1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Providence

PROVIDENCE, the second largest city of New England, capital of Rhode Island, U.S.A., the county-seat of Providence county, and a port of entry, situated at the head of Providence river (the N. arm of Narragansett Bay) and at the influx of the Seekonk (or Blackstone), Moshassuck and Woonasquatucket rivers, about 35 m. from the Atlantic ocean, 45 m. by rail S.S.W. of Boston, and 188 m. E.N.E. of New York. Pop. (1890), 132,146; (1900), 175,597; (1905, state census), 198,635, of whom 65,746 were foreign-born, including 17,155 Irish, 12,114 Italians, 9795 English, 4221 English Canadians, 4005 French Canadians, 3685 Russians, 3347 Swedes, 2211 Germans, 2173 Portuguese (including some Bravas from the Cape Verde Islands), and 1930 Scotsmen. The figure for 1910 was 224,326. Providence is served by the New York, New Haven & Hartford railway and by steamboat lines to Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Norfolk. It extends over an area of more than 18 sq. m., and is irregularly laid out. The Seekonk and Providence rivers mark the eastern boundary, the Providence and Moshassuck rivers divide the middle and northern portion of the city into the east and west sides, and the Woonasquatucket river divides the west side into the northern and southern parts. The west side is a level or gently rolling plain only a few feet above the sea, but on the eastern side are a plateau and hills rising to a maximum height of about 200 ft. The larger and newer portion of the business district is along the western bank of the Providence, and some of the best business houses are on made land. The part of the city which has most historic interest is on the east side, where are the most attractive residences. Most of the manufactories are along the banks of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck. The names of streets—Pound, Sovereign, Shilling, Dollar, Doubloon, Benevolent, Benefit, Hope, Friendship, Peace, &c., reflect the early commercial importance of the city and its strong Quaker element.

The principal building is the large State House, completed in 1902, of Georgia marble and white granite, surmounted by a central dome of marble, 235 ft. high, and standing on a rise of ground (Capitol Hill) about ½ m. north by west of the steamboat landing at the head of Providence river; in the state chamber is a full length portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. The old State House on Benefit Street, on the east side, is now used as the 6th district (Providence and North Providence) court-house. Near the centre of the city (in Exchange Place) is the city-hall (1878), a handsome structure of granite; on its façade is a medallion of Roger Williams. Across Exchange Place from the city-hall is the Federal Building (1908), which houses the post-office, custom-house, U.S. courts, &c. The county court-house (1877) is the only other prominent government building. The Arcade (1828), 225 ft. long, with six massive Ionic columns at each entrance, the Butler Exchange, and a few other fine buildings fronting on Westminster Street are among the more prominent business buildings. In Cranston Street, between Waterloo and Dexter, is an Armory, with the largest hall in New England. A handsome public library building, opened in 1900, lying between Fountain, Greene and Washington Streets, houses a good collection of 140,000 vols. (in 1909); other libraries are the State Library (30,000 volumes), the State Law Library (50,000 volumes) in the Providence county courthouse, the Providence Athenaeum (the Providence Library, established in 1753, united in 1836 with the Providence Athenaeum, established in 1831; in 1909 it had 73,000 volumes), the library of the Rhode Island Historical Society (established 1822; with 30,000 volumes and 50,000 pamphlets in 1909), and the libraries of Brown University. The meeting-house of the First Baptist Church, founded by Roger Williams, the oldest organization of this sect in the United States, was built in 1775 and was designed to resemble St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, London. Its bell still rings the curfew at nine o'clock every evening; and the commencements of Brown University are held here. The Friends’ meeting-house, another interesting old building, was erected in 1759. The Beneficent Church (Congregational, 1809–1810) is in the Colonial style, with a rounded dome. The Church of the Blessed Sacrament (Roman Catholic), in Academy Street, was designed by John La Farge. The Roman Catholic Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul (1878) is of brown stone and has excellent interior decorations. Providence is the see of a Protestant Episcopal bishop. In Cathedral Square is a statue (1889) by Henry Hudson Kitson of Thomas A. Doyle, mayor of the city (1864–1869, 1870–1881, and from 1884 until his death in 1886). There is an equestrian statue (1887) by Launt Thompson of General A. E. Burnside in City Hall Park. In front of the post-office are two allegorical groups (“Providence” and “the United States”) by J. Massey Rhind. In Columbus Park is a replica of Bartholdi’s “Columbus,” which was cast in silver by Providence metal workers for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Other statues are Hippolyte Hubert’s Ebenezer Knight Dexter (erected 1894), George Thomas Brewster’s bronze “Genius of Religious Liberty” on the dome of the State House, Franklin Simmons’s Roger Williams (1877) in Roger Williams Park, a Hellenic bronze “Pancratiast” (1900, presented to the city by Paul Bajnotti of Turin) also in Roger Williams Park, and a Hellenistic statue of Augustus on the campus of Brown University. Two fountains also are worth mention: the Bajnotti Memorial Fountain in City Hall Park, a memorial to the wife of Paul Bajnotti, representing “The Struggle of Life” and designed by Enid Yandell; and the Elisha Dyer Memorial Fountain, a bronze athlete, by H. H. Kitson. There are art collections in Brown University and in the Annmary Brown Memorial (given to the city as a memorial to his wife, a daughter of Nicholas Brown, by Rush C. Hawkins, b. 1831). Among interesting old houses of the 18th century are the Admiral Hopkins House, in Hopkins Park, the Stephen Hopkins House (1742; 9 Hopkins St.), the John Carter Brown House (1791; 357 Benefit St.), and the John Brown House (1786; 52 Power St.). There are many colonial houses, red brick with marble trimmings, set well back from the street, with an occasional walled garden. There are many musical societies in Providence, including the Chopin Club (1879), the Arion Club (1880); the Einklang Singing Society (1890; German), the Verdandi Swedish Singing Society (1894), and the Providence Musical Association (1904). Other clubs are the Brown Union, University Club, a cricket and a polo club, golf clubs, yacht clubs and canoe clubs, the Handicraft Club, the Providence Art Club, the Hope Club and the Deutsche Gesellschaft.

