Charles Dowler was born in Birmingham, England in 1841, and came to America in 1863 to make munitions for the Union effort during the Civil War. After the war ended, Dowler embraced the “American Dream,” deciding to abandon his profession as a gunsmith and pursue a career as an artist. He had a successful career working in numerous mediums including sculpture, woodcarving, plaster, and jewelry making. His notable public, local works include the John Sparks Monument in Bristol and the Collyer Monument in Pawtucket. Additionally, his smaller wooden carvings are highly regarded in the Folk Art community and are sought after by collectors.
Dowler built his home in Smith Hill around 1872 in the cottage ornee style, a highly detailed, decorative style of the time -- perfect for a working artist. The mansard roof dwelling is typical of the 1870s form and few of these homes remain in Providence today in such a well preserved state. The National Registry did an assessment of the home in 1984, thoroughly documenting details of the property. This assessment provides an in-depth look at the exterior and interior of the home, showing what is still intact from the original construction. The exterior is reminiscent of a modern day appearance. The roof has fish scale slate shingling, an oculus window over the entrance, and a narrow front porch with Corinthian columns, prominent bay windows, and dormer windows with incised details. By all accounts, the exterior is has remained intact to its appearance from the late 1800s.
Upon entering the home, it is slightly altered with principal front rooms remaining intact, the four-panel, double-leaf entrance with etched glass accesses the central stair hall, and the curving staircase has a massive newel post that rises to the second floor. The two parlors provide detailed architecture work to give decoration to the home. The southeast parlor has a wooden mantel centered on the north wall, a molded plaster cornice is on the floriated-relief ceiling and, in the center, a framed tapestry of cherubs finish the decoration. The southwest parlor has similar but more elaborate designs. In particular, the ceiling’s decorations are simple in design yet elegant. It has a wide plaster cornice ornamented with floral motifs and high-relief busts of cherubs’ heads and in the center is a large, multi-foil, gilt panel with bucolic scenes painted in each of the foils.
A private residence when first lived in by Dowler, it remains so to this day. Walking past the property now, it would seem like an ordinary house used as a private residence but behind those walls, it was a home for a local artist who had an impressive career in Rhode Island’s art community. Dowler’s sculptures remain intact in other parts of Rhode Island, and his home is a surviving example of architecture that remains well-preserved in Smith Hill’s community.