Glimpse history through fascinating old images of Providence, Rhode Island.
The building pictured in this 19th century photo is not the same as the much-admired Atlantic Bank Building which still stands today. Instead, it was home to a number of financial institutions and businesses across its five floors.
This wonderful photo of Westminster Street in about 1901 captures so much detail and activity that I’ve added three closeup extracts.
Sprague House Settlement
The Mt. Pleasant Working Girls Club and Library was established by Alida Sprague Whitmarsh and Harriet Richards in 1887. Their aim was to train and support young female Irish millworkers in their new community.
In 1910, they took over 417 Atwells Avenue, located in the deprived immigrant neighborhood they served. They named the project Federal Hill House in 1914, though it was also known as Sprague House Settlement.
The central focus of Settlement Houses was to provide language classes, skills training, baby clinics, and aid for food and medicines, helping deprived families to overcome adversity and work towards a better future.
The non-profit organization Federal Hill House still supports families in need in Providence to this day.
Exchange Place is today called Kennedy Plaza, but it has also been known over the years as Exchange Terrace and City Hall Park.
Quite a few of the buildings from this early 20th century photo are still standing, and the rectangular space remains. But today the area has neat bus lanes with safe crossing points for pedestrians, and the parked cars have made way for trees and passenger shelters.
Because this is a lovely old photo packed with little details, I’ve added five extracts to show different parts of the image in closeup.
1921 Film of Providence
In 1921, filmmakers from the local Coronet Film Corporation were commissioned to make a promotional film about Providence, hoping to encourage companies to the city.
It’s a silent film in black and white, but the quality is very good.
It opens at Exchange Place, emphasises the large population of the area and the significant value of the local financial institutions. Then we see a variety of landmarks including the R.I. Hospital Trust Co., the Union Trust Co., the Peoples Savings Bank, and the very busy shopping district.
The film states the city is home to manufacturing plants “which lead the world in their particular lines”, including Ostby & Barton Co., the Manufacturing Jewelers.
Attention turns to the local water supplies – “Our water supply is exceptional in its ample quantity and purity”…”all water is filtered” – and gives us a glimpse of some large and attractive family homes with waterfront views.
The new dam under construction (using a lot of horses and carts) is a sudden contrast. The plans were to supply 85,000,000 gallons of water to the city daily, by covering 3,600 acres with water and draining about 9% of the total area of the state. The dam project’s budget was $20million!
We also see the piers and the harbor with its thirty foot channel, along with the almost-complete freight yard and its coal handling system, intended to become the largest freight yard in New England.
The gas plant, also the largest in New England, had a daily capacity of 12 million cubit feet of gas. The Providence Gas Company also output 450 tons of low ash foundry coke each day.
Several residental streets are presented, showing the comfortable and quiet neighborhoods employees would enjoy living in. “Our streets are all macadam or asphalt”.
After another look at heavy industry, it’s back to employee welfare. We see the open spaces, and the Rhode Island Country Club.
There were 128 public schools, and we see a few of them.
“A new fire alarm system, with modern motorized equipment, provides ample fire protection”.
Why Providence? (1921) – Rhode Island Historical Society on YouTube
Old Photos of Providence
This video showcases old photos of Providence, taken between 1901 and 1915.
Each image is labelled with the location and date, so you always know where and when you are looking at.
Old Photos of Providence (Rhode Island) 1901-1915 – oldstuff4all on YouTube