Under the municipal park commissioners there are 33 public parks with a total area of 644.38 acres, and the city supports summer playgrounds; the state board of metropolitan park commissioners controls a large park system in the metropolitan park district, and a system of boulevards, connecting the several parks and other public reservations; there are nine metropolitan reservations, containing 677 acres, the largest being Lincoln Woods, of 460 acres, 4 m. north of the State House. Other metropolitan reservations are: Woonasquatucket Reservation (53 acres; 2½ m. west of the State House); Edgewood Beach (2½ m. south of the State House); and the Ten Mile River Reservation (100 acres; 4¾ m. north-east of the State House) on both sides of Ten Mile River. The finest municipal reservation is Roger Williams Park (432 acres, of which 140 are water), with 9 m. of drives and boulevards, in the southern part of the city, 2½ m. from the State House. It was a part of the original tract ceded to Roger Williams by Miantonomo; 107 acres were a farm which Betsy Williams (d. 1871), a lineal descendant of Roger Williams, left to the city by will. In the park are a chain of lakes with a shore front of 7½ m., a boat-house, a casino, a speedway and athletic grounds, a municipal natural history museum, and the Betsy Williams Cottage (1775). Other municipal parks are: Neutaconkanut (40½ acres; 2½ m. west of the State House) on high land commanding a view to the east and south; Davis Park (38½ acres) with amusement grounds; Blackstone Park (43 acres, 1½ m. east of the State House) along the Seekonk river; Hopkins Park (¾ m. north of the State House), comprising the estate of Esek Hopkins (1718–1802), commander of the American N;ivy in the War of Independence, with a historical museum in the Admiral Hopkins House; and City Hall Park. Blackstone Boulevard is 1¾ m. long; and Pleasant Valley Parkway is 1¼ m. long. Enclosed by a railing near the eastern end of Power Street, on the bank of the Seekonk, is What Cheer Slate[1] Rock, according to tradition the first landing place of Roger Williams. In the North Burial Ground are the remains of Stephen Hopkins (1707–1785), a citizen of Providence, a delegate to the Albany convention of 1754, a colonial governor of Rhode Island (1755–1757, 1758–1762, 1763–1765, and 1767–1768), a member of the Continental Congress in 1774–1780 and a signer of the Declaration of Independence; of William Barton (1748–1831), who in the War of Independence captured General Richard Prescott near Newport on the 10th of July 1777; of Francis Wayland; and of Nicholas Brown, who was a patron of Brown University and one of the founders of the Providence Athenaeum and of the Butler Hospital for the Insane.

