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The New International Encyclopædia/Providence (Rhode Island)

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PROVIDENCE. The second largest city in New England, the capital of Rhode Island, and the county-seat of Providence County; 44 miles southwest of Boston and 188 miles northeast of New York (Map: Rhode Island, C 2). It is situated about 35 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, at the head of the Providence River, an arm of Narragansett Bay. Several steamship lines connect with Atlantic coast ports, and the railroad facilities comprise the New York, New Haven and Hartford and leased roads.

The city lies on both sides of the Providence River, its easterly limits being marked by the Seekonk River. Its area is nearly 18 square miles. The surface of Providence is uneven, the west side consisting practically of a sandy plain, while on the east side, the more interesting part of the city, there are several hills, the greatest height of which is some 200 feet. This elevated section offers beautiful sites for residences. The business district is in the centre of the city, and some of the finest business houses are built on made land. There are 228 miles of paved streets, two-thirds of this distance being laid with macadam. In the older part of the city the thoroughfares are narrow and crooked. Providence has 540 acres in public parks, among which is the noteworthy Roger Williams Park. This has been improved at a considerable expense and is a beautiful pleasure-ground. It has a fine system of boulevards, artificial lakes, zoological gardens, and a statue of Roger Williams. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument stands in front of the city hall, and near by is a statue of Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. What Cheer Rock, on the Seekonk River, is of historic interest as the landing place of Roger Williams.

The new State House, first occupied in 1900, and the city hall are among the finest buildings in Providence. The former is a massive edifice of marble and granite, and has a large dome. Other prominent structures are the public library, the Federal Government building, the county court-house, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the high-school buildings, and the Union Railway Station. Among business structures the Arcade is noteworthy, and there are a number of commodious office buildings of recent construction. Brown University (q.v.), with its large buildings on the east side, is one of the principal features of the city. Providence has several noted charitable institutions, among which are the Rhode Island Hospital, Rhode Island Homeopathic Hospital, Butler Hospital for the Insane, Saint Joseph's Hospital, the Dexter Asylum for the Poor, and the State Institute for the Deaf. Besides Brown University, the educational institutions include the Friends' School, which dates from 1818, the State Normal School, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Rhode Island Law School. The public library contains about 90,000 volumes. Other important libraries are the State Law Library, and those maintained by the Providence Athenæum (62,000 volumes), the Rhode Island Historical Society, and the Rhode Island Medical Society. The Historical Society possesses also a collection of relics, and the Athenæum some valuable pictures.

Providence is a port of entry, but is noted primarily for its manufacturing interests. Its foreign trade in 1901 was valued at $1,154,000, of which the exports constituted a very small part. Formerly it carried on considerable foreign commerce, but the trade now is mostly coast-wise. Large quantities of coal are handled at its docks, and the city controls extensive wholesale and jobbing interests. The relative unimportance of Providence in foreign commerce is due to the lack of sufficient depth in the harbor for ocean steamships, and to inferior docking facilities. Otherwise the natural waterway through the Providence River and Narragansett Bay forms one of the best harbors on the New England coast. Providence is the first manufacturing city in Rhode Island, its products comprising nearly half of the total output of the State. The various establishments in the census year of 1900 represented an invested capital of $83,514,000, and had a production valued at $88,169,000. In the manufacture of jewelry Providence is among the leading cities of the United States; it is noted also for its extensive production of silverware, worsted and woolen goods, cotton goods, engines and boilers, machinery, including cotton milling machinery, fine tools, and files. Dyeing and finishing textiles, refining gold and silver, slaughtering and meat-packing, and the manufacture of rubber and elastic goods, oleomargarine, malt liquors, etc., are other important industries.

The municipal government is vested in a mayor, elected annually, a bicameral council, consisting of a board of aldermen and a common council, and in administrative officers, the majority of whom are elected by the council. The council elects three commissioners of sinking funds, the park commissioners, and the license and fire commissioners. The commissioner of public works is appointed by the mayor. The city treasurer, harbor master, overseer of the poor, and school committee are chosen by popular vote. Providence spends annually in maintenance and operation about $3,465,000, the principal items being: For schools, $740,000; for interest on debt, $640,000; for the police department, $370,000; for the fire department, $355,000; for street expenditures, $290,000; for municipal lighting, $290,000; for the water-works, $135,000. The total income for the fiscal year 1902 was $4,320,000. The water-works, which were constructed at a cost of $7,100,000, are owned and operated by the municipality. The system now comprises 330 miles of mains. There are 193 miles of sewers. Public bath-houses are maintained as a municipal activity. The bonded debt of the city in 1902 was $16,825,000, and the net debt $14,030,000; the assessed valuation of real and personal property was about $193,000,000.

The population of Providence in 1800 was 7614; in 1850, 41,513; in 1870, 68,904; in 1880, 104,857; in 1890, 132,146; in 1900, 175,597. The total in 1900 included 55,855 persons of foreign birth and 4817 of negro descent.

Providence was founded and named in 1636 by Roger Williams, who, having been expelled from Massachusetts, came here and bought a tract of land from the Narraganset sachems, Canonicus and Miantonomoh. Here a distinct separation was made between spiritual and temporal affairs, complete religious toleration being unequivocally guaranteed. The first Baptist church in America was organized in 1638 under the ministry of Roger Williams. Williams secured in 1644 a Parliamentary charter, under which Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport were united for governmental purposes as the “Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay in New England.” In 1676, during King Philip's War, Providence was attacked by Indians and 29 of its 75 houses burned. Near Providence occurred in 1772 one of the first overt acts of the Revolution, the burning of the British cruiser Gaspée. In September, 1815, a tremendous gale forced the water back into the harbor and river, flooded part of the town, and destroyed property valued at over $1,000,000. Providence was incorporated as a city in 1832. Consult: Greene, The Providence Plantations for Two Hundred and Fifty Years (Providence, 1886); Bayles, History of Providence County (New York, 1891); and a sketch in Powell, Historic Towns of New England (New York, 1898). The Early Records of the Town of Providence have been printed in 15 volumes (Providence, 1892-99).