Archive for the ‘Architecture and Buildings’ Category

Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island: The Arcade   Leave a comment

Loved, boasted of and admired.
by John Williams Haley

This article comes from The Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island, Vol. I, pages 80-81, published by the Providence Institution for Savings, 1929. Transcribed by Christopher Martin.


The Arcade circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

The Arcade circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

THE city of Providence as we know it today, presents an interesting study in contrasts. In the very midst of historic sites that still seem to breathe the air of centuries gone by, rise towering structures of steel and stone that majestically dwarf their humble but honored companions. Everywhere about the city the rat-tat of riveting gun and the shrill whistle of a steam-shovel remind us that a continual transformation is taking place. A modern and magnificent Court House rises just south of College Hill, completely overshadowing that row of picturesque old buildings along South Main Street, places rich in the heritage of Rhode Island history, where some of the great industries of this community had their birth. There is one century-old building that seems to withstand the ruthless hand of time. Located in the very heart of the business district of the city, the Arcade seems to keep up with the times, and justify its existence almost at the very foot of giant sky-scrapers.

Years ago the Arcade was the show-place of Providence—loved by the children, boasted of by the citizens, and admired by strangers. At the time of its erection over one hundred years ago, there was scarcely a shop or business place of any kind in its vicinity on Westminster Street. The business section of the town was then on South Water Street and North and South Main Streets, and was known as Cheapside. The Arcade is said to have been inspired by the Madaleine of Napoleon in Paris, and at the time it was built several others were erected in this country. The Providence Arcade is said to be the only one remaining. It is built entirely of granite, and runs from Westminster to Weybosset Streets.

Each of the columns weighs thirteen tons, and, with the exception of those in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, they are the largest in America. It is still boasted that one of them was blasted out of the Bear Rock Ledge on the borders of the town of Johnston, and completed by the work-men in thirty days. James Olney agreed to haul the monoliths to Providence, and, after constructing a special low gear, and strengthening the bridge at Olneyville, he guided fifteen yoke of oxen, drawing their burden of twelve tons, through the woods. One column was broken in the moving, and after replacing it and getting the twelve others in place, the contractor announced that he was practically ruined. The broken column now stands on the Field lot in the old North Burying Ground.

When six of these pillars had been left near the Weybosset Street Bridge, the architects of the Arcade, Russell Warren and James Bucklin, assisted in placing them. Major Bucklin was in charge of the setting of each one. This task was completed in a single day. One man only was hurt when the building was constructed, and during the actual time the work was carried on, one man was killed. The Arcade cost $145,000. The east half was owned by Cyrus Butler, the west half, by the Arcade Corporation. Someone remarked at the time of its erection that “it was built on ground before then occupied by a nest of combustible sheds.” The news of the day referred to it as “a monument to the energy, good taste, skill and courage of its constructors, of which their descendants, and our city may well be proud.”

The Arcade interior, circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

The Arcade interior, circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

The fashionable folk of Providence were delighted with the fine things found in the Arcade displays—forerunners of the modern department stores—and a millinery shop most often visited was that of the “Three Sisters.” These sisters were devoted members of St. John’s Church, and greatly respected in Providence. The story is told of a member of that church who returned her bonnet to the milliners, asking that the bow on it be changed “to the congregation side,” as its beauty was wasted on a blank wall.

At the time of the September Gale the milliners were hastening with a brother, who was very ill, from their home on Mathewson and Weybosset Streets. The carriage in which they were taking him out of the reach of a rapidly rising tide was overturned, and it was with great difficulty that he was rescued from the water. A neighbor, on her return home after the flood had subsided, complained that her parlor rug was ruined with dead fish and slime, and that she found a “little dead swine” on the top of her piano.

The three sisters, as age was creeping on, sold their shop in the Arcade and moved to a rose-covered cottage in the country, where, familiarly called Aunt Ria and Aunt Patty, they were the fairy god-mothers of the community. Many a child climbed the haircloth sofa, examined the precious knick-knacks on the what-not, and sat in the comfortable living room, while marvellous [sic] doll’s clothes were designed from a never-failing supply of bright-colored silk scraps.