On the steep slope of College Hill (or Prospect Hill) in the east side near the business district, is Brown University (1764)—one of the eight colleges in the United States founded before 1776—closely connected with the history of Providence, Rhode Island, and the Baptist Church in America. It has an undergraduate department for men, with courses, largely elective, leading to the degrees of A.B. and Ph.B., and courses, almost wholly prescribed, in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. It includes, besides “The Women’s College in Brown University,” a separate college for women, and a graduate department open to both men and women. The campus is shaded by some fine old elms and is surrounded by an iron fence with beautiful memorial gates. In 1910 there were twenty-two buildings, including the following: University Hall (erected in 1770 and used during the War of Independence as barracks and hospital by American and French soldiers); Sayles Memorial Hall (1881), containing the chapel, lecture halls and seminary rooms; three library buildings, the John Hay Library (which occupies the site of the old President’s House), the old University Library (1878) and the John Carter Brown Library (1904); the Ladd Astronomical Observatory, with a 12-in. equatorial and much other valuable equipment; Rhode Island Hall (1840), containing a biological laboratory and a natural history museum; Manning Hall (1834), containing an art museum; Wilson Hall (1891), containing a physical and a psychological laboratory; Rogers Hall (1862), a chemical laboratory; an engineering building (1903); the Lyman gymnasium (1891) and Colgate Hoyt swimming pool (1904); an administration building (1902); the Sayles gymnasium (1906) for women; Rockefeller Hall (1903), occupied by the Brown Union, a students’ organization and the Young Men’s Christian Association; the residence halls: University Hall (1770, remodelled 1883), Hope College (1822 and 1891), Slater Hall (1879), Maxcy Hall (1895), and Caswell Hall (1903); and the Carrie (clock) Tower, erected in 1904 by Paul Bajnotti, of Turin, Italy, as a memorial to his wife, Carrie Mathilde Brown, of Providence. Besides the general library, containing (1909) about 164,000 volumes, the university owns the separately housed John Carter Brown Library of 20,000 volumes, one of the best collections in the world of material on early American history (especially of books printed before 1800), which, with an endowment of $500,000, was presented to the university in 1901 in accordance with the will of John Nicholas Brown, the son of John Carter Brown (1797–1874) a prominent Providence merchant, who began the collection. In 1909 the university had an endowment fund of $3,416,744, 90 instructors and 993 students, of whom 88 were graduates; of the undergraduates 179 were enrolled in the Women’s College. The charter of the institution requires that it shall be governed by a board of thirty-six trustees, of whom twenty-two shall be Baptists, five Friends, four Congregationalists, and five Episcopalians, and by twelve fellows (including the president) of whom eight (including the president) shall be Baptists, “and the rest indifferently of any or all denominations.” At the time it was framed the charter was considered extraordinarily liberal. Only two provisions are included regarding the character of instruction to be offered: first that “the public teaching shall in general respect the sciences,” and second, that “into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests, but on the contrary all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute and uninterrupted liberty of conscience.” The government has always been largely non-sectarian in spirit, and a movement was on foot in 1910 to abolish the denominational requirements for trustees and fellows.

