Walking Tour of Providence, RI
Providence is the capital of the smallest state in America and also the state with the longest name (Rhode Island and Providence Plantations). The city was founded by Roger Williams in 1636 and still retains some of the individualist spirit of its founder. In the last decade or so, the city has emerged from squalor and blight and is considered by many a "Renaissance" city, and a wonderful example of urban renewal.
My walk begins where the city started, at what is now the Roger Williams National Memorial, on North Main Street. Enjoy the solitude of the place and, perhaps, see the short film at the Visitor Center before proceeding.
When you leave the Visitor Center, turn right, heading south, until you reach Thomas Street. Ahead, to your left, set back from the road, is the First Baptist Church in America, established shortly after his arrival by Roger Williams. The current building, lovingly restored, was erected in 1775.
After your visit, continue south on what is now South Main Street, to the next intersection, and turn left on Waterman Street, up the hill (College Hill).
At the first traffic light, turn right on Benefit Street. The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, a wonderful treat, is on the right. After your visit, continue south on Benefit. At #251 is the Providence Athenaeum Library, the fourth-oldest (1838) lending library in the United States. Both Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft spent time here.
At the corner of Hopkins Street, on your right is the Governor Stephen Hopkins House (at 15 Hopkins Street) which was the home of one of Rhode Island’s two signers of the Declaration of Independence. The First Unitarian Church of Providence can be found at the corner of Benevolent Street. Its bell was cast by Paul Revere’s foundry.
Now turn left on Brown Street which leads directly to the gate and entrance of Brown University. Walk into and wander around the quadrangle to appreciate the ambience of this esteemed and quintessential Ivy League University, founded in 1764. Its John Carter Brown Library is one of the finest buildings on the campus.
When finished here, return to Brown Street and head south, to Power Street. Turn right. On your right is the John Brown House and Museum. Brown was a wealthy merchant and his Georgian home displays furniture, tableware, and other items from the late 18th century.
Continue west on Power Street which descends College Hill to South Main Street. On your right, around the corner on South Main, is an interesting domed building. It was originally a bank. Continue down Power Street to South Water Street and turn right. When the road turns left over the river, continue straight into the park ahead. The Columbus Memorial Column, in the park, was once located at the center of a busy traffic circle. It was moved here when the Providence River’s course was altered during the city’s transformation.
Continue through the park to College Street and turn left, walking over the river. Look up and down the river while crossing to see the walkways which are crowded with people during the seasonal Waterfire celebrations, for which the city has become famous. Cross the wide thoroughfare ahead and continue west on Westminster Street. The Greek-Temple-like building with its Ionic Columns is the Westminster Arcade, the oldest enclosed shopping mall in the country. It dates to 1828.
Take a right on Dorrance Street to Kennedy Plaza, a large open area to the right, which is a public transport hub and also contains an ice rink, the Providence Skating Center. To your left, at the western end of the plaza, is Providence’s City Hall. Turn right at Kennedy Plaza to pass three of the city’s few tall buildings. The most interesting is the gray, Art Deco Industrial National Bank Building, now occupied by the Bank of America.
Turn left at the river and then again at Memorial Boulevard and walk down to the river. Now take this pedestrian walkway westward to Waterplace Park. Notice the Venetian-style footbridges above. When you reach the wide pond-like area, climb the nearest stairway up to street level and continue walking west on Memorial Blvd.
Turn right on Francis Street and head for the dramatically situated State House directly ahead. Rhode Island’s Capitol building, modeled after the US Capitol in Washington, DC, claims to have the fourth largest unsupported dome in the world. Notice the Independent Man statue which adorns the top of the dome.
After a visit to the State House, exit at opposite (north) end, on Smith Street, and turn right. Turn right again on North Main Street to return to the starting point of the walk.
An optional continuation of the walk involves walking past the Roger Williams Memorial to Meeting Street, Take left and walk uphill to Congdon Street. Turn left again and walk to Prospect Terrace, on the left, where Congdon meets Cushing Street. A Statue of Roger Williams, overlooking the city and providing great views, marks his gravesite. Retrace your steps back to the starting point to complete the circuit.