Archive | September 16, 2011

Notes from the PPS Symposium Morning Session

The Cove, Providence

The Cove in Providence in 1889 looking northeast as seen from today’s Kennedy Plaza. Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

The Providence Preservation Society Symposium, Make No Little Plans started today, and I was there, scribbling down notes. If you follow @gcpvd on Twitter then you caught some of it, and I’ll be Twittering again at the afternoon session.

The presentation was “By the Cask or Smaller Quantity: Providence’s Waterfront and the World the Merchant’s Made” by C. Morgan Grefe the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Ms. Grefe spoke about the period from Roger Williams’ settlement through the slave trading and China trade periods to just before the start of the Industrial Revolution.

I’m going to basically type my notes as scribbled down expanding what I can remember or my impressions as I can:

  • In the hundred years before 1790 Providence’s population increased from a sleepy town of under 1,000 to a city of 10,000.
  • Newport was wrecked during the American Revolution while Providence remained largely untouched, allowing Providence to take over Newport’s lead on the title of Rhode Island’s primary city (remember, through 1900, Providence and Newport were co-capitals of Rhode Island).
  • From Roger William’s time through the 18th century Providence’s urban form was mixed use. Though the town had a small population until the end of the city, it was densely settled with no separation of work, live, and recreation areas. The people of that time would have to testify to how they felt about that.
  • The early city was laid out linearly along the east bank of the Providence River and into The Cove with tall masted ships making their way almost as far as what is now College Street and other ships reaching near to where Smith Street is now. Trade and port activity took place at the wharves along South Water Street. Other merchant activity and housing climbed the hill toward Benefit Street.
  • John Brown built his house on Benefit Street so he could keep track of all the port activity from that vantage point near the top of the hill.
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