Brown University, the first institution for higher education established by American Baptists, was incorporated in 1764, and although still under its original charter was known for the first forty years as Rhode Island College. The Latin or preparatory school was opened at Warren in 1764 and the college was started there in 1766, but in 1770 the institution was removed to Providence. Although its work was interrupted by the War of Independence, the institution was reopened in 1782 and ten years later it began to receive aid from Nicholas Brown (1769–1841), a wealthy merchant who graduated from the Rhode Island College in 1786; it was named in his honour in 1804, and up to the time of his death his gifts amounted to about $160,000. Dr Francis Wayland, the most eminent of its presidents, began his administration in 1827 and in twenty-eight years of service as its head he established the elective system and greatly raised the standard of scholarship. Brown actually became a university under Elisha Benjamin Andrews, who was president in 1889–1898, who developed the graduate school and undergraduate instruction in history and social and political science, and who was succeeded in 1899 by William Herbert Perry Faunce (b. 1859), who graduated at Brown in 1880. In 1900 and 1901 more than $2,000,000 was added to the endowment of the university. The Women’s College was founded in 1891, and in 1897 it was accepted by the corporation as a department of the university. Among distinguished alumni of Brown are Henry Wheaton (1785–1848), John Hay, Richard Olney, James Burrill Angell (b. 1829) Adoniram Judson, William Learned Marcy, Wilbur Fisk, Horace Mann, Samuel Gridley Howe, Barnas Sears, Edwards Amasa Park, Samuel Sullivan Cox, George Park Fisher, George Dana Boardman, Alexander Lyman Holley, and Albert Harkness.

In Providence are the Rhode Island Normal School (in the north part of the city, in Gaspee St.; established in 1854; discontinued in 1857; re-established in 1871), which has a fine building (1898), the Rhode Island Institute for the Deaf (1876), and the Rhode Island School of Design (1877; partially supported by the state, since 1882, and by the city), affiliated with Brown University. The following secondary schools are in the city: four high schools, one of which is technical, La Salle Academy (1871; Roman Catholic, under the Brothers of the Christian Schools), Saint Xavier’s Academy (Roman Catholic), the Academy of the Sacred Heart (Roman Catholic), Moses Brown School (Friends; at Portsmouth in 1784–1788; re-established in Providence in 1814), the Brown school for boys (non-sectarian), Fielden-Chace school for girls (non-sectarian), and the Lincoln School (non-sectarian). The public school system has benefited by the presence of Brown University, whose faculty has been largely represented on the school committee; by an agreement with the university its professor of the theory and practice of education is director of the training department in the high schools, and there are other schemes of co-operation. Transition classes between the kindergarten and primary were long peculiar to the Providence public schools. In 1908 a “Sunshine School” was established, with sun and fresh-air treatment for invalid pupils.

The Providence Journal (Independent, daily, 1829), the most important newspaper published in the state, and the Evening Bulletin (Independent, 1863) are controlled by the same company.

The charitable institutions include the Rhode Island Hospital (1863, private), the Prisoners’ Aid Association (1872), the Providence Rescue Home and Mission (1896), the Bethany Home of Rhode Island (1892), a temporary home for women; the House of the Good Shepherd (1904), the Lying-in Hospital (1884), Saint Joseph’s Hospital (1892; Sisters of St Francis), two dispensaries, a City Hospital for the Treatment of Contagious Diseases (1909) on Capitol Hill; the Butler Hospital for the Insane, which is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the country, was established by a bequest of $30,000 left in 1841 by Nicholas Brown, and has about 120 acres of beautiful grounds on the western bank of the Seekonk; the Dexter Asylum for the Poor (endowed with the Dexter Fund and limited to those who have a legal settlement in Providence, i.e. have paid taxes on $200 worth of property for five years; and hence a charity of little practical use); a home for aged men (1875), a home for aged women (1856), St Elizabeth’s Home (1882, Protestant Episcopal) for incurable and convalescent women; a home for aged coloured women (1890), five temporary homes, the Rhode Island Catholic Orphan Asylum (1851, Sisters of Mercy), St Vincent de Paul’s Infant Asylum (1892, Sisters of Divine Providence), St Mary’s Orphanage (1873, Protestant Episcopal), the State Home and School (1885) for indigent and neglected children, Providence Children’s Friend Society (1835), other homes for children, day nurseries, and the Providence Society for organizing charity (1892). Jewish charities are prominent. The St Vincent de Paul Society is the organized charity of the Roman Catholic churches.

