Greater City Providence

GC: Photos – Providence Public Library

The Providence Public Library has put many items from it’s collection on Flickr. Let’s play Then & Now with a few of them:

Washington Street


Mathewson Street at Washington Street, 1917. Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

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North Main Street


North Main Street, 1939. Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

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Turks Head


Turks Head, late 1800s. Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

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Westminster Street


Westminster Street, c. 1906. Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

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Outlet Arch, Weybosset Street


Outlet Arch, Weybosset Street, 1907. Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

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There are thousands of photos to go through in the PPL photostream, be sure to set aside some time before you sit down to look through it.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • The images of today amount to nothing compared to those of yesteryear. There are profound differences. The old images conjure a living and energized cityscape full of bustling streetcars, merchant awnings and other displays of life in what once was America’s wealthiest of cities.

    Whereas, despite some modern upgrades (or downgrades), todays images are merely flaccid remnants of a once thriving and livable historical center. Though the photos of 2009 are in color, they appear to be more grey than those of 1909.

    How majestic the arch at Weybosset; the energy of Westminster simply screams “LIFE” (this, even without Waterfire).

  • But the fact remains that the Providence of today versus most other stupid American cities of today retains a huge amount of historic streetscapes, urbanity, and street life that represents everyone – upper crusty snobs and crackheads alike. That’s unusual these days.

    It is still sad to flip through the old images though. I have a tough time with it.

  • I love old images like this, and I’m a sucker for before and afters. But I have come to view them with a grain of salt. They look great, of course, and always seem better than things are now. But would we really be happier with the City if it looked more like it used to? It’s so easy to romanticize the past. I do it often (hell, I run AIR), but I try to step back whenever I see images like this now. Things aren’t better, things aren’t worse… they’re just different. And the City could never have survived if it didn’t change along the way.

  • I just spent an hour wandering around this library catalogue. I love old pics but it is easy to romanticize the past. One aspect we can’t experience from old photos is the aroma – both people and places. And one reason the city appears to bustle with life is that people couldn’t wait to get out of their cramped, poorly-heated, and dimly-lit tenements where there was very little to do. People had to get out-and-about just to get away from their in-laws.

Providence, RI
Mostly Cloudy
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Feels like: 75°F
Wind: 9mph S
Humidity: 80%
Pressure: 29.83"Hg
UV index: 1
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