Providences most Historic Street

One of the best ways to appreciate the architecture of Benefit Street in Providence is to walk the street from one end to the other. You will see architecture that spans four centuries, there are buildings from the 17th through the 21st centuries.  The sidewalks are brink and there are period streets lights, in may ways as you look away from the street you will feel as if you have entered a different era. It is hard to believe that all of this was almost lost to redevelopment in the 1950’s. That there was not enough money to see the plans through is a miracle that anyone walking down the street today can be grateful for.

If you are walking from the west side of the city, down Washington Street and up the hill, you will find yourself taking a stroll back in time. The first building that you see in the area isn’t located on Benefit Street, it is one block off but it is so historically significant that it has to be mentioned.

The First Baptist Church

The stunning white steeple is impossible to miss as you walk or drive into the area. This church is beautiful and very historic. It is a tribute to Roger Williams and his belief in freedom of religion. A congregation was founded here in 1638 by Roger himself. The current meeting house dates from the Colonial period, having been constructed right before the American Revolution. As a matter of fact many Boston carpenters had migrated to Providence in search of work since the harbor at Boston was closed down by the British and they greatly helped expedite its construction. The style is a combination of English Georgian and good old New England Meeting House. The steeple is a Georgian addition. If you have the chance,  this is a wonderful building to tour. It has very limited opening times however and it may good old fashioned luck to find it open.

RISD

As you turn right onto Benefit Street from North Main, the buildings on your right belong to RISD,  the Rhode Island School of Design. The buildings that comprise the museum have been added to over the years beginning in the late 19th century and part of the building was designed to replicate the home of Charles Pendleton. It is built in the Federal Style which is very sympathetic with other building along the right side of Benefit Street.

Providence Athenaeum

This subscription lending library is right across the street from RISD and the first thing you notice is the wonderful water fountain in front. The Athenaeum itself is built in the Greek Revival Style which was the fashion when it was constructed in the 1840’s. You can visit the Athenaeum and tour through its wonderful stacks. The staff are more than happy to give you any information about that building that you might desire.

Benefit Street itself has brick sidewalks and beautiful reproduction lampposts that  contribute to the feeling that you are a time traveler. Many of the colonial era homes are sitting almost on top of the sidewalk so you get a very good look at them. They are all painted bright colors in keeping with their historic past, it does indeed contribute to the atmosphere on the street.

John Brown House

This is one of the “Mansions on Benefit Street” and is one of the most magnificent anywhere. Done in the late Georgian Colonial style, it was built slightly after the American Revolution and was been a family home for several generations. It is now the home of the Rhode Island Historical Society and you may take a guided tour of the house. This is not the John Brown of Harper’s Ferry fame, this is the John Brown of the China trader who Brown University is named after.

Governor Stephen Hopkins House

This is a historic colonial home built in 1708 and was purchased by the governor in 1742 and is a personal favorites. The tour of the home and small garden is self guided but a docent is available to answer questions. The style is very typical of that period and you need to be able to climb some steep stone steps to visit here. The house is only open during the warm weather.

The “Mile of History” has other historic mansions, churches and houses that may be seen on a historic walking tour either guided or on your own. This is the perfect place to spend an hour or two when you are visiting Providence and there is even a bed and breakfast if you find you want to stay in the neighborhood.