The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Providence (city)

Edition of 1879. See also Providence, Rhode Island on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PROVIDENCE, a city, the principal port of entry, and one of the capitals of Rhode Island, and the shire town of Providence co., at the head of navigation on an arm of Narragansett bay known as Providence river, 85 m. from the ocean, 43 m. S. S. W. of Boston, and 160 m. N. E. of New York; lat. 41° 49' 22" N., lon. 71° 24' 48" W.; pop. in 1708, 1,446; in 1730, 3,916; in 1774, 4,321; in 1790, 6,380; in 1800, 7,614; in 1820, 11,745; in 1830, 16,836; in 1840, 23,172; in 1850, 41,513; in 1860, 50,666; in 1870, 68,904, of whom 17,177 were foreign born; in 1874, 99,608; in 1875, 100,675. Of the population in 1874, 3,557 were colored, 48,074 males, and 51,584 females; 48,351 were of American and 51,257 of foreign parentage, including 46,990 of Irish, 9,582 of English, Scotch, or Welsh, and 2,212 of German descent. There were 16,038 children between 5 and 15 years of age; 20,934 families, with an average of 4.76 persons to each; and 12,188 dwelling houses, with an average of 8.17 to each. The number of families in 1875 was 21,578; of dwellings, 13,383. In population and wealth Providence is the second city in New England. It formerly covered 5.31 sq. m., but in 1867 3.61 sq. m. were annexed from Cranston, forming the 9th ward, and in 1874 5.84 sq. m. from North Providence, forming the 10th ward; the present area is therefore 14.76 sq. m. The city is bounded E. by the Seekonk river, here crossed by two bridges, and lies on both sides of Providence river, which is crossed by a draw bridge and four fixed span bridges. Above this, and within the centre of the city, the river expands into a beautiful cove nearly a mile in circuit, along which is a wall surmounted by an iron railing. A park planted with elms, with gravelled walks, surrounds the cove. Two small streams enter on the north, the Mooshassuck and the Woonasquatucket rivers, upon which are many machine shops and manufactories. The land on which the city stands is very irregular. On the E. side a hill rises to the height of 204 ft. above tide water. On the west it is level, with little elevation for a quarter of a mile, when the land rises to the height of 75 ft. The hillsides, even to their summit, are covered with dwelling houses, interspersed with gardens and ornamented with trees. The larger portion of the dwelling houses in the city are of wood; the remainder are of brick and stone, among which are many mansions of great elegance. Several of the churches present fine specimens of architecture. The arcade, on the W. side, is the finest of the kind in the United States. It extends from Westminster to Weybosset street, 225 ft. in length by 80 in width, a portion in the centre being about 50 ft. wider; it is three stories high, has 78 shops, and is devoted chiefly to the retail trade, the principal articles sold being dry goods, boots and shoes, hats, and jewelry. The building is of granite, with two imposing Doric porticoes, one on each street. In the vicinity is the massive granite building of the custom house and post office. The state house is a brick building on the E. side of Providence river. Several of the school houses are handsome buildings. The new opera house and the Butler exchange are also fine structures. Near the railroad depot the state has erected a monument to its citizens who fell in the civil war; it was completed in 1871 at a cost of $60,000, and consists of a base of blue Westerly granite, with five bronze statues. In the same vicinity a granite building for the city hall has recently been commenced, which will cost about $675,000. The present city hall is a three-story brick structure. A county court house is to be erected on the corner of Benefit and College streets. The Narragansett hotel, in course of construction, is to be of stone, brick, and iron, seven stories high, covering 22,000 sq. ft. There are several small public squares. Roger Williams park, containing about 100 acres, is near the W. shore of Narragansett bay, in the S. part of the city; it was devised to the city in 1871 by Betsy Williams, a descendant of Roger Williams. The north burying ground, in the N. part of the city, is the property of the municipality; it contains 122 acres. Swan Point cemetery, on the E. bank of the Seekonk river, embraces a large tract of beautifully diversified land, laid out at a great cost and elegantly ornamented.—The following railroads connect Providence with the principal points in New England: Boston and Providence; Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill; New Bedford; Providence, Nantucket, and Cape Cod; Providence and Springfield; Providence and Stonington; Providence and Worcester; Warwick; Fall River, Warren, and Providence; and Providence, Warren, and Bristol. All of these except the last two occupy the same passenger depot, a spacious and elegant structure of brick nearly 700 ft. long, situated near the heart of the city on the S. side of the cove, and near the great bridge. Horse cars run through different parts of the city and to the adjoining towns. A daily passenger line and a semi-weekly freight line of steamers ply to New York, and steamers also run to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Charleston, and to Fall River, Newport, and various points on Narragansett bay. During the colonial period Providence enjoyed an extensive foreign commerce, which has now greatly fallen off, and its commerce is chiefly confined to the coasting trade. The value of foreign commerce for the year ending June 30, 1875, was $589,545 ($23,086 exports and $566,459 imports). The number of arrivals from foreign ports during the same year was 148; of coastwise arrivals, 5,852; number of vessels belonging to the port at the close of the year, 142, tonnage 36,995.—Providence is the leading market for the trade in domestic printing cloths. The sales since 1864 have been as follows:

 YEARS.   No. of pieces. 

