What do you do if you are a 30-year old Oxford, England-educated minister and you sail across the Atlantic Ocean to practice your religious beliefs in the way you desire and you discover the new boss is the same as the old boss? Well, if it is 1636 and the Massachusetts Bay colony and you are banished for your “newe and dangerous opinions against the authorities” like Roger Williams you go and live with a people who know nothing about such authority. And when you get lucky enough to be given some land on a navigable harbor you name your new settlement in gratitude “for God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress.”
Williams made only civil laws for his new town. Each person would have the right to worship without interference or regulation by the state. Despite its welcoming disposition Providence grew slowly, due in large part to its topography. Williams’ land was dominated by hills that would in the future draw comparisons to the beauty of Rome and the splendid city that grew on its seven hills. But in the beginning it impeded farming and instead the early days found Providence a shipping and shipbuilding town. Trade was especially brisk between Providence Harbor and the West Indies in rum and molasses and slaves.
Following the war, the economy shifted from maritime endeavors to manufacturing, particularly machinery, tools, silverware, jewelry and textiles. Providence boasted some of the largest manufacturing plants in the country, including Brown & Sharpe, Nicholson File, and Gorham Silverware, and at one time was America’s ninth-largest city. The city’s manufacturing boom lasted into the 1920s but was crippled when the nation spiraled into economic depression in the 1930s. The Great Hurricane of 1938 flooded the city and destroyed more businesses. Today, the city that once fashioned itself the “Beehive of Industry” is home to eight hospitals and seven institutions of higher learning, which has shifted the economy into service industries.
Our downtown walking tour will visit the city’s arts district and financial district and governmental center. We’ll walk along Benefit Street where more than 200 restored houses, taverns and other buildings constructed by sea captains and shipbuilders have created the “Mile of History.” But first we’ll start where Roger Williams himself did, on the site of the original Rhode Island settlement, along a narrow strip of land between the river and the hills...
Roger Williams National Memorial
282 North Main Street
This landscaped five-acre park has been carved out of downtown Providence to remember the site of the 1636 settlement. Here Roger Williams found a fresh water spring around which to develop his new colony after being thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious beliefs. A visitor center tells his story.
CROSS NORTH MAIN STREET.
Cathedral of St. John
271 North Main Street
King’s Church was established in 1722 as one of the four original parishes in Rhode Island. The presentchurch dates to 1811 when John Holden Greene, architect of many buildings around Providence, designed it to replace an earlier wooden structure on this site. The building of Smithfield stone with brownstone trim has seen several renovations, blending Gothic elements into its original Federal form. The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island was formed in 1790, but it was not until 1929 that St John’s Church was designated the Episcopal seat and was renamed the Cathedral of St. John. Directly behind the church at 88 Benefit Street is the former home of poet and spiritualist, Sarah Helen Whitman. Whitman was engaged to be married to Edgar Allan Poe in 1848, but the marriage never took place. During the courtship Poe was known to stroll through the small cemetery in the churchyard.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH MAIN STREET. TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET AND WALK UP THE HILL TO BENEFIT STREET. TURN RIGHT.
George R. Drowne House
119 Benefit Street
George R. Drowne built this exuberant mansion with a blend of Federal, Italianate and Second Empire elements in 1866 but shortly sold the property to George A. Seagrave, a textile owner and bank president. Frank Evans Seagrave built an observatory in the backyard at the age of 18 in 1878 to house a 6-foot telescope that his father had bought him as a 16th birthday present. The telescope was the third largest in New England and by far the most powerful privately owned refractor in the region. Seagrave would later gain an international reputation when he was able to predict the appearance of Halley’s comet within a fraction of a minute in 1909.
Old State House
150 Benefit Street
This is one of five former Rhode Island state houses that survive from the days when the General Assembly convened in rotating sessions among the state’s five county seats. The English Baroque building of red brick with rusticated brownstone and painted wood trim, completed in 1762, replaced the town’s first County House, a two-story wooden structure on nearby Meeting House that burned in a Christmas Eve fire in 1758. It was here on May 4, 1776 that the Rhode Island General Assembly renounced allegiance to King George III and so Rhode Island Independence Day is celebrated two months earlier than America’s. The Rhode Island government operated here throughout the 1800s during which time the building was altered and renovated several times. When the current State House on Smith Hill was completed to usher in the 20th century, the Old State House shifted duty from the executive branch to the judicial branch. The Sixth District Courthouse heard cases here until 1975 and is today the home of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.
179 Benefit Street at southwest corner of Meeting Street
Prolific Rhode Island architect Russell Warren, known for his Greek Revival creations, turned to the Gothic Revival style for the state arsenal in 1840.
TURN RIGHT ON MEETING STREET.
Old Brick School House
24 Meeting Street
This timber-framed building constructed on a foundation of rough stone rose in 1769 on the site of Rhode Island’s first state house that had burned a decade earlier. In an upstairs room, the Corporation of Brown University met in the 1770s to pick the site for the college that was relocating from Warren. In 1800, one of the first free public schools in America opened here. It maintained a legacy of education for nearly 200 years; today the school house is a part of the Providence Preservation Society.
21 Meeting Street
John Carter was a Philadelphian who learned the printing trade under Benjamin Franklin. He came to Providence in 1768 and took a partnership in the Providence Gazette and Country Journal, which was begun in October 1762. He built this three-story structure, one of the town’s oldest still standing, to house the paper’s printing presses and the Carter family. Also inside was a boosktore. The building became known locally as “Shakespeare’s Head” for the sign Carter hung that sported a carved bust of William Shakespeare. In 1790 the building became Providence’s firs post office when Carter was appointed town Postmaster. The paper and post office departed in 1793; Carter died in 1814 at the age of 68.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH MAIN STREET. TURN LEFT ON THOMAS STREET TO HEAD UP THE HILL BACK TOWARDS BENEFIT STREET.
First Baptist Meetinghouse
75 North Main Street
After arriving in Rhode Island Roger Williams held religious services in his home before converting his congregation into America’s first Baptist church in 1638. Baptists in Rhode Island through most of the 17th century declined to erect meetinghouses because they felt that buildings reflected vanity. Eventually, however, they came to see the utility of some gathering place, and they erected severely plain-style meetinghouses like the Quakers. When it was built in 1774-1775, the current Meeting House represented a dramatic departure from the traditional Baptist meetinghouse style. It was the first Baptist meetinghouse to have a steeple and bell, making it more like Anglican and Congregational church buildings. Designer Joseph Brown, a “gentleman architect,” copied the five-stage steeple configuration from a plate in James Gibbs’s Book of Architecture from 1728 to create one of the outstanding churches in New England. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Providence Art Association
7-11 Thomas Street
Stepping up Thomas Street is a picturesque procession of studios, galleries and the clubhouse of the Providence Art Club, considered the oldest art club in the nation after the Salmagundi Club in New York City. Launching the parade at #7 Thomas Street is the distinctive Fleur-de-lys Studios built in 1885 in conjunction with the Art Workers Guild to be used for art studios, including Burleigh’s own. It was designed by Sydney Richmond Burleigh, a leading member of the Rhode Island art community and a painter in the realist style, with a flurry of bas-relief medallions across its colorful facade. An important monument to the American Arts and Crafts Movement, the studio was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992. In 1887 the Club moved into the brick 1790 Obadiah Brown House at #11 Thomas Street which was furnished as a clubhouse that has served the organization ever since.
TURN RIGHT ON BENEFIT STREET.
226 Benefit Street
This brawny building of brownstone-faced brick began life in 1856 as the Central Congregational Church. Thomas A. Tefft designed the church with flanking twin towers but they were damaged and removed in the Great Hurricane of 1938. Otherwise the exterior remains virtually unaltered as the building has been adapted for use by the Rhode Island School of Design.
TURN LEFT ON COLLEGE STREET. WALK UP THE HILL TO THE ENTRANCE OF BROWN UNIVERSITY.
Brown University Van Wickle Gates
top of College Street
The Ivy League school was founded in 1764 in Warren as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It was the third college in New England and the seventh in the United States. The college’s mission, its charter stated, was to prepare students “for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness & reputation” by providing instruction “in the Vernacular and Learned Languages, and in the liberal Arts and Sciences.” Strictly interpreted, to this day Brown University, named following a gift bestowed by merchant Nicholas Brown, Jr. in 1804, remains one of only two Ivy League schools without a business school or a law school. The Van Wickle Gates were installed a century later, in 1901. Built of iron, upon piers of brick and stone they feature the Brown University seal in the center, flanked by seals of the State of Rhode Island and the City of Providence. The gates were built with the bequest of Augustus Stout Van Wickle, who had died at the age of 42 in a skeet shooting accident near his home in Hazleton, Pennsylvania in 1898. Van Wickle graduated from Brown in 1876 and within two years was president of the Ebenale & South Mountain Coal Company in the Pennsylvania coal fields. The side gates are never shut, the ceremonial center gates swing open only twice a year - once to allow new students in and once to allow new graduates out.
