henry and Frances Elizabeth (Smyth) Isham.[2] As a child his family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Norman Isham attended Mowry and Goff's preparatory school and Brown University. At Brown he received a A.B. in 1886 and an A.M. in Architecture in 1890.[3] After graduation in 1886, Isham worked for architectural firm of Stone, Carpenter and Wilson and later Martin and Hall. He also served as an architecture instructor at Brown University.[3][4]

In 1899 Isham and Benjamin Wright created an architecture partnership which existed from 1912 to 1920 and 1923 to 1933. Isham chaired the architectural department at the Rhode Island School of Design starting in 1912.[3] He was a member of the American Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects and published several architecture texts, including "Early Rhode Island Houses" in 1895. Isham was well known for his renovations of many prominent early Rhode Island and other New England houses, particularly, stone-enders.[4]

After Isham's wife, Elizabeth Barbour Ormsbee, died in 1917, he moved from Providence to Wickford, Rhode Island. There, he constructed a two-story, shingle-style Colonial Revival home on Boston Neck Road. Initially, it was a summer home, but he moved there permanently after the death of his wife.[3]

Isham was a consultant on the building of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,[2] and was a consulting architect on the Delaware Legislative Hall, 1930-1933.[3][5]

Memberships and societies[edit]

Historic preservation[edit]

Norman Isham is perhaps best known for his work preserving and restoring Colonial-era homes and structures in Rhode Island.[3] He wrote extensively on the topic of Colonial architecture and furniture.[3] His books Early Rhode Island Houses, published with Albert F. Brown in 1895, and Early Connecticut Houses, published in 1900, are classics in their field.[2]

Some of the buildings Isham worked to preserve include:

Death and burial[edit]

Norman Isham died on January 1, 1943.[2] His funeral attracted many renowned architects to Wickford to pay their respects. Tragically, fellow Providence architect Harry Slocomb suffered a heart attack and died after Isham's funeral service.[3]

Isham is buried with his wife and parents at Elm Grove Cemetery in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.[3] He left no descendants.[4]


  1. ^ Norman Morrison Isham, Albert Frederic Brown (1895). Early Rhode Island Houses. Preston & Rounds. early rhode island houses.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Obituary: Norman Morrison Isham" (PDF). Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (April 1943): 18–21. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Cranston, G. Timothy (10 September 2015). "Norman M. Isham, the beloved preservationist". The Independent. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Norman Morrison Isham at
  5. ^ "Guide to the Norman Morrison Isham Papers". Yale University Library. Retrieved 3 December 2015.

External links[edit]