1864 2,697,150
1865 4,112,700
1866 2,953,700
1867 2,688,000
1868 4,701,900
1869 9,178,000
1870 5,540,800
1871 6,612,800
1872 4,842,800
1873 3,888,100
1874 2,648,210

The pieces average 43 yards each. Its manufactures are very extensive, and include cotton and woollen goods, iron, gold, and silver wares, and numerous other articles. The American screw company possesses five large mills and five storehouses, besides other buildings; the mills have a capacity for the employment of about 2,500 hands, and for the production daily of nearly 40,000 gross of wood screws, several tons of rivets, large quantities of machine screws, stove bolts, coach screws, tire bolts, &c. The Providence tool company produces heavy and ship chandlers' hardware, sewing machines, and the Peabody breech-loading rifle; the works cover more than five acres and employ 1,500 hands. The Providence steam engine company manufactures the Greene cut-off engine, and also steam boilers and riveting machines. The works of the Barstow stove company cover more than two acres. The Allen fire department supply company manufactures steam fire engines, fire hose, hose carriages, hose couplings, discharge pipes, hydrants, fire escapes, &c.; it has a brass foundery in connection with its works, in which brass finishing is extensively carried on. The manufacture of gold jewelry is the most prominent industry of the city; more than 150 establishments of all sizes are engaged in it, and the annual product is about $5,000,000. The Gorham company's manufactory of solid silver ware employs nearly 400 hands, and is the leading silver manufactory of the world. There are several establishments for the refining of gold and silver, in which are smelted large quantities of sweepings and refuse obtained from the jewelry establishments. About 25 establishments are engaged in the manufacture of woollen cloths, yarns, &c., and worsted goods; and about 50, with 150,000 spindles, in the manufacture of printing cloths, yarns, battings, thread, spool cotton, lacings, braids, and other cotton goods. The Fletcher manufacturing company employs 500 hands, and is the largest establishment in the country, and probably in the world, engaged in the manufacture of “small wares,” comprising boot, shoe, and corset lacings, lamp wicks, yarns, braids, &c.; the buildings cover four acres. There are three large cloth-printing establishments, and several shops for the engraving of copper rollers for printing calicoes. Among other establishments, the Rumford chemical works (in East Providence), the manufactory of Perry Davis's “pain killer,” the Corliss steam engine works, the stove works of Spicers and Peckham, and the Rhode Island locomotive works are noteworthy. There are also several bleaching and calendering establishments, and manufactories of alarm tills, toilet and laundry soaps, ribbons, &c. Providence contains 23 national and 12 state banks, with an aggregate capital of $17,707,850; 10 savings banks, with deposits to the amount of $25,807,905; 1 trust company, capital $500,000; 1 safe deposit company, capital $50,000; and 20 insurance companies, with assets to the amount of $13,175,629.—The city is divided into 10 wards, and is governed by a mayor, a board of aldermen of 10, and a common council of 40 members, elected annually. The mayor, aldermen, and common council in their joint capacity are styled the city council. At the close of 1874 the police force numbered 190 men. The number of arrests during that year was 8,440, of which 4,950 were for drunkenness. There is an effective paid fire department, consisting of 146 officers and men organized into five steam engine companies, six hose companies, and three hook and ladder companies. The city is supplied with water from the Pawtuxet river, 6 m. distant, by works recently constructed at a cost of about $4,250,000. Since 1855 much attention has been given to vital statistics in Providence, and the returns of births, marriages, and deaths are probably more complete and perfect than those of any other city in America. During the same time special efforts have been made for the prevention of disease. In addition to this there are some peculiarities of natural location and internal construction which make the city very healthy. During the year 1873, with a population of 80,592, there were 1,719 deaths, 1,150 marriages, and 2,128 births; or one birth in 37.83, one person married in 35.04, and one death in 46.88 of the population. The annual average for 19 years, 1855 to 1878 inclusive, was one birth in 34.19, one person married in 38.10, and one death in 50.65 of the population. The valuation of real estate in 1874 was $81,040,300; personal estate, $42,642,500; total, $123,682,800; rate of tax, $14 50 per $1,000; amount of tax, $1,793,400 60. The receipts into the city treasury during the year ending Sept. 30, 1874, including a balance on hand of $177,159 67, were $7,968,233 36, of which $1,520,716 68 was from taxation, $5,722,289 52 from loans, and $184,574 90 from water works. The expenditures were $7,505,590, of which $6,158,354 05 were classed as extraordinary and $1,347,235 95 as ordinary; balance in treasury Sept. 30, 1874, $462,643 36. The funded debt on Sept. 30, 1874, was $5,400,000; floating debt, $2,043,800; total, $7,443,800. Deducting $1,493,748 64 assets available for its reduction, the net debt was $5,950,051 36.—Providence has many charitable institutions and associations. The Butler hospital for the insane, founded in 1847, is on the W. bank of Seekonk river, surrounded by extensive grounds, 60 acres of which are under cultivation, with about the same extent of native woodland. The average number of patients is about 130. The edifice was erected and the lands purchased by subscription, Cyrus Butler contributing $40,000, and Nicholas Brown $30,000. Its annual not disbursements are about $55,000. The state of Rhode Island makes an annual appropriation of $2,000 to enable the governor to aid poor insane persons there, and it also pays a portion of the expenses of all such poor insane as the town may choose to send. The Dexter asylum for the poor is situated on high land E. of the river. It is a fine edifice of brick, 170 ft. long, including wings, and three stories high. The grounds, which comprise about 40 acres, are enclosed with a stone wall 8 ft. high. The land was devised by Ebenezer Knight Dexter in 1824, and the buildings erected by the city in 1828. The Rhode Island hospital, founded in 1863, has stately buildings surrounded by pleasant grounds, in the S. part of the city, fronting on the harbor. Other important institutions are two homes for the aged, the nursery, a Roman Catholic orphan asylum, and two dispensaries. The reform school, established in 1850, for juvenile offenders between the ages of 8 and 18, is in the S. W. part of the city. The number of inmates at its last annual report, 1874, was 220, of whom 179 were boys and 41 girls. Its expenses for the year were $40,753; earnings, $13,222. The state prison is on the N. side of the cove. At the close of the year 1874 it contained 67 convicts. The county jail is within the prison walls. The convicts are almost exclusively employed in cabinet work and shoemaking.—The following are the statistics of public schools for 1878-'4:

