Four centuries of history are alive and well in Providence. While founded in 1636, most of the city was burned in the late 1600s, during King Phillip's War (a battle between settlers and Native Americans). The surge of reconstruction that followed has provided Providence with some of the most significant and stunning Colonial-period architecture in the country.
Providence is believed to have a larger percentage of buildings on the National Historic Register than any other U.S. city, with scores of immaculately preserved Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian homes and buildings. Cobblestone streets and gas streetlamps - now converted to electric - are hallmarks of the city's East Side. The Rhode Island State House, the Arcade, John Brown House, and the First Baptist Meeting House are among the many historic buildings open to the public year-round. An annual Festival of Historic Houses allows the public to tour privately owned homes with interiors of special or historical interest.
Benefit Street, the "Mile of History"
Benefit Street, often called the "Mile of History," is the most impressive collection of original Colonial homes in the U.S. -- with 200 pristine 18th and 19th century buildings, brick sidewalks and antique gas lamps. This magnificent concentration of period architecture is one of the finest historic districts in America. Benefit Street homes that have been restored to Preservation Society standards bear plaques noting each house's original owner and construction date. History buffs will recognize the names of many significant Colonial figures.
The Rhode Island State House
The RI State House was designed in 1892 by the legendary New York architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, the creative force behind Penn Station. The cost to build the State House at that time was a then-astronomical $3 million. If the same building were constructed today, it would cost more than $1 billion. Made of white Georgia marble, it has the fourth largest self-supporting marble dome in the world. (The largest being the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, followed by the dome of the Minnesota State Capital in St. Paul, and the Taj Mahal in India.)
John Brown House
A three-story Georgian mansion at 52 Power Street, the house celebrates many aspects of Rhode Island's heritage, including its distinctive tradition of fine craftsmanship, Providence's rise as a city, and the state's commitment to preserving its unique history. The 1786 brick-and-brownstone mansion was owned by many generations of the family for whom Brown University was named. It is open to visitors via tours conducted by the Rhode Island Historical Society. On display are mint-condition original furnishings, including pieces made by leading Rhode Island craftsmen such as Furniture Makers Townsend & Goddard and Clockmaker William Clagget.
First Baptist Church in America
Located at 75 North Main Street, the oldest Baptist Church in America was established in 1638 by Providence Founder Roger Williams. An artistic triumph, the church features a magnificent Waterford Crystal chandelier dating from 1792, designed by Joseph Brown.
The Providence Athenaeum
One of the country's oldest libraries and cultural centers, the Athenaeum traces its origins back to 1753. The building sports a dramatic Greek Doric temple design and houses rare works such as an extensive collection of travel and exploration books by Robert Burns and the seven volumes of the original double Elephant Folio edition of John Audubon's "Birds of America." Edgar Allen Poe frequented the library while in Providence to court Sarah Helen Power Whitman (the inspiration for "To Helen" and other classic Poe poems).