Thomas Alexander Tefft (1826-1859) was born in Richmond, Rhode Island, on August 2, 1826. He went to a school kept by Elisha Baggs and showed an early interest in drawing, ornamental lettering, and the flute. At seventeen he began to keep school himself, and began to design one room schoolhouses as early as 1844. He became acquainted with Henry Barnard, school commissioner for Rhode Island, who advised him to leave Richmond and to study architecture in Providence. He entered the office of Tallman and Bucklin, and became a member of the household of architect James C. Bucklin. On the further advice of Henry Barnard, in 1847 Tefft entered Brown. He was still a student when Bucklin recommended him to John Kingsbury 1826 as the architect of the school for young ladies which Kingsbury was having built on Benefit Street. Before he came to Brown, he had already designed the Providence railroad station which was built in 1848 under the superintendence of Bucklin. When he entered Brown, Tefft had registered for the English and Scientific Course. In 1850 the “New System,” which introduced the Ph.B. degree obtainable in three years without the study of ancient languages, enabled Tefft to graduate in 1851, the first to earn that degree.
At Brown Tefft became acquainted with the librarian and professor of modern languages, Charles Coffin Jewett 1835, who had traveled in Europe and visited libraries, and was able to aid him in his design of library buildings, including Lawrence Hall at Williams College and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. Tefft was also the architect of a number of substantial houses in Providence. He designed the Second Baptist Church and the Central Congregational Church on Benefit Street, now a building of the Rhode Island School of Design with its towers removed, and also buildings in other areas, such as the Richmond Female Institute. He dreamed of visiting Europe to observe its architecture, and in December 1856 sailed for England to begin his tour. He was received by many important persons, and was able to pursue another interest of his, universal currency. In 1858 he published a pamphlet, Universal Currency: a Plan for Obtaining a Common Currency in France, England, and America, Based on the Decimal System. He had hoped to continue his travels to Greece and Egypt, but on the trip from Venice to Florence he became ill with a fever and died in Florence on December 12, 1859. He was 33 years old. In May of 1859 he had written a verse beginning:
“O let me never die in far off land,
Where no familiar face shall come;
Where burning brow shall know no gentle hand,
Or quickened ear no hallowed sounds of home!”
He was buried in Florence, but later his remains were removed to Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, which he had helped to survey and lay out, and rest beneath a monument of his own design.