“Aunt Patty was very lame—a misstep on the stairs had caused this—so that she seldom went farther than her own garden. She was a dear, familiar figure to the villagers, seated on her little green wooden stool, weeding, or leaning on her cane to examine some new blossoms, while the winds played with her soft white curls, on either side of her sweet old face… Beneath the front steps dwelt a toad, which was very tame, and sat blinking in the sun while some child fed it with rosebugs… At last, growing too feeble to keep house longer, the beloved milliners moved again to town.”

So you see that when the historic landmarks of our city make way for modern progress and twentieth century ideas of beauty and efficiency, we gradually erase from our minds happy memories of some face, figure or event of the past. There is probably an interesting romance threaded in the true history of the old Arcade. Hundreds of business projects, thousands of clerks, and millions of eager shoppers have come and gone during the century of its existence.

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index.


John Williams Haley (1897-1963), former vice president of the Narragansett Brewing Company, was best known for his weekly radio program, “The Rhode Island Historian,” which ran from 1927 to about 1953 on WJAR. Several hundred of his radio scripts were published in pamphlet form by the Providence Institute for Savings (“The Old Stone Bank”), and many were later reprinted in the four-volume Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island.


Editor’s Notes
More information on The Arcade can be found under Attractions.

An earlier, unattributed version of this article can be found in Old Providence: A Collection of Facts and Traditions relating to Various Buildings and Sites of Historic Interest in Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence (1918). Portions of the second and third paragraphs also show up in The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 3, by Thomas Williams Bicknell (1920).

Bear Rock Ledge quarry is located in the southeast quarter of the interchange of Route 295 and Putnam Pike (Route 44). It has been long abandoned and overgrown. According to Richard M. Bayles in his History of Providence County, Rhode Island, Volume 2 (1891), the site was later quarried by Emor J. Angell beginning in 1861, “and during the winter of 1867 and 1868 [he] quarried 6,000 feet of curbstone, from that locality alone.”

James Olney, described as both a farmer and a stone cutter, was born July 23, 1792, in Rhode Island, and died August 29, 1868, in Johnston. He is buried in Johnston cemetery #9.

The Fields Memorial, North Burial Ground, Providence. Photo by Quahog.org.

The Fields Memorial, North Burial Ground, Providence. Photo by Quahog.org.

The Field lot in the North Burial Ground is dominated by a monument made from the broken pillar. The monument consists of about a four- or five-foot section of the column, on its side, balanced atop a plinth. The monument is inscribed with the names of Field family members whose remains were moved to North Burial Ground from the family farm on Field’s Point in 1865.

James Champlin Bucklin was born July 26, 1801, died September 28, 1890. He is buried in Swan Point Cemetery, Providence. He was also the architect of Brown University’s Manning Hall (1833).

Cyrus Butler was born May 9, 1767, and died August 22, 1849. He is buried in North Burial Ground, Providence. He contributed much of the financing for Butler Hospital, which was named for him.

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index.

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Big Coffee Mug   1 comment

The Big Coffee Mug in June 2013.

The Big Coffee Mug in June 2013.

King Kong-sized caffeine delivery system!
1065 Eddie Dowling Highway, (Route 146), North Smithfield
(401) 338-7100
theiceboxslush@yahoo.com

Update, January 2014: The Ice Box announced it was closed, apparently for good, via Facebook message on the 15th. No reason was given.

Update, May 17, 2014: The Big Coffee Mug was either demolished or carted away around this date. Everything that once stood on the lot is gone, down to bare earth. We have no further information at this time.

This huge travel-style coffee mug, perhaps large enough for two to three people to enjoy a hot java bath at the same time, serves as the sign for a small drive-up establishment. The sign is also a fountain, spewing clear water from the spout on its lid (when it’s working). We think the water should be colored a rich, dark brown so that potential customers won’t be turned off by the thought of a weak brew. A bit of steam to add verisimilitude wouldn’t hurt either.

The cup currently promotes The Icebox, a summertime stand owned and operated by RISD student Brianna O’Keefe. She opened the place in August 2013, serving Richie’s Super Premium Italian Ice to help finance her college education. The Icebox re-opened for the summer in early May 2013 and Brianna added ice cream to the line-up soon after. Next up: milk shakes! Then, possibly, coffee, to capitalize on the Big Coffee Mug juju.

