The Burnside House was built for General Ambrose Everett Burnside in 1866. Burnside was a prominent rifle manufacturer before the Civil War. His company, Burnside Rifle Company, was one of the most respected arms manufacturers of the 19th century. When war broke out, Burnside severed all ties with his company in order to command the Rhode Island Volunteers. He became famous not for his war exploits (because his career was relatively unexceptional), but for his facial hair. He grew his sideboards until they connected with his mustache and this style has ever since been called "burnsides." Later, the Webster Dictionary changed the term "sideboards" into "sideburns" in honor of General Burnside, and this is the term that we recognize today.
When General Ambrose Burnside returned from the Civil War, he and his wife Mary Bishop bought a plot of land on the corner of Planet and Benefit Streets. He hired architect Alfred Stone to design a house that could accommodate this steep plot. Stone had had a private practice in Providence since 1864, and several years after designing the Burnside House, he became part of Stone, Carpenter, & Willson and he is now known as the most prominent Providence Architect at the end of the 19 th century.
The Burnside House is made of red-orange brick with a mansard roof. It is 2.5 stories high on the East side and 3.5 stories high with an elevated basement on the West side. There is a 2-story entrance porch built as a semicircular bay on the South East corner. The lower level of the porch opens onto Planet Street, its South side, and the upper level opens onto Benefit Street, its East side. The upper porch has a lattice iron railing, and its steeply pitched roof also has a cast iron railing around its peak. Overall the style of the house is very eclectic and gives an innovative solution to its steep plot. It was finished in 1867 with an estimated total cost of $75,000 and was referred to as "one of the finest modern houses in Providence." General Burnside inhabited the house until his death in 1884, after serving terms as both Governor and Senator of Rhode Island. Today, the house is owned by the Lloyd Investment Co. and is used as an apartment building.
The Burnside House is part of historic Benefit Street on College Hill of Providence. At the time of this house's construction, Benefit Street was home to many of the well-to-do members of the city of Providence, due to the street's position overlooking the downtown area. In the early 20 th century, the neighborhood began to change from a prosperous community to a low income and dangerous area. The Burnside House was adapted from a single-family home into a low cost apartment building. In the 1950's, a renewal program began to restore Benefit Street to its historic roots. Many of the houses on the street were renovated, and although the Burnside House is not in as good condition as many of the other houses, the street is believed to look much like what it did in the 1870's.
Woodward, Wm McKenzie, and Edward F. Sanderson. A Providence Citywide Survey of Historical Resources. Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1986.
Historical American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. RI-162.
Providence Sunday Journal, December 12, 1971.