|Benefit Street, Providence, Rhode Island|
Benefit Street on the east side of Providence, Rhode Island, is known as the “Mile of History” for the 1.2 miles of historic homes and buildings that line its sidewalks. Considered an outdoor museum, Benefit Street is a popular tourist attraction, and today I’d like to take you on a virtual tour. So lace up your sneakers because those cobblestone sidewalks can get a bit unsteady.
|"A Benefit for All"|
We will be heading north, focusing on early American architecture, although there are many Victorian era homes as well.
Providence was founded by Roger Williams in the early 1600s, when he was expelled from Massachusetts for his religious views. Almost 150 years later, the city had risen from a religious settlement cut out of the wilderness to a thriving mercantile center, with many making their fortunes trading rum, molasses and even slaves. These wealthy merchants needed a place to build that reflected their affluent status. In the 1780s, the hilly area overlooking the Providence River was deemed a prime residential spot for its lofty location above the City. What was originally called Back Street was widened and the street renamed Benefit because it was deemed to be "a benefit for all."
One of the most notable homes of the period is the Nightingale-Brown House built by a wealthy merchant in 1792. At 19,000 square feet, it is one of the largest 18th century wood frame houses still standing in North America. I especially love the captain’s walk on the rooftop which would have overlooked the merchant ships sailing into the Providence River.
|Stephen Hopkins House c. 1707|
This is the Stephen Hopkins house, built in 1707 and occupied by the merchant and ship builder from 1743 to 1785. The house plaque reveals a bit more about the Colonial man and reads, “Ten times Governor of Rhode Island. Chief Justice of the Superior Court. Chancellor of Brown University. Member of the Colonial Congress. Signer of the Declaration of Independence.” General George Washington was a guest at the house on April 6, 1776.
What makes Benefit Street so special is that its historic character continues throughout the entire length of over one mile, not just in one or two buildings spaced here and there. The homes have front doors that open right onto the sidewalk as was fashionable at the time, and in strolling down the street it is easy to imagine yourself back in time, as life was 150 years ago.
|Isaac Bowen, Jr. House|
Among the mansions and wealthy residences along Benefit Street are more modest dwellings in the Federal architecture style. Though this Federal home doesn’t appear very modest to me. The plaque by the door indicates that this was the home of Isaac Bowen, Jr. 1770-1804.
Thanks to the Providence Preservation Society, even simple structures bear plaques which indicate when they were built and who originally owned the house, like the home of Daniel Smith. This house was originally built in 1750 in another area of Providence, but was moved by preservationists to Benefit Street in 1982.
|Daniel Smith House c.1750|
This was just a sampling of the architecture the street has to offer. I hope you enjoyed our little stroll and learning about the history of Providence’s Benefit Street. I wanted to share it with you, because I always enjoy walking along the street, envisioning what it would have been like living in the Colonial era.
Lisa Norato is the multi-published author of Prize of My Heart, an inspirational, seafaring historical from Bethany House, set during the Federal era. A life-long New Englander, Lisa lives in a historic village with homes and churches dating as far back as the eighteenth century