James C. Bucklin

Inducted: 2012
Born: 1801
Died: 1890

Records say that Providence architect James C. Bucklin was a native of Pawtucket, but in view of his family’s Rehoboth origins, the place of his birth on July 26, 1801, was probably on the east side of the Blackstone, an area not acquired by Rhode Island until 1862. His parents were James and Lorania (Pearce) Bucklin. When his father died only a year and a half after his birth, James’s widowed mother moved with him to Providence, where he would live for the remainder of his long life.

Bucklin received a common school education, and at age fourteen he was apprenticed to carpenter-builder John Holden Greene. After seven years of training, he entered into a business partnership with lumber dealer William Tallman, and the new firm, styled Tallman & Bucklin, became a large and prosperous architectural and building supply company. In 1828, when Bucklin was only twenty-seven, his firm joined with Russell Warren in the design and construction of the Providence Arcade (described in the Warren profile). For Bucklin’s design of the Weybosset end of this classic Greek Revival structure, he looked to John Haviland’s stepped parapet on the Philadelphia Arcade, which Bucklin had visited in 1826. In 1944, before historic preservation fever hit Providence, the venerable Arcade almost fell victim to the wrecking ball, and even today it stands vacant, its fate uncertain.

In the year following their Arcade triumph, the team of Warren and Bucklin combined again, using the Greek temple motif, to design the Westminster Congregational Church on Matthewson Street. Eventually, the team dissolved when Russell Warren left Bucklin’s firm in 1835.

Tallman & Bucklin gained another superb architect in 1847, when young Thomas Alexander Tefft became an employee of the company, serving as a draftsman while a student at Brown University. According to architectural historian William McKenzie Woodward, during the 1830s and ’40s “Bucklin continued to provide his patrons with sober, classical houses, schools, churches, business blocks, and libraries…many finished with stucco and often scored in imitation of stone.”

Still prominent among his surviving buildings are Manning Hall (1834) and Rhode Island Hall (1840) at Brown University, funded through the generosity of John Nicholas Brown II; Shakespeare Hall at 128–134 Dorrance Street; the arsenal of the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery (1839–40) on Benefit Street, now a military museum; the Rhode Island Historical Society Cabinet (1844) at 68 Waterman Street, now used for offices by Brown University; Athenaeum Row (circa 1845), a New York–style apartment building on Benefit Street across from the Licht Judicial Complex consisting of five four-story brick row houses; and the Butler Hospital Building (1847), built with the assistance of Thomas Tefft from specifications devised by Dr. Isaac Ray and Dr. Luther V. Bell in accordance with the new and innovative theories concerning treatment of the mentally disabled. Now demolished, the block-long Washington Row Building (1843–45), an impressive Greek Revival structure on the west side of Market Square, was the largest building in Providence at the time of its completion. Built for the Providence-Washington Insurance Company during the presidency of Sullivan Dorr, it housed the Providence Journal Company from 1844 to 1871 and a telegraph office when that invention came to Providence in 1847.

Thomas Tefft’s brief association with Tallman & Bucklin from 1847 to 1851 apparently influenced Bucklin’s later efforts. When the partnership ended in the mid-1850s, Bucklin continued his impressive output for another two decades. Notable survivors from this period are the Hiram Hill House (1864) on Charlesfield Street, the Hay Block on Dorrance Street (1867) and the Monohasset Mill (1868) on Kinsley Street (a building once owned by the author). The demolished creations include the third Howard Hall Building (1859) on Dorrance Street, the Hoppin Homestead Building (1875) on Westminster Street, the Providence Music Hall on Westminster Street and the Thomas and Paulina Wright Davis Mansion (1869), a Gothic villa on Chalkstone Avenue that was demolished to make way for the Veterans’ Administration Hospital.

According to a 1908 genealogical profile, Bucklin was “the architect of some 300 mill structures and many fine residences as well as business buildings in various parts of the country.” In 1867–68, he built additions to the Old Statehouse at 150 Benefit Street and made alterations to the Providence Athenaeum. He even designed numerous memorials in Swan Point Cemetery for leading Rhode Island families.

While Bucklin’s business life was busy, his civic involvement was more limited. As a young man, he was active in the Rhode Island militia, holding the rank of first lieutenant in the First Light Infantry, and later in life he was a charter member of the Squantum Club when this gentlemen’s dining association opened in 1871. Bucklin was known as “a great reader of good books” who “was fond of his home and family.” That family included his wife, the former Lucy Dailey, daughter of ship captain Daniel Dailey of Providence, whom he married on March 16, 1829. The couple had five children and lived a long life together. Lucy died in November 1888 after fifty-nine years of marriage; James died in September 1890, at the age of eighty-eight.

James C. Bucklin was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2012.

For additional reading:
The Makers of Modern Rhode Island, by Dr. Patrick T. Conley, The History Press, 2012.

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