September 23, 2021

From the Vault: Craft Honors Craft in a Fitting Tribute

A short history of a monument to the enduring legacy of craft in Rhode Island on HMM's campus

The program, as published in the paper

If you have walked down Hope St. where Hope and Burnside meet the waterfront sometime in the last 58 years, you may have noticed a beautifully carved stone memorial in front of the 19th century house directly across from the HMM pier. Below a profile carving of a Cup defender with sails flying, the memorial reads:

The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company was started here in 1863* by John B. Herreshoff with his brother Nathanael G. Herreshoff as designer; The Company designed and built many famous vessels including Seagoing Torpedo Boat Bo. 1 U.S.S. CUSHING - 1890 and the America's Cup Defenders VIGILANT 1893 DEFENDER 1895 COLUMBIA 1899 RELIANCE 1903 RESOLUTE 1914 and built the Defenders ENTERPRISE 1930 RAINBOW 1934; Herreshoff inventive design of hulls sails engines and devices was an enduring contribution to yachting.

The elegant carving and typography of the memorial itself is a fitting tribute to the craftsmanship of HMCo., but have you ever wondered who carved it, and how it came to be there? On May 17, 1963, the Bristol Phoenix published the following article under the headline "Herreshoff Tribute: Boat Builders to be Honored Here Tomorrow":

Tribute to the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co., and in particular to its founder, John B. Herreshoff, and noted designer, Nathanael G. Herreshoff, his brother, will be paid tomorrow afternoon at 3 o'clock... to be held in front of the Herreshoff House on Hope Street. The event is part of a state-wide observance of R.I. Heritage Week and ahs been arranged through a local committee headed by Rear Admiral Gilbert C. Hoover, USN (retd). Charles B. Rockwell is honorary chairman. Other committee members include Thomas P. Brightman, Capt. Charles O. Cook, Jr., Norman Herreshoff, Miss Louise H. DeWolf, R.S. Bosworth, Jr.

Governor John H. Chafee will be present together with several other distinguished guests, including Dr. Wm. D. Metz of the University of Rhode Island, chairman of Heritage Week, and Leonard Panaggio, secretary.

The stone memorial is in process at the John Stevens Shop in Newport and will be represented tomorrow by a suitable replica. The Stevens Shop was founded in 1705 and today is operated by the widow and son of John Howard Benson who was known as the foremost calligrapher in the country, especially in stone.

The USS John Willis will be a visitor for the day and her commander LCDR Edwin E. Woods, Jr., will attend the exercises. The ship will have visiting hours from noon to 5 p.m.

Speakers will be Rear Admiral R.H. Speck, commander Atlantic Cruiser Destroyer Force; John Nicholas Brown of Newport; and Halsey Herreshoff, naval architect and grandson of "Capt. Nat."

Arrangements have been made to have the area on Hope St., blocked off to traffic during the time of the exercises. An amplifying system will also be used.

The ceremony went ahead as planned - despite rain on the day of dedication - on the lawn in front of John and Nat's childhood home at the corner of Hope and Burnside Streets. Less than a decade later, the Herreshoff Marine Museum would be founded on the same location to preserve and perpetuate the unique accomplishments of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.

The John Stevens Shop mentioned in the article above is still in operation today in Newport, RI, now managed by second and third generation members of the Benson family, with rumors of a fourth generation in the making. The John Stevens Shop was founded in 1705, and the business remained in the Stevens family until it was taken over by the Benson family in the 1920s. The Shop and family have received extensive press coverage for their extraordinary dedication to and perfection of the craft of stone carving and typographic design. We at HMM are lucky to have had this most appropriate memorial to the enduring craftsmanship and legacy of HMCo. on the company's (and now museum's) campus since 1963 - and now, are thrilled to announce that a second memorial also from the John Stevens Shop will soon be joining the first. Stay tuned for part two of this story after the official dedication ceremony and unveiling, scheduled to take place next week!

Nicholas Benson describes the history of the shop and a brief overview of his family's work

*HMCo. was formally incorporated in 1878, but J.B. Herreshoff had been building boats on the site to the young N.G. Herreshoff's designs for several years before the brothers formally incorporated.