Richard Alsop IV House History
In 2009, the Richard Alsop IV House was proclaimed a National Historic Landmark, in recognition of the rarity and beauty of the historic wall paintings on the interior and exterior of the building.
Richard Alsop IV (1789–1842) was born in Middletown. In 1820 he established Alsop & Co. in Valparaiso, Chile, where he made a fortune in South American trade, banking, and silver mines. Nine years later, he moved to Philadelphia, where he became a director of the Bank of the United States. In 1835 he purchased this lot on High Street, and in the following year he commissioned the New Haven firm of Platt and Benne to design a home for his twice-widowed mother, Maria Wyllys Pomeroy Alsop Dana (1767–1861). Construction of the house by Middletown builders Barzillai Sage and Isaac Baldwin started in 1838 and was completed on December 15, 1839. The final cost of the building was $16,826, with an additional $2,518 for the barn, or carriage house, and privy.
For more than 100 years, the house remained in the possession of the Alsop family. In 1870, the family extended the dining room by a third, added the conservatory, and added a third floor to the service wing. After the death of Richard Alsop IV’s niece, Mary Alsop Oliver Alsop, in 1892, the house passed through the hands of several family members. It was rented for a few years to the Wesleyan University Gamma Zeta chapter of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
In 1948, the house was purchased by Wesleyan University. George W. Davison, a Wesleyan trustee and member of the class of 1892, together with his wife Harriet, gave funds for the university to renovate and expand the Alsop House and to found the Davison Art Center. From 1949 to 1952, the building was renovated and expanded: the open rear porch was enclosed and turned into a corridor connecting to both the carriage house and a new addition housing the Davison Art Center Gallery and offices. From 1952 to 1973, the Davison Art Center was the center for the visual arts on campus. It contained studios for painting, drawing, and sculpture as well as facilities for printing and ceramics, and two photographic darkrooms. With the opening of the Center for the Arts in 1973, the studio arts moved across the lawn, and this building retained the Art Library, Slide Library, classrooms, and offices for faculty in the art history program.
The national significance of the Richard Alsop IV House rests on the quality, rarity, and completeness of the decorative wall paintings in elaborate trompe l’oeil designs. The primary artists are believed to have been Nicola Monachesi (1795–1861) and his son Francesco, who emigrated from Naples to Philadelphia in about 1832. Richard Alsop IV had his Philadelphia office in the Merchants’ Exchange, designed by William Strickland and decorated with paintings by Monachesi. Later painting here may have been executed by William Borgelt, a German immigrant who arrived in Middletown about 1854.