Nestled into Narragansett Bay and bordered on the east by the Seekonk River, Providence is a small, friendly city full of history, culture and diverse immigrant communities. In the last few years, downtown Providence has been undergoing a striking renaissance that has added an official Arts and Entertainment district and European style to its classic New England beauty.
Downtown Providence, where three rivers now run, is reminiscent of Venice, complete with seasonal gondola rides, Riverwalk's quaint arched bridges, and a waterside amphitheater at Waterplace Park that is the frequent site of cultural events and scenes from the TV show "Providence." Providence Place Mall, containing among other outlets a Nordstrom's, Filene's and Cheesecake Factory, is located right across the street from Waterplace Park. Downtown Providence also has the
On designated evenings throughout the year, wood braziers, interspersed along the riverfront between Waterplace Park and
The East Side of Providence is home to Ivy League
Comfortably fitting into the picturesque East Side neighborhood are a range of small to medium-sized eateries and cafes to suit many tastes. From the elegant riverside Gatehouse Restaurant in the east, and the cosmopolitan
There are handsome green trolleys regularly conveying passengers between these parts of the city, traveling down Brook Street and
India Point Park and South Water Street border downtown Providence on the southeast. The park is a pleasant spot for boating and strolling. At its end, in front of the hurricane barrier, is the ferry terminal for Rhode Island's nearby vacation spot, Block Island. South Water Street and nearby South Main Street contain clubs and restaurants providing a variety of environments and meals to suit many tastes in one five-block area.
The south end of Providence contains the award-winning
A lively Italian neighborhood, Federal Hill, borders the downtown area on the west side and is full of interesting restaurants boasting world-class Italian food, such as
The port of Providence looks much like it did in colonial times: the downtown waterfront sculpted into paths and promenades with boat rides down the winding Providence River. You can imagine the Indians paddling their canoes on that same stretch of river, stopping to hunt for game from the inland forests and fields.
Five tribes of the Algonquin Indian family were the first peoples to call Rhode Island home. The Niantic, Nipmuc, Pequot, Narragansett and Wampanoag were peace-loving farmers who supplemented their plantings with fish caught along the coast lands, pheasants, rabbits and deer.
In 1511, Miguel Corte-Real, a fierce Portuguese navigator, carved his name on a rock in the Dighton River in nearby Tauton. Some thirteen years later, the Italian explorer Verrazano sailed under the French flag into Naragansett Bay. He wrote that the land he saw resembled the Isle of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea. Ninety years later when the Dutch voyager, Adrian Block laid eyes on the clay cliffs of what is now called Block Island, he named it Roodt Eylandt or Red Island. These explorers contributed to the naming of Rhode Island, although it is Roger Williams who selected the name of Providence, meaning God's merciful providence, after purchasing the land from two Narragansett chiefs.
Roger Williams was exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 because he did not agree with the strict limitations the Colony had placed on religion and politics. By 1639, Baptists, Quakers, Calvinists, and Jews had established congregations in Providence and surrounding areas.
Williams won the respect of both the Indians and settlers by keeping the peace between the Narragansetts and colonists. Aggression by the colony for Indian land, disputes over boundaries and culture and a sneak attack on the Narragansetts by Plymouth forces, caused the friendly tribe to join with the Wampanoag in the infamous King Philip's War. Thousands of Indians and colonists were killed, the land was destroyed and four decades of progress was wiped out.
The colonist had to start over, farming their land and plying wares in trade and business. They accomplished much from hard work and whatever tools and knowledge they could garner from various sources. Their labor produced businesses in manufacturing and textiles that thrive today in Providence factories and surrounding vicinities.
In 1776 Rhode Island became one of the thirteen colonies to declare its independence from Great Britain. On July 18, the Rhode Island General Assembly ratified the Declaration of Independence. After the American Revolution, the port of Providence saw a decline in shipping, but around 1790 Samuel Slater built the first cotton textile mill at Blackstone Falls, which later became known as Pawtucket. It was this water power that led to a rapid rise in manufacturing, making Providence a meeting place for society, business and culture.