The harbour of Providence and its approaches have been much improved since the middle of the 19th century by the Federal and state governments. Between 1853 and 1873 the low-water depth of the channel was increased from 4½ ft. to 12 ft., at a cost of $59,000; from 1878 to 1895 the depth of the channel was further increased to 25 ft., and anchorage basins were created with a minimum depth of 20 ft. for a width of 600 ft., with a minimum depth of 18 ft. for a width of 725 ft., with a minimum depth of 12 ft. for a width of 940 ft., and with a minimum depth of 6 ft. for a width of 1060 ft. Between 1896 and 1906 the channel from Sassafras Point to the ocean was widened to 400 ft. and by 1909 the anchorage area, having a depth of 25 ft., was further increased to about 288 acres. Between 1867 and 1909 the channel of the Seekonk river was dredged to a depth of 16 ft. as far as Pawtucket at the head of navigation. In 1908 the commerce, largely coastwise, of Providence Harbor, amounted to 3,379,594 tons, chiefly coal, general merchandise and fish, valued at $93,309,495. In 1909 the value of the foreign imports, chiefly salt from Turks Island and lumber from Nova Scotia, amounted to $1,893,551, and the value of the exports to $12,517. Of greater importance to Providence than its commerce are its manufactures, the value of which in 1905 was $91,980,963, or 16.9% more than in 1900. Its factory products were valued at 45.5% of the state’s total; its wage earners were 40.9% of the state’s total; and nearly one-half of the worsted goods and more than one-fourth of all the textiles made in the state were manufactured here, as were four-fifths of the rubber and elastic goods, nine-tenths of the foundry and machine-shop products, and all the gold and silver refined, not from the ore. The Gorham Company engage here in the manufacture of gold, silver and bronze works of art; the American Screw Company, the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company, and the Nicholson File Company have factories here; and here the famous Corliss engines were first made about 1847. In 1905 Rhode Island ranked first among the states and Territories of the Union in the value of jewelry manufactured and more than 99% of this was made in Providence, which produced 26.9% (by value) of all the jewelry made in the United States. The value of the jewelry made in Providence in 1905 was $14,317,050, being 15.6% of the value of the city’s entire factory product. Closely allied with this manufacture were the reducing and refining of gold and silver sweepings, &c. (none from ore), with a product value in 1905 of $4,260,698, and silversmithing and the manufacture of silver-ware with products in 1905 valued at $5,323,264. Actually the largest industry in 1905 was the manufacture of worsted goods, valued at $21,020,892. Other important manufactures are foundry and machine-shop products (1905, $9,358,687), woollen goods ($2,080,658), cotton goods ($1,025,264) and cotton small wares ($1,967,298), dyeing and finishing textiles ($2,254,074), rubber and elastic goods ($2,167,983), and malt liquors ($1,427,246).

Providence is governed under a city charter of 1832, subsequently amended. A town meeting is still held annually for the administration of the fund (referred to above) called the Dexter donation. Under the city charter only citizens who pay a tax on $134 worth of real property or $200 worth of personal property may vote for members of the city council. Until 1842 there was the further requirements that every voter should be the eldest son of a freeholder. The city council is composed of: a board of aldermen, one from each of the ten wards, which may redistrict the city every five years, and until 1895 acted as a returning board, and which is presided over by the mayor; and a common council of four members from each ward, elected in open ward-meeting by the qualified freeholders of the ward. Elections are annual. The aldermen and common council meet together to organize and to elect municipal officers, not otherwise provided for. The greater size of the common council gives it the power in joint sessions; and although the vote of the city for mayor is normally Democratic, the vote of the qualified freeholders (which is only about 40% of the total vote) for common-councilmen and aldermen is always Republican.

