“Everything just takes time,” Kaitlyn sighs as we sit together in the cozy but luxurious living room of Barnaby Castle, with afternoon sunlight seeping in the bay windows. Gazing around the room, my eyes catch on odd items that suggest that more than a family’s legacy lives among the curated, antique furniture and vibrant upholstery – a freshly pressed pair of pants draped over the arm of the couch, a steaming cup of tea, a book that appears just a little too modern. Kaitlyn Frolich, who describes herself as the “lady of the house,” is one of the souls who lives in Barnaby Castle. She shares the burden of restoring the house with the building’s owner and manages the house’s downstairs rooms’ function as an event space to raise funds for restorations.
Since moving to Providence fifteen years ago, Kaitlyn has been captivated by the lore and mystery surrounding Barnaby Castle. “No one could really give me a straight answer about what this [house] was…there were stories of it being mafia owned, this and that, everyone always thought it was haunted.” While no ghosts made themselves known during my visit, Barnaby Castle’s history is enough to warrant such suspicions. Newly wealthy department store mogul Jerothmul Barnaby (JB) built Barnaby Castle for him and his eccentric wife Josephine in 1875. JB died within ten years of the house’s completion, leaving his daughters and wife with ample temptation to squabble over inheritance. Josephine ultimately received a several hundred-thousand-dollar payout from her daughters after her friend (a doctor) encouraged her to sue. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Barnaby was poisoned by a bottle of whiskey that had been mailed from Boston to meet her at her in Colorado, where she was visiting. Although her doctor was jailed for the crime, many suspect that the real culprit was never caught.
The house has cycled through only a handful of owners since the Barnabys and most of the changes that tenants have made have helped to preserve the house’s original interior. Kaitlyn and Barnaby Castle’s owner are slowly peeling back those protective layers of paint and plaster, revealing hand-painted designs along the hallway walls, an exquisite fresco on the dining room ceiling, and hand-carved wooden pocket doors off the living room. More readily visible are the house’s 14 stained glass windows (several of which are currently out for repair), Italian carved wooden lion and cherub adornments, and original curved glass cabinets inside the butler’s pantry. Kaitlyn partly attributes the pristine condition of these aesthetic elements to the aura of fear that has long surrounded the house and likely warded off pillagers from stripping its interior.
While restoration of the downstairs rooms has been precise and historically-minded, renovation of the upstairs floors has included careful construction of several apartments. Kaitlyn’s apartment demonstrates the possibility of integrating modern and nostalgic aesthetics within the Victorian skeleton of the house. Her vibrantly white living room, gold brocade bedroom wallpaper, and Murano glass crystal beaded wall blend her taste for Parisian glamor and elegance with her apartment’s original architecture. “Some old things and some new things.”
Upstairs, a newer resident’s apartment is deep into construction. But even scattered with painter’s plastic, assorted ladders, and cans of paint and finishers, the dark wood moldings and grand mantle infect the scene with potential. Up a winding set of stairs, Kaitlyn shows me the apartment’s study. “He’s totally more of an adult than I am,” she says of her housemate. Indeed, rather than layer old and new aesthetics as Kaitlyn has done, this resident seems to have embraced the Victorian cadence of the house. With a cello resting against the wall and its bow arranged just so on the coffee table, the room is that of a 21st-century gentleman.
The current owner purchased Barnaby Castle for a little under $500,000, but when all the work is done, Kaitlyn says “we’re probably looking down the barrel of a $5 million restoration. Because everything is so unique, and it requires a special skill, and there’s fewer and fewer of those people.” I met Mark Cannata, one of those individuals with the special skills this house needs, on his way out for the day. Cannata explained that his family has been in the business of architecture, engineering, and building since Egypt’s third royal dynasty, and he himself has worked as a mason on castles and mansions around the world. Like much of the Providence community, he holds Barnaby Castle and its history in high esteem and is invested in returning it to its original magnificence. I ask Kaitlyn when she thinks all the work might finally finish. “In a lifetime. I don’t know who’s, maybe yours? I don’t know, it would be cool if it was mine. We’re getting there.”
By Francesca Gallo
Site: Barnaby Castle, Address: 299 Broadway, Providence, RI, 02903