As we hinted above, the fountain is not working as of this writing (June 2013). Brianna would like to have it fixed, but that may prove to be difficult, as it seems the mug was built around the pump. Brianna has installed a fog machine on top of the mug, and she uses it occasionally to draw the interest of passing motorists (didn’t we just say that would be a good idea?). If anyone knows of a small, talented monkey-mechanic that can go down the spout and perform the necessary pump repairs, please contact Brianna at theiceboxslush@yahoo.com.

The Icebox's menu board.

The Icebox’s menu board.

Coffee and Cream in 2005, when the fountain was working.

Coffee and Cream in 2005, when the fountain was working.

Richie’s Italian Ice, by the way, in case you’ve not tried it, is very different from what you get at Rhode Island’s many frozen lemonade places. It’s much smoother, like a sorbet, or an icy sherbet (but with no dairy). And it comes in a wide variety of flavors, like Banana, Blue Raspberry, Bubble Gum, Coconut Cream, Cotton Candy, Mango, Orange Creamsicle, Pina Colada, and Watermelon. You can even mix and match flavors as you please for a small added cost.

The landmark mug hath been running over since at least 1991. Before The Icebox, it was the sign for Coffee and Cream, a stand serving donuts, muffins, sandwiches, and, go figure, coffee. Coffee and Cream closed in 2009, a victim, apparently, of competition from a new Dunkin Donuts location just down the road.

We’ve heard from a friend that long ago, back in the mists of time, the Big Coffee Mug was originally a Big Coffee Pot. The only physical difference, apparently, was that the pot had a pour spout on the front. Anyone who can corroborate this bit of information, or better yet, provide a photo, please contact us at stuffie@quahog.org.

Former site of the Big Coffee Mug, May 18, 2014.

Former site of the Big Coffee Mug, May 18, 2014.

Information

Hours: The Icebox was open 11am-9pm daily during the summer. Now it’s CLOSED and erased from the face of the Earth.

Finding it: From Route 295 take exit 9 to Route 146 north (toward Woonsocket); Go 1.8 miles; You’ll pass the Big Coffee Mug on the left, on the other side of the divided highway; Get in the left lane and take a U-turn at Sayles Hill Road; Return south on Route 146 about 275 feet to the Big Coffee Mug on the right.

Other Big Things in Rhode Island

  • Big Blue Bug
  • Big Handtruck
  • Big Ice Cream Cone, Lakewood Ice Cream, 140-152 Chambly Avenue, Warwick
  • Big Milk Can
  • Big Paint Can, True Value Hardware, Route 44, Greenville, Smithfield
  • Big Roosters
  • Big Rosary Beads, Jesus Savior Church, 509 Broadway, Newport

Back to quahog.org.

Images of Market House and Market Square, Providence, RI   1 comment

I put this page together as a reference for Sheila Lennon’s May 10, 2013 Time Lapse Blog post for the Providence Journal.

Click on any of the images to view full-size.

Market House circa 1881. From Picturesque Rhode Island by Wilfred H. Munro

Market House. From Picturesque Rhode Island by Wilfred H. Munro (1881).

A view of Market Square during the Great Gale of 1815. From Providence Planations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

A view of Market Square during the Great Gale of 1815. From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

Market Square circa 1830. From Market Square Memento by Ctizens Bank (1954).

Market Square circa 1830. From Market Square Memento by Ctizens Bank (1954).

Market Square circa 1835. From Market Square Memento by Citizens Bank (1954)

Market Square circa 1835. From Market Square Memento by Citizens Bank (1954)

Market Square in 1844. From Providence Planations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

Market Square in 1844. From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

Market House in the 1860s. From Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island Vol. 4 (1944).

Market House in the 1860s. From Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island Vol. 4 (1944).

Market House circa 1880. From a stereoview.

Market House circa 1880. From a stereoview.

Market Square circa 1886.  From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

Market Square circa 1886. From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

View toward the harbor from Market Square, circa 1886.  From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

View toward the harbor from Market Square, circa 1886. From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

View toward Westminster Street from Market Square, circa 1886.  From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

View toward Westminster Street from Market Square, circa 1886. From Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene (1886).

Market Square, circa 1890. Photo by P.H. Rose.

Market Square, circa 1890. Photo by P.H. Rose.

