The Dewey Carriage House
71 Elm Street
Appeared on the 2005 List
The house and carriage house at 71 Elm Street, on the corner of West Street, were built by the Edward L. Davis family in the late 1800’s. In 1912, they were acquired by Francis Dewey who remodeled both structures, covering them with stucco and introducing a Moorish-style design for the facade of the main house. The footprint of both buildings remained the same.
It was in the carriage house that the American artist John Singer Sargent, during his 1890 stay in Worcester, painted his famous portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis, the wife of a former Worcester mayor, with her son, Livingston. This work, considered one of his finest portraits, caused other Worcester luminaries who lived nearby to commission him to do their portraits.
Sargent stayed at the Worcester Club, only a few doors from the carriage house. He was 34 years old and becoming the most sought-after portrait painter of his era. After his arrival, he became friends with Frederick Sumner Pratt, a wealthy manufacturer who aspired to become an artist. Sargent advised Pratt on his painting, and the pair would dine at the Worcester Club and go out sketching local scenes, including the swans at Elm Park. Later that summer, Sargent returned to Worcester to paint Pratt’s daughter.
When the Worcester Art Museum opened in 1908, Pratt twice acted as director and he helped the museum obtain works by Sargent. Today a portrait of Lizzie B. Dewey in a bright red dress and an unfinished portrait of Katharine Chase Pratt amidst blue hydrangeas—both painted in the summer of 1890—hang in the Museum along with many other Sargent works.
While the Dewey house has been nicely restored for office space, the carriage house was damaged by fire and continuing neglect. The roof had holes which were not covered for many years. The owner was contacted numerous times but did not show any interest in restoring the building. An inspection two years ago showed parts of the building to be in good condition. In 2005, the property was sold and the new owner contacted Preservation Worcester.
In the last two years, Preservation Worcester and the current owner have had numerous meetings concerning the building’s important history and its restoration. To prevent further damage to the walls and interior, tarp material was secured to the roof, but it began to leak and was not replaced.
In March 2007, a large section of the north wall collapsed onto adjoining Becker College property, causing police and fire department response. A city building inspector was called to survey the damage and the city condemned the carriage house. The building owner has arranged temporary stabilization and is working to secure funds for restoration. If the building is demolished, the city will lose a structure that played an important role both in the history of Worcester and of American art.