 No. of 
 number of 
No. of
No. of
 No. of 

High school 12 393
Grammar schools  60  68 61  2,687
Intermediate 26  50  55 ..  55  2,128
Primary 29  64  86 ..  86  3,962
Evening 13  87 37  50  2,074
Vacation 17 ..  17  1,200

Total 76  202  325 48  277   12,439

There were also seven special teachers. The expenditure for school purposes in 1873 was $267,597 25, viz.: salaries, $146,656 13; houses and lots, $91,738 97; incidental expenses, $29,202 15. The schools are under the immediate supervision of a superintendent, but the general control is vested in a school committee, consisting of the mayor and president of the common council ex officio and six members from each ward, whose term of office is three years. The Friends' yearly meeting boarding school, or “Quaker college,” occupies a lot of 43 acres in the E. part of the city. It consists of two spacious brick buildings, three stories high with wings of two stories. It is liberally endowed and in a prosperous condition. A legacy of $100,000 was bequeathed to it by the late Obadiah Brown. It was established in 1819, and is under the direction of a committee of the New England yearly meeting. The Roman Catholics have three flourishing academies, one male and two female. The grounds and buildings of Brown university occupy an elevated situation in the E. part of the city. (See Brown University.) The Athenæum, incorporated in 1836, is a handsome granite building, containing a reading room and a well selected library of 34,000 volumes, to which large additions are annually made. The Rhode Island historical society, founded in 1822, occupies a fine brick and granite building opposite the university grounds, erected in 1844, and containing a library of 6,000 volumes and 35,000 pamphlets, besides a large collection of manuscripts and other memorials relating to the history of the state. The Franklin society, incorporated in 1823, has for its object the cultivation and dissemination of a knowledge of the natural sciences and the mechanic arts. The Franklin lyceum has a reading room and a library of 8,000 volumes. The mechanics' and apprentices' library numbers 6,500 volumes, and that of the young men's Christian association 5,000. Steps have been taken toward the establishment of a free public library. Four daily, one semi-weekly, and five weekly newspapers, and three monthly periodicals are published. There are 76 churches, viz.: 13 Baptist, 2 Christian, 7 Congregational, 12 Episcopal, 1 Evangelical Lutheran, 5 Free Baptist, 1 Friends', 2 Jewish, 10 Methodist Episcopal, 1 Presbyterian, 10 Roman Catholic, 1 Swedenborgian, 3 Unitarian, 1 United Presbyterian, 2 Universalist, and 5 miscellaneous. The first Baptist church, the oldest in America, was founded here in 1638.—Providence was first settled in 1636 by Roger Williams, who was banished from Massachusetts on account of his religious opinions, and who, in his new colony, was the first to propose and establish the principles of universal freedom in religious matters. The rock on the banks of the Seekonk river on which he landed, and where he was received by the Indians, is about a mile from the centre of the city. The town received its first patent from Charles I., bearing date 1643. It suffered much in the famous war of King Philip, in 1675, when a considerable portion of it was burned. It again suffered severely in September, 1815, when a southeasterly storm forced an extraordinary tide into the harbor, raising the water 12 ft. higher than the usual spring tides, spreading devastation and ruin along the wharves and the lower part of the town, overturning houses and stores, and doing much damage to the shipping. One large East Indiaman was driven up beyond the cove, and never removed. Providence received a city charter in 1832. The first printing press was established here by William Goddard in 1762, from whose office the “Providence Gazette” was issued.