Picture yourself attending a ball at the home of Governor Henry Lippitt, high on a hill, overlooking the Providence waterfront. Marvel at the carved woodwork, colorful stencils and high ceilings. Couples are dancing on the polished oak floor, the rustle of silk and taffeta, powdered wigs, and strolling musicians in this elegant Victorian mansion on a busy East Side corner. At a gleaming silver punch bowl a few men are arguing over tariffs on their trade, while eating bites of crab cakes, shrimp and lobster tails.
By the late 1820s the processing of cotton at textile mills became the backbone of Rhode Island economy. A need for textile machinery birthed a base-metals business in Providence, the center for businessmen who funded the humming economy. The manufacturing of precious metals, gold and silver, thrived for the next century while agriculture and the early farms declined, reverting to forest.
Urbanization increased in Providence, along with immigration from outlying areas such as Newport, and an influx of immigrants from such countries as Ireland, Italy, and Portugal seeking work in manufacturing and on railroads. In 1847 the Providence Gas Company lighted the streets, and the first train ran over the Providence line. The Providence Depot, today known as the Providence Train Station, was built in 1848.
Industrial Providence and the need for personalization birthed the development of facilities for the disadvantaged and sick, and the thirst for knowledge saw the advent of colleges and universities. Butler Hospital, on the east side of Providence, was founded to help the feeble. It is known today for the treatment of substance abuse and family problems. Ivy-league Brown University, just beyond the Benefit Street colonial mansions, was initially called “Rhode Island College.” Rhode Island College, in the Mount Pleasant area of Providence, founded as a teacher's college, now offers a full curriculum of studies in the arts and the humanities.
At the turn of the century Providence became a center for performing and visual arts. Theatres such as the Avon and the Strand date from this era. Entertainment not only in the form of Vaudeville and the talkies were popular at this time, but also shopping expeditions to big department stores like Gladding's, Shepard's and the Outlet, rivals in size and quality of merchandise. Shepard's Tea Room, with its black and white block floor and round marble-topped tables, was a likely spot to find a little girl squirming in her seat, while her white-gloved grandmother taught her how to be a lady. Gladding's is one of the few stores of this kind left in downtown Providence, found at the Arcade on Weybosset Street.
After World War II, the city of Providence saw a mass exodus to the suburbs. Older city housing, crowded conditions and a rise in crime caused citizens to settle in outlying areas, such as Warwick, establishing small farms and neighborhoods.
In recent years the legislators of the city of Providence devised a “Providence Beautiful” campaign, restoring historic buildings, cleaning up downtown areas and the waterfront to resemble earlier days, making Providence an attractive place to visit, conduct business, and to live. The diversity of yesterday is found in the city of today, founded on tolerance and respect for freedom, principles alive and well in the culture and climate of present day Providence.
Providence is becoming such a popular destination for tourists and business travelers that new hotels are being built to accommodate the demand. The city's small size, attractive, Venetian-style downtown and the historic East Side draws visitors from all points.
If you want to stay in a decent downtown hotel in Providence, within easy walking distance of both the Financial and Arts District of the city, you have many choices. Just below the Italian neighborhood called Federal Hill, you'll find the Holiday Inn-Downtown Providence. Rooms offer air-conditioning, TV, high-speed Internet access, and extras like hair dryers and irons. More uniquely, this Holiday Inn also features a restaurant and lounge, which offers casual European and American food. A little further downtown is The Westin Providence, which is attached to the Rhode Island Convention Center. This hotel offers all the modern conveniences one expects from Westin, including 18,000 square feet of meeting space, 23 suites, and aerobics classes in the Capital Club Fitness Center. They also offer American fare at the Agorarestaurant, cigars and cognac in the Library Lounge and a sports bar.
The nearby Providence Biltmore is the elegant grand dame of Providence hotels. Perched right in the center of downtown, across from the Fleet Skating Center and just down from City Hall, the Biltmore offers old-style luxury, and a glass elevator that will whisk you to their 17th floor ballroom while you take in a spectacular view of the city. They also have a business store on the premises for purchasing supplies. The Providence Courtyard by Marriot is the newest downtown hotel and is very convenient to everything from the train station to Waterplace Park & Riverwalk. This Marriott has a fitness center and pool, and some of the rooms offer Jacuzzi tubs.
Cady House Bed and Breakfast, at the edge of the Brown University campus, is a handsomely-appointed home, which includes a collection of primitive folk art. Cozy and lovely accommodation is offered here, and the owner, a professional caterer, offers a breakfast you won't forget. At first, the Annie Brownell House seems like just another of the several Colonial Revival homes on Angell Street, only a few short blocks to Brown University and the Thayer Street shopping area, right on the RIPTA bus line. But the interior of this B&B is attractively decorated and comfortable, offering a luxurious, restful stay and a tasty full breakfast.
At India Point Park sits Providence's sixth major hotel, The Radisson Hotel. This hotel offers all the usual Radisson accommodations, and has a restaurant right on the premises along with its own parking lot. Its chief distinction may well be the fact it sits on the harbor offering some spectacular views, but it is also near the edge of the popular and elegant East Side and the restaurant and shopping area of Wickenden Street. This hotel features shuttle service to and from the T.F. Green Airport, 20 minutes south in Warwick.
Outside the City
A few minutes outside Providence in Seekonk, Massachusetts is the Historic Jacob Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast Inn. This handsome old Colonial house offers luxurious rooms with some special features, sumptuous breakfasts, and a quiet place with nice grounds outside the busy city.
Across the bay in Wickford sits The Haddie Pierce House Bed and Breakfast just a few minutes from the quaint and charming Wickford Village shopping area and historic homes, and down the road a short way from a pleasant bay beach. Staying here also puts you about 12 minutes from an ocean beach in Narragansett, but out of the way of the hectic tourist activity.
While visiting the city for business or pleasure, there is plenty to do and see in Providence. Neighborhood taverns, fine dining, and the arts are abound in Providence.
If you are into the arts, perhaps you are visiting Providence during the Rhode Island Philharmonic season. You may catch Shakespeare at Trinity Repertory Company, or Broadway Musicals at The Providence Performing Arts Center. High quality theater can be found at Columbus Theater, which has a regular schedule of performances. The VMA Arts & Cultural Center is known as the place where many famous acts get their start. For dance, drama and more, stop into the Veteran's Memorial Auditorium.
A quiet form of entertainment can be found at Avon Cinema, one of the oldest movie houses in Providence. A red-velvet curtain leads you into a world of fantasy and folklore, while the Cable Car Cinema and Cafe affords contemporary films, and coffee. Route One Cinema Pub features movies and some of the best brews in town. Narragansett Cinema is located right on the beach, convenient for those who have spent the day in the sun and are ready to relax.
If you have the kids along, or want to take a break from business or sightseeing, stroll hill and dale of Roger Williams Park Zoo. You will find relaxing swan paddle boats and go-boats on the grounds with an old-fashioned carousel and pony rides. An aviary and 900 zoo animals are situated on the spacious grounds. Prospect Terrace Park is located at the top of College Hill, offering spectacular views of the city.
Visit Wickford Gourmet or Farmstead for some unique souvenirs and delicate treats. Spectrum India sells authentic clothing from India in colorful prints and quality fabric. Be sure to stop into Eastside Marketplace, the city's most popular market, where you're sure to find something to take home with you.
Providence and its hotels offer nightspots, informal bars and clubs. A fireplace with a cocktail lounge is at one of Providence's newest hotels, the Providence Courtyard by Marriot, close to the financial district. For Irish ale and fire stop at Aidan's Pub, 20 minutes south of Providence on Bristol Harbor. European beer is served in frothy mugs with lace-curtained windows and a wood stove in winter. Snooker's in Providence's financial district, is known as the best pool hall in the state. It offers billiards, rock, pop, alternative and garage music from Rhode Island, Boston and New York.