View from Market Square toward Westminster Steet, circa 1890. From Market Square Memento by Citizens Bank (1954).

View from Market Square toward Westminster Street, circa 1890. From Market Square Memento by Citizens Bank (1954).

Market Square circa 1898. From Providence Board of Trade Thirtieth Year (1898).
Market Square circa 1898. From Providence Board of Trade Thirtieth Year (1898).

Market House, circa 1898. From Providence Board of Trade Thirtieth Year (1898).

Market House, circa 1898. From Providence Board of Trade Thirtieth Year (1898).

Market House circa 1911. From Points of Historical Interest in the State of Rhode Island by the Rhode Island Department of Education (1911).

Market House circa 1911. From Points of Historical Interest in the State of Rhode Island by the Rhode Island Department of Education (1911).

Market House circa 1930. From The Book of Rhode Island by the Rhode Island State Bureau of Information (1930).

Market House circa 1930. From The Book of Rhode Island by the Rhode Island State Bureau of Information (1930).

View of Market Square from College Street, circa 1954. From Market Square Memento by Citizens Bank (1954).

View of Market Square from College Street, 1950. From Market Square Memento by Citizens Bank (1954).

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Louis McGowan.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Louis McGowan.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Louis McGowan.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Louis McGowan.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Louis McGowan.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Louis McGowan.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market House. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market House. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market Square. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market House. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market House. Postcard from the Collection of Quahog.org.

Market House, December 29, 1999. Photo by Quahog.org.

Market House, December 29, 1999. Photo by Quahog.org.

Market House, July 18, 2011. Photo by Quahog.org.

Market House, July 18, 2011. Photo by Quahog.org.

Market House, December 3, 2011. Photo by Quahog.org.

Market House, December 3, 2011. Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Market House, December 29, 1999. Photo by Quahog.org.

Market House, December 29, 1999. Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Photo by Quahog.org.

Big Milk Can   2 comments

As it appeared in April 2002.

The Big Milk Can as it appeared in April 2002.

Crumbling landmark still intrigues.
920 Eddie Dowling Highway (Route 146), North Smithfield

Have you ever wondered about the big milk can hunkered by the side of the northbound lane of Route 146? Unless you’ve lived in Rhode Island all your life, and have a long memory, you probably have no idea of the story behind this structure. We’re going to fix that right now.

The milk can was built in 1931 (or 1929—sources differ) and originally stood about one mile farther south on the opposite side of Route 146 in Lincoln. If you drive south on the Woonsocket Industrial Highway (Route 99), as you take the offramp to Route 146 south, you’ll pass right over where the milk can used to be.

The thirty-two-foot tall bottle was built at a time when every roadside business was looking for a creative way to entice passing motorists to stop and spend money; a time when modern zoning and signage laws hadn’t yet reined in the imaginations of ambitious entrepreneurs. Wacky architecture, more formally known as “roadside vernacular architecture,” was one such marketing gambit. Tee-pee motels, giant concrete dinosaurs, and stands shaped like the food they sold once lined every well-traveled road. But with the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and ’60s many of those roads lost their high volumes of traffic, killing many of the businesses that relied on motorists for success. Much of the wacky architecture, in turn, was lost to neglect, fire, and development.

You could call the big milk can a survivor of that trend, but only in a manner of speaking. After all, it still exists, but it’s not being preserved, it’s a long way from being operational, and its future is uncertain.

The Milk Can, circa 1988, before it was moved. Photo courtesy of RetroRoadmap.com.

The Milk Can, circa 1988, before it was moved. Photo courtesy of RetroRoadmap.com.

The big milk can started its life as part of an ice cream stand, which one source says was actually called, quite literally, The Milk Can. We have no information on the original owners, but it was purchased from Charles Plante by Joseph Mariani in 1947. At that time it was still just an ice cream stand with take-out windows and picnic table seating. Mariani expanded the business to offer short order food like burgers and fried clams.

The seasonal business operated from late March to November. Mariani’s son, also named Joe, in a 2008 Valley Breeze article, recalled working there from 1955-’65. They’d be so busy in the summer, he said, that “there was no set closing time. We’d stay open until business waned. Sometimes we’d be scooping ice cream at 2am, especially on hot nights when people couldn’t sleep. I used to get callouses on my hands from all that scooping. It was ten cents a cone. For less than a buck, everybody could have an ice cream cone.” A half-pint of fried clams was only fifty cents; a hamburger was a quarter.

