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Thomas Alexander Tefft architectural drawings

Biographical note

Thomas Alexander Tefft was born in Richmond, Rhode Island, on August 2, 1826. He attended a school kept by Elisha Baggs, and showed early interests in drawing, ornamental lettering, and the flute. At seventeen, he began to keep school himself, producing designs for a one room schoolhouse as early as 1844. He soon became acquainted with Henry Barnard, the school commissioner for Rhode Island, who advised him to leave Richmond and study architecture in Providence. Tefft subsequently obtained a post in the office of Tallman and Bucklin, and joined the household of architect James C. Bucklin. On the further advice of Henry Barnard, Tefft entered Brown as a student in 1847. He was still in the midst of his studies when Bucklin recommended him to John Kingsbury (Brown Class of 1826) as an architect for the new school for young ladies that Kingsbury was planning to have built on Benefit Street. Before Tefft registered at Brown, he had already designed a railroad station for the City of Providence, which was subsequently built in 1848 under Bucklin's supervision. Upon arrival at Brown, Tefft had registered for the English and Scientific Course. In 1850, mid-way through Tefft's tenure as a student, Brown introduced a new curriculum; this "New System" allowed students to earn a degree in three years through a course of study that excluded ancient languages. Tefft was the first Brown student to earn the new Ph.B. degree, graduating in 1851.

At Brown, Tefft became acquainted with Charles Coffin Jewett (Brown Class of 1835), librarian and professor of modern languages. Jewett had traveled widely in Europe; having visited a number of libraries there, he was able to aid Tefft in his design of library buildings, including one for Williams College (Lawrence Hall) and the American Antiquarian Society. Tefft also designed a number of substantial houses in Providence, as well as structures for the Second Baptist Church and the Central Congregational Church (Benefit Street). The latter building is now Memorial Hall at the Rhode Island School of Design, its towers having been removed. In addition, Tefft was the architect of buildings in other places, including the Richmond Female Institute in Virginia.

Tefft dreamed of visiting Europe to observe its architecture for himself. In December 1856, sailed for England to begin this long-desired tour. He was received by many important persons, and while there was able to pursue another of his interests, the promotion of a universal currency. He published the pamphlet Universal Currency: a Plan for Obtaining a Common Currency in France, England, and America, Based on the Decimal System in London during 1858. He planned to continue his travels into Greece and Egypt, but on the trip from Venice to Florence he fell ill with a fever. He died in Florence on December 12, 1859, at age 33.

Tefft was initially buried in Florence, but his remains were later repatriated to Providence. They now rest in Swan Point Cemetery, which Tefft helped to survey and lay out, beneath a monument of his own design.