Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Providence

From volume XIX of the work.
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PROVIDENCE, a city of the United States, one of the capitals of the State of Rhode Island (the other being Newport), and the seat of justice of Providence county, is situated in 41° 49′ 22″ N. lat. and 71° 24′ 48″ W. long., at the head of Narragansett Bay, on both banks of Providence River, and with Seekonk River on its eastern boundary. A nearly circular sheet of water known as the Cove lies in the heart of the city at the junction of river and estuaries.

Plan of Providence.

The total area of Providence is 14.76 square miles. On the east side the ground rises to a height of 204 feet, and on the west, where there is much more of level surface, to 75 feet; but both the sides and summits of the hills are occupied by dwelling-houses. To the south lies the Roger Williams Park (102 acres), bequeathed to the city in 1871 by Betsy Williams, a descendant of the founder of Providence. The best known of all the public institutions is Brown University, whose spacious buildings (University Hall, Manning Hall, Hope College, Rhode Island Hall, Sayles Memorial Hall, Slater Hall, &c.) crown the heights on the east side of the river. Originally founded at Warren in 1764 as Rhode Island College, it was removed to Providence in 1770, but did not obtain its present name (bestowed in honour of Nicholas Brown, one of its principal benefactors) till 1804. By the terms of its charter 30 out of the 48 members of its board of fellows and board of trustees must be Baptists, but the management is unsectarian. In 1884 there were 20 professors and instructors, and 248 students. The library, kept in a fire-proof building, numbers 62,000 volumes. Besides the university, the city contains two high-schools, the Friends Yearly-Meeting Boarding-School (1819), the Roman Catholic Academy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1873), the Athenæum (1836) with a library of over 43,000 volumes, the Providence Public Library with nearly 32,000 volumes, the Rhode Island Historical Society (1822, present building 1844), the Franklin Society (1823) for the furtherance of the natural sciences and mechanic arts, and many other educational institutions. The Butler Hospital for the insane (1844-47), which takes its name from Cyrus Butler, the principal subscriber, occupies several handsome buildings on the west bank of Seekonk river, capable of accommodating about 200 patients and possessing 140 acres of ground. Dexter Asylum (1827) for the poor, with 39 acres, the bequest of Mr Ebenezer Knight Dexter, receives about 125 inmates; and the Rhode Island Hospital (1863-68), erected at a cost of $450,000, has about 80 patients. Other institutions of a benevolent character are a home for aged men, a home for aged women, a Roman Catholic orphan asylum (1860), and dispensaries. The State prison and county jail used to stand on the north side of the Cove; but the State prison, the workhouse, the house of correction, the almshouse, and the State hospital for the insane are now clustered together at the State farm in Cranston, about 3 miles from the city line. The State house, which dates from 1762, is a plain brick building; but the city-hall, erected about 1878-79, at a cost of more than $1,000,000, is one of the finest buildings of its kind in New England. In front of it is a soldiers' and sailors' monument designed by Randolph Rogers and erected (1871) by the State in memory of 1741 citizens who fell in the civil war. Worthy of note also are the county court-house (1877), the Providence opera-house (1871), the Butler Exchange (1872), the arcade (1828), which runs 225 feet between Westminster and Weybosset Street, with a width of 80 feet. Among the principal churches are a new cathedral (1878-85), St Stephen's Episcopal, the First Baptist, erected in 1775, and St Joseph's and St Mary's Roman Catholic. At one time Providence carried on a good trade with China and the East Indies; but its shipping interests, though still considerable,[1] are now mainly absorbed by the coasting-trade, and altogether it has become rather a manufacturing than a commercial centre. In the production of gold jewellery it is one of the leading cities in the United States, and the Gorham silver factory alone employs 560 workmen. Cotton, wool, and iron are all worked up on the most extensive scale into a vast variety of forms—yarn, calico, braids, laces, broad-cloth, worsteds, steam-engines, rifles, sewing machines, boilers, screws, hinges, &c. Among the larger companies are the Providence Tool Company (1500 workmen), the Corliss steam-engine works, the Providence Steam-engine Company, the Allen Fire Department Supply Company, Perry Davis's pain-killer manufactory, &c. Altogether there are about one hundred cotton mills and sixty wool mills. In 1880 the value of the cotton products was $2,250,273, of the wool products and worsted goods $7,139,947, and of the iron castings, machinery, etc., $4,757,401. The growth of the city in population is shown by the following figures:—

1708 1,446
1730 3,916
1774 4,321
1800 7,614
1810 10,071
1820 11,745
1830 16,836
1840 23,172
1850 41,513
1860 50,666
1870 68,904
1880 104,857

According to the registrar's returns the total for 1885 maybe estimated at 121,000. From 1855 to 1883 inclusive there has been an average of one birth in 36.37 of the population, one person married in 44.21, and one death in 50.89. The value of real estate in 1883 was $91,642,100; that of personal estate $30,854,400. The municipal revenue was $3,417,593, the expenditure $3,196,382, and the debt $8,142,223.

Providence was founded and named by Roger Williams the religious reformer, who, having been expelled from Massachusetts in 1636, landed first at What Cheer Rock near the mouth of Seekonk river and settled some time after at the head of Providence river, where he obtained a grant of ground from the Sachem Canonicus. The town united with others in applying for and re ceiving a charter from the Parliamentary Government in 1643-44. It was partially burned in King Philip's war in 1675. In 1788 De Warville describes it as decayed. A south-easterly storm in September 1815 raised the water in the harbour 12 feet above the usual spring-tide level and did great damage. The city charter dates from 1832. (W. E. F.)

  1. The merchandise imported into the district of Providence was valued at $537,800 in 1884, and the imports at $25,296; 59 vessels (10,864 tons) entered from foreign ports, and 41 (5012 tons) cleared.