200416ind History

Artist Adolpe Borie’s home at 90 Willett Road in Saunderstown was built in 1903 and remains one of the most picturesque properties in southern RI to this day.

Those of you who are regular readers of this column are more than likely aware that, in the early part of the 20th century, summers in the seaside village of Saunderstown were an extraordinary time. An artist and writers’ colony of sorts, a stroll down her shady streets and lanes would proceed like a “Who’s Who” of the time. It wouldn’t be impossible to pass Teddy Roosevelt and his good friend Owen Wister, the author of “The Virginian,” strolling down Waterway smoking good cigars and discussing world events. You most certainly would come across the LaFarge boys, Christopher and Oliver arguing about the impact of Oliver’s Pulitzer prize on their ongoing brotherly competitive ways while their father, prominent NY architect Grant LaFarge, chatted with his father, the famous artist John LaFarge. Around the corner the Wharton cousins, Frances and Edith, would most certainly be sitting in a porch swinging wistfully, dreaming of romantic moments for Edith’s novel, “The Age of Innocence.” And down at the big house at 90 Willett Road, the subject of today’s musings, famous portrait and landscape artist Adolpe Borie would perhaps be raising a glass to his brother, Charles, a partner in Philadelphia’s most prominent architectural firm, Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary, to toast his recent commission for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while their prominent financier father and their grandfather, also named Adolphe, a man who was formerly President Grant’s Secretary of the Navy, discussed the problems in Europe.

Charles Borie himself had been the architect for Adolphe’s impressive summer home at 90 Willett Road. He designed it in 1902 and Adolphe had it constructed in 1903 to his brother’s exacting specifications. You see, Charles was actually a trained engineer, however, the artistic requirements for excellence in architecture came as naturally to him as a portrait did for Adolphe. Things went along this way for more than a decade until 1916 when Adolphe worked out an arrangement with another prominent Philadelphian, Mary Hosack Biddle, the daughter of the prominent jeweler who made up one third of the firm Bailey, Banks, and Biddle, whereby she would purchase the property at a reasonable price and allow Adolphe to continue to summer in the much smaller guest cottage, thereby bringing another prominent group of artistic folks to the seaside village of Saunderstown.

Later owners included native New Zealanders Alan & Rosemary Grant, and then retired Lt. Col. Wells Brendel Lange, a former decorated Korean War combat veteran who, after his experience as the platoon leader of a segregated unit of soldiers, became instrumental in ending racial segregation in the US Army. After the war Wells went on to become a Green Beret. Retiring with 20 years in the military, Wells Lange joined his two brothers in forming the Lange Ski Boot Company. The Lange boys changed skiing, and their futures, forever when they introduced the plastic ski boot to the sport. Ever the veteran, Wells Lange donated ski equipment to amputee skiers, veterans and non-veterans alike, a sponsored the Lange Cup Ski Race, for amputees, in Winter Park Colorado.

The Borie House is now owned by Boston/Newport restauranteur David Warren Roy, a man who is also a well-known yachtsman, having sailed the classic Alden designed antique sail racing yacht “Nirvana” to victory in the United States and Europe. The Borie brothers would be exceptionally pleased with every individual who has held the role of steward of their fine home. 

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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