The two houses acted before 1895 as a board of registration; the council now chooses a board of three members with a term of three years. The city council and a school committee of 33 members (3 ex officio; 30 elected by wards, one each year from each ward for a three-year term) control the public schools. The mayor has had the veto power only since 1854; and until 1866 his veto could be overridden by a majority vote; a three-fifths vote of each chamber is now necessary. The mayor was at the head of the police department until 1901, when a commission of three was created; until 1906 these police commissioners were appointed by the governor of the state, but they are now chosen by the mayor with the approval of the board of aldermen. In the same way the mayor appoints a commissioner of public works for a term of three years. The three commissioners of the fire department and the three members of the board for the assessment of taxes are chosen by the city council. The city treasurer (since 1858) and the overseer of the poor and the harbour-master (since 1866) are elected by popular vote. The municipality owns and operates the waterworks and there are municipal bath-houses.

Providence was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, an exile from Massachusetts, and its early history is closely bound up with the early history of Rhode Island, it being one of the four towns out of which this commonwealth was formed. Having agreed with Canonicus and Miantonomo, the Narraganset sachems, for the purchase of a considerable tract of land, Williams built his house about 50 ft. east of what is now North Main Street and nearly opposite the confluence of the Moshassuck and Woonasquatucket rivers, and he named the place Providence in recognition of his divine guidance hither. He and a few companions who had accompanied him into exile immediately established a town government with monthly town meetings, and in the next year, 1637, after the arrival of a few more settlers, a plantation covenant was adopted which laid the basis of the future commonwealth on a new principle—the complete separation of religious and civil affairs. In 1644 Williams secured a charter uniting Providence, Aquidneck (Portsmouth), and Newport, as “The Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narraganset Bay in New England”; these three towns (and Warwick) organized in Providence in May 1647 under this government. The charter of the 24th of November 1663, to the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, perpetuated the name Providence Plantations, which still remains a part of the legal title of the state. Providence was incorporated as a town by the Colonial Assembly in 1649; in 1730–1731, when the area of Providence was 370 sq. m., Scituate (including Foster), Glocester (including Burrillville), and Smithfield (including North Smithfield and Lincoln) were set off; in the next thirty years the area of the township was reduced to 5½ sq. m. by the separation of Cranston, Johnston and North Providence, parts of which have been re-annexed since 1860. Providence was chartered as a city in 1832. During King Philip’s War, in 1676, the town was attacked by Indians and the northern half was burned. In June 1772, a British schooner, the “Gaspee,” while chasing a Providence packet-boat ran aground at what has since become known as Gaspee Point, whereupon its capture was planned by John Brown (1736–1828), a Providence merchant, and the plan—including the burning of the vessel—was carried out under the command of Abraham Whipple (1733–1819). During the war much privateering was carried on from Providence. The British occupation of Newport during the War of Independence caused the transfer of the important foreign commerce of that city to Providence, but as a consequence of their superior railway facilities most of this went to New York and Boston before the middle of the 19th century. In September 1815 Providence visited by a gale which did about $1,000,000 damage to its shipping and other property. In 1830 Providence had ceased to be a great port and had begun to be a textile manufacturing place. Until 1900 Providence was one of the two capitals of the state, Newport being the other; since 1900 it has been the sole capital.

See H. C. Dorr, “The Planting and Growth of Providence,” in the Rhode Island Historical Tracts (Providence, 1882); W. A. Greene and others, The Providence Plantations for Two Hundred and Fifty Years (Providence, 1886); W. R. Staples, Annals of the Town of Providence (Providence, 1843); W. B. Weeden, “Providence, the Colony of Hope,” in L. P. Powell’s Historic Towns of New England York, 1898); H. K. Stokes, “Finances and Administration of Providence” (Baltimore, 1903) in Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science; and William Kirk and others, A Modern City: Providence, Rhode Island, and Its Activities (Chicago, 1909).

  1. So called because Roger Williams was greeted here by Indians, who said “What cheer, Netop?” (“Netop” meaning friend).