RETURN DOWN THE HILL AND TURN LEFT TO CONTINUE TOURING BENEFIT STREET.
Providence County Courthouse
250 Benefit Street
This massive Georgian Revival courthouse from the 1920s replaced a rambling High Victorian Gothic courthouse from 1877. Its nine stories reach to a height of 216 feet, the 10th tallest building in the city.
251 Benefit Street
The Providence Library Company was founded in 1753 as an independent member-supported library. By the 1830s its burgeoning book collection demanded a new space and William Strickland of Philadelphia, the country’s leading proponent of Greek Revival architecture, to create its new home. Strickland drew up plans for this Greek temple, the only building he ever designed in New England, which was completed in 1838.The Athenaeum served as the stage for much of the brief courtship between Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman, considered one of the “best female poets of America.” Greatly admiring the writings of one another long before they had corresponded or met, Poe, on a visit to Providence, saw Whitman for the first time in her rose garden behind her house on Benefit Street and immediately fell in love. The two were shortly engaged but the relationship ended in the library on December 23, 1848 when someone handed Whitman a note that said Poe had broken his promise and had been drinking again. Whitman immediately called off the wedding, rushing home and leaving Poe in the library. The two would never see each other again and Poe was dead within a year.
First Unitarian Church
1 Benevolent Street at the southeast corner of Benefit Street
The first churches in the Providence Plantations were Baptist and it was not until 1720 that there were enough congregationalists in the colony to make it possible to establish a church. This is the congregation’s third meeting house, erected in 1815-16 to replace an earlier impressive church designed by Caleb Ormsbee, one of Providence’s important early builder architects, only twenty years earlier. It was destroyed by fire. Architect John Holden Greene, another distinguished local master-builder-architect tapped Renaissance and Gothic influences for the new building, constructed of ashlar-laid white stone, quarried in nearby Johnston. The facade is dominated by an enormous Gothic tri-pointed arch window tucked under the classical pediment. The intricately detailed tower contains the largest bell cast by Paul Revere and son at their foundry in Canton, Massachusetts.
TURN LEFT ON POWER STREET.
John Brown House
52 Power Street
John Quincy Adams considered this house “the most magnificent and elegant private mansion that I have ever seen on this continent.” The man who built it in 1788 was 52 years of age and had built a career as one of America’s great merchants, a slave trader, patriot and politician. John Brown, along with his brothers Nicholas, Joseph and Moses built a financial empire from a candleworks that extended into nearly every aspect of Rhode Island life. John Brown played a leading role in the Gaspee Affair that helped trigger the Revolutionary War in 1775 and he was named a delegate to the Continental Congress but did not attend. Later he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1798, five years before his death. n 1976, the Brown family donated the house to the Rhode Island Historical Society for preservation.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN POWER STREET TO THE BOTTOM OF THE HILL ATSOUTH MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Old Stone Bank
86 South Main Street
The Providence Institution for Savings was founded in 1819 as one of America’s first mutual savings banks. In 1967 it officially changed its name to Old Stone Bank, as it was known in the community since the construction of this headquarters in 1854. In 1994 the bank’s assets were absorbed by Citizen’s Bank and the building with its iconic gold dome was acquired by Brown University for $1.15 million. There were plans to move the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology into the building but renovation costs were deemed too high and the Old Stone Bank was sold again in 2009, this time for more than $2 million.
Joseph Brown House
50 South Main Street
Joseph Brown, the most politically active of the Brown brothers, built this expansive Georgian house in 1774. A self-styled architect, Brown designed the house himself as well as his brother’s house on Power Street, the Market House on the next block, University Hall at Brown University and the First Baptist Church of America. After his death in 1785 the house became the site of his brother John’s Providence Bank in 1791, the fifth bank organized in America.
4 South Main Street at College Street
Though this building is not open to the public, it is a historically significant site. Designed by Joseph Brown, this brick structure was central to Colonial Providence’s trading economy. Tea was burned here in March 1775, and the upper floors were used as barracks for French soldiers during the Revolutionary War. A plaque shows the height reached by floodwaters during the Great Hurricane of 1938. The first market places in Providence were open spaces on the west side of the river. After many years of agitating by prominent businessmen the General Assembly authorized a lottery in 1771 to build a market house along the lines of those in Boston and Philadelphia where the lower floor would be dedicated to commerce and the upper floor for assemblies. Joseph Brown designed the brick market house and his brother Nicholas laid the cornerstone on June 8, 1773. Less than two years later, three hundred pounds of tea were burned here in the Providence Tea Party and when the Revolution came French soldiers were housed here. From 1832 to 1878, Market House served as the seat of city government. Markers on the building indicates the height reached by Providence River floodwaters in the aftermath of a big blow in 1815 and the Great Hurricane of 1938.
TURN LEFT ON COLLEGE STREET.
College Street at Providence River
In 1994 this urban park was carved out of the site of the 1848 Cove Basin where the waters of the Woonasquatucket River flow into the Providence River. The riverwalk in the park traverses Venetian-style footbridges and cobblestone walkways.
CONTINUE ACROSS THE PROVIDENCE RIVER AND STRAIGHT AHEAD ONTO WESTMINSTER STREET.
Merchants Bank Building
20 Westminster Street
Today it is possible to walk right past the Merchants Bank Building as it stands alone, dwarfed by its soaring financial district neighbors. But when it was constructed in 1855 it was the tallest building in the city. Architects Clifton Hall and Alpheus Morse created a flatiron building on the triangular plot of land that stretched six stories high - the limits of masonry construction at that time. The Italian Renaissance brownstone Merchants Bank remained Providence’s reigning “skyscraper” for more than 20 years and was retrofitted with the city’s first elevator. The building was added to the National Historic Register in 1977.
Turk’s Head Building
Westminster and Weybosset streets
The 16-story building, constructed of white brick and trimmed in granite and limestone, also enjoyed a stint as Providence’s tallest building after it was erected in 1913. It was constructed as an investment for members of the Brown family, the last such privately financed large-scale project to appear in the city. This prominent intersection was the site of Jacob Whitman’s house and shop back in the 18th century. He mounted a ship’s figurehead of an Ottoman warrior above his establishment and the corner became known as “Turk’s Head.” When New York architects Howells & Stokes fitted the building into the v-shaped intersection they paid tribute to the legacy with a stone Turk.
BEAR LEFT ON WEYBOSSET STREET.
10 Weybosset Street
Considered Providence’s first true skyscraper, this ten-story office building introduced steel-frame construction to the city when it was constructed in 1896. It was financed by Joseph Bannigan emigrated from Ireland after the potato famine and became an apprentice jeweler before eventually owning the fledging but growing Woonsocket Rubber Company. He eventually became president of the U.S. Rubber Company that bought out his local concern. After selling his interest in U.S. Rubber he ventured into real estate, beginning with this building.
24 Weybosset Street
This formidable gray granite building originally stood at the head of Providence’s largest wharf. Designed in 1855 by Ammi B. Young, the first Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury Department, it resembles many similar federal buildings of Young’s with rusticated base and prominent corner quoins. Its large dome on top is not so common, however. When it was built the main post office, the custome house and federal court were all located here.
65 Weybosset Street
America’s oldest surviving enclosed shopping center - closed since 2009 - was built in 1828. The Arcade was designed by architects Russell Warren and James Bucklin to mimic arcade malls that sprang up in Europe in the 19th century and actually serves as an indoor street connecting Weybosset and Westminster streets. Boasting six massive granite Ionic columns at either end and elaborate iron railings lining walkways that ring its upper floors, the Arcade is a nationally important example of Greek revival architecture. It was constructed by Cyrus Butler and met initial ridicule for its remoteness from Market Square on the east side of the river but it was the beginning of today’s downtown Providence.
Providence Performing Arts Center
220 Weybosset Street
In the early days of movies Loew’s was in the business of selling tickets to its theaters - not the movies. In 1928 it sunk over $2 million into this opulent showcase, designed by brothers George and C.W. Rapp, the pre-eminent theater architect in America. On the opening day of the Loew’s Movie Palace on October 6, 1928 more than 14,000 people showed up to see the gilded interior plasterwork, columns of imported marble, huge crystal chandeliers and listen to music on the $90,000 Robert Morton organ. The incidental main feature was Excess Baggage. In the wave of extinction of downtown movie houses in the 1970s Loew’s left in 1971. The theater struggled on as The Palace and then the Ocean State Theatre and barely escaped the wrecking ball. A 1990s restoration returned the theater to a world-class facility hosting first-class Broadway touring shows, plays, contemporary acts, and concerts.
Beneficient Congregational Meetinghouse
300 Weybosset Street
The Beneficient Congregationalists splintered from the church on the east side of the Providence River and built a meetinghouse here in 1743. The present church dates to 1809 with a Greek Revival makeover in 1836. Its hemispherical dome earned it the popular nickname of Round Top Church, a departure from the familiar New England steeple executed by architects Bernard Eddy and John Newman. The inside is highlighted by a crystal chandelier constructed of almost 6,000 individual pieces of glass.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO MATHEWSON STREET AND TURN LEFT, OPPOSITE THE PROVIDENCE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER.
Grace Episcopal Church
175 Mathewson Street
Richard Upjohn, America’s foremost advocate of the Gothic Revival style of architecture, executed this church, now on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1845. It features the first painted windows to appear on the Rhode Island streetscape. Between 1875 and 1829 fifteen stained glass windows were installed in the church, including one by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
TURN RIGHT ON MESSENGER STREET TO WALK THROUGH THE COMMERCIAL HEART OF THE CITY IN THE LATE 1800s.
Union Trust Building
62 Dorrance Street at Messenger Street
Constructed in 1901, this Beaux Arts skyscraper subscribes to the convention of early high-rise building in conforming to the appearance of a classical column with a strong base, less decorated shaft and well-defined capital. Above the doorway is a carved sculpture by Daniel Chester French, creator of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., that depicts Roger Williams and Chief Neetops.
TURN LEFT ON DORRANCE STREET.
Providence City Hall
25 Dorrance Street
In the 1870s it was popular among American town governments to construct civic buildings in the French Empire style, emanating Napoleon III’s makeover of Paris in the style of Louis XIV. It was also popular a half-century later to start tearing down the old 19th century city halls in favor of more classical designs. One that survived was the Providence City Hall and after it evaded a planned demolition at mid-century, it even received a meticulous restoration and looks much as it did when it was completed to the plans of Boston architect Samuel J.F. Thayer in 1878 - right down to the original color scheme of olive green, maroon and tan.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK THROUGH KENNEDY PLAZA, AN OPEN SPACE THAT DATES TO 1848 WHEN IT WAS BIRTHED AS EXCHANGE PLAZA IN FRONT OF THE CITY’S FIRST RAILROAD STATION.
Industrial Trust Company
55 Kennedy Plaza
This 1920s landmark looks as if it was plucked from the streets of New York City with its step-backs and massive presence. The step-backs were mandated in lower Manhattan to allow light into the cavernous canyons of lower Manhattan. New York architects Walker & Gillette brought the innovative design to the open air of Kennedy Plaza for a building that was New England’s tallest for over twenty years. At 428 feet and 26 stories, it has been the tallest building in Providence since it was completed in 1927. Closer to the ground, the smooth powerful base was designed to match the rooftops of since-demolished four-story buildings to tie the banking headquarters to the surrounding streetscape.
Ambrose Burnside Statue
Burnside Park, north side of Kennedy Plaza
The equestrian statue of General Ambrose Burnside was designed by Launt Thompson and cast at the Henry-Bonnard foundry in New York City in 1887 at the cost of $40,000. On hand at the dedication of the 16-foot statue on July 4 were state luminaries from the governor on down and General William Tecumseh Sherman. Burnside, an Indiana native, married a Providence girl while he was in command of Fort Adams in Newport in 1852. Burnside resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to manufacture a breech-loading carbine rifle and special brass cartridge. The weapon was widely used during the Civil War and its popularity led to his steady rise through the ranks during the war, in spite of his deficiencies as a field commander. And he knew it. When offered command of the Union Army of the Potomac by Abraham Lincoln he repeatedly declined, once saying “I was not competent to command such a large army as this.” After the war ended he was immediately elected to three consecutive one-year terms as governor of Rhode Island and then twice elected to the United States Senate, where he died in 1881.
25 Kennedy Plaza at east end of plaza
The local firm of Clarke and Howe prevailed in a competition to design this building that anchors the east end of Kennedy Plaza in 1904 and delivered an important contribution to the canon of Beaux Arts architecture in America. When it was completed in 1908 at a cost of about $1,300,000 it was hailed as one of the finest federal buildings outside Washington. Originally built as offices for postal, customs, and federal courts, the building is now solely used by the United States District Court. Two groups of allegorical statues, designed by J. Massey Rhind of New York, flank the major entrances on the building’s west side. The marble statues are twice life-size, and each consists of a central seated figure with smaller figures on either side. The group on the right represents “the Nation as Sovereign Power,” flanked by “Justice, and Law and Order;” the one on the left depicts “Providence as Independent Thought,” flanked by “Industry and Education.”
TURN LEFT ON EXCHANGE STREET.
John O. Pastore Federal Building
3 Exchange Terrace
This three-story red brick and limestone building was constructed in 1939-40 at a cost of $896,000 as a post office annex. A product of the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), it is an example of Stripped Classical architectural style, with Art Deco elements in the low bas-relief designs over the entrances and windows. The U.S. General Services Administration acquired the building in 1961 and renamed it in 1977 for former Governor and U.S. Senator John O. Pastore.
TURN LEFT ON EXCHANGE TERRACE.
36 Exchange Terrace
Now the busy heart of city, this area in 1847 looked much as it had when Roger Williams sailed up the Providence River 200 years earlier. That began to change with the arrival of the railroad and the construction of the original Union Station, then considered the longest building in America at around 700 feet long (still much less than a football field). The station burned in 1896 and was replaced with a distinctive yellow brick Union Station for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company and was soon serving nearly 300 trains a day. By the middle of the 20th century that number had dwindled to fewer than a hundred and by the 1980s a much smaller, more efficient depot was constructed a short walk away. Before the old station could be renovated it was decimated by fire and what emerged was a variety of office and retail space.
TURN RIGHT ON DORRANCE STREET.
Providence Biltmore Hotel
11 Dorrance Street
In the 1920s large towns and small cities aspiring to bigger things fretted about whether the hospitality facilities in their burg was up to snuff for potential deep-pocketed visitors. It was common for local business leaders to band together to finance the building of a suitably impressive local hotel. Providence was such a city, albeit bigger than most. When the Providence Chamber of Commerce embraked on this project it was the biggest such parochial effort in the country. Completed in 1922 the 18-story neo-Colonial skyscraper designed by New York hotel specialists Warren & Wetmore was actually the city’s tallest buidling for a spell. And it reigned as the city’s finest hotel from the day it opened until it closed in 1975. Local businessmen again orchestrated its rebirth, taking advantage of Federal tax credits to rehabilitate the building. The original 600 rooms were pared down to 292 more spacious guestrooms and is once again at the first rank of Providence hotels.
CONTINUE STRAIGHT ACROSS THE RIVER AND UP THE HILL ONTO FRANCIS STREET.
Providence Place Mall
1 Providence Place
Completed in 1999 as the centerpiece of a Capital Center revitalization plan, this is by far the largest shopping center in Rhode Island and, in fact, the largest building of any kind in the state. Its cost of $500 million was borne by both taxpayers and developers in a joint public and private venture.
Rhode Island State House
Smith Hill at 90 Smith Street between Francis and Gaspee streets
Between the building of the Old State House (seen earlier on the tour) in 1771 and the beginning of construction on its replacement atop Smith Hill in 1895, Rhode Island had grown into America’s wealthiest state, per capita. America’s most celebrated architectural firm, McKim, Mead and White of New York, was selected for the commission to deliver a suitably impressive monument for the state government. Rendered in gleaming white Georgia marble with 15 million bricks, the resulting building helped usher in an era of classically inspired public buildings across the country. The dome that is visible for miles is the fourth largest unsupported marble dome in the world. It is capped by a gold-covered bronze statue of Independent Man, weighing more than 500 pounds. Independent Man represents freedom and independence and alludes to the independent spirit which led Roger Williams to settle and establish Providence and later Rhode Island. Among the state treasures on display inside are the only two surviving regimental flags from Rhode Island’s Continental Army, a full-length Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, and mementoes of native son Nathanael Greene’s career; a heroic statue ofGeneral Greene resides in the State house Plaza. Out front is the “Gettysburg Cannon,” a bronze Napoleon 12-pounder used by the Rhode Island Light Artillery, Battery B, at the point where General Pickett made his famous charge at the Union lines.
TURN RIGHT ON SIMTH STREET BEHIND THE STATE HOUSE AND CROSS THE PROVIDENCE RIVER TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.