But the good times came to an end in 1968 with the death of Joe, Sr.’s wife. The stand was closed and never re-opened.

Around 1978 things started happening. Plans for safety improvements on Route 146 put the building in danger, and it was around this time that the state acquired the property by eminent domain. Preservationists took notice and began efforts to have the building added to the National Register of Historic Places, hoping the designation would help save it.

The State Department of Transportation attempted to auction the building in 1986, recieving several bids between $500 and $5000, but because officials had failed to take into account guidelines for how historic buildings must be treated, the auction was declared null and void.

A second attempt the following year was more successful. A March Providence Journal article revealed the high bidder to be Robert LaRiviere of Pawtucket, who said he planned to move the can to Social Street in Woonsocket, where his sister, Carol Archambault, operated Family Scoop Ice Cream Stand.

Something happened, though, and we’re not sure what, because the next ProJo article we found, dated June 10, 1988, listed Stanley Surtel and his father-in-law, Frank D’Andrea, as the owners of the can. They planned to return the can to its original use, as an ice cream stand. The two had built a foundation on a piece of property owned by D’Andrea a mile north and were just waiting for the building to be moved. The move required the cooperation of three government agencies: DOT (which was to pay a portion of the moving cost), The Historic Preservation Commission (which was overseeing the safe handling of the structure), and the Federal Highway Administration (which was paying the majority of the moving cost, since the highway project displacing the can was federal).

The big milk can was finally moved in early December 1988. Because of its size and unwieldy shape, the can had to be cut into three sections. Eastman Brothers movers of East Greenwich did the job. Funny (well, not so much funny as interesting) story: On their way to pick up the can, Eastman Brothers came upon an accident on Route 295 near Route 37 in Cranston. A guy had hit a patch of ice, flipping his car and pinning him underneath. Eastman Brothers stopped and used their crane to lift the car so the semi-conscious man could be freed, then continued on their way to Lincoln.

This Christmas ornament, created by local company Chemart, was offered for sale in 2009 by the Town of Lincoln.

This Christmas ornament, created by local company Chemart, was offered for sale in 2009 by the Town of Lincoln.

Seventeen months had passed since Surtel and D’Andrea purchased the milk can for $1,100. With the move completed they threw themselves, and $50,000 of their money, into renovations, restoring the milk can and adding a new addition to allow indoor seating. A ninety-five-foot-deep well was dug to supply fresh water. There were some septic system issues, but they were overcome. But then came the worst possible news.

In 1990 the state Division of Groundwater and Freshwater Wetland did some testing at the site and discovered that the groundwater there was contaminated with benzene—600 times the maximum considered safe for drinking. This seems to have spelled the end for Surtell and D’Andrea’s efforts because, although some possible solutions were floated (using bottled water or running a line from D’Andrea’s business, Lakeside Swimming Pool and Supply, 100 yards up the highway), no further work has been done on the site since the contamination was found.

Frank D’Andrea was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2004, and his wife, Elfrida, is now the legal owner of property. As of 2008, still greiving, she had no plans to open the milk can, but no plans to sell, either.

In 2006 the milk can was officially vacant longer than the thirty-seven years it had been operational. An occassional target of vandalism, it still stands, a deteriorating symbol of a bygone era, but for how much longer?

Other Big Things in Rhode Island

  • Big Blue Bug
  • Big Coffee Mug
  • Big Ice Cream Cone, Lakewood Ice Cream, 140-152 Chambly Avenue, Warwick
  • Big Handtruck
  • Big Paint Can, True Value Hardware, Route 44, Greenville, Smithfield
  • Big Roosters
  • Big Rosary Beads, Jesus Savior Church, 509 Broadway, Newport

Back to quahog.org.

The Cranston Street Armory   Leave a comment

View of the “proposed new state armory” from Providence Board of Trade (1898).

A peek inside.
310 Cranston St, Providence
by Michael Schemaille
(photos by the author unless noted otherwise)

Located on Providence’s West Side, the Cranston Street Armory is an imposing, fortress-like building set at the back end of the Dexter Training Grounds. No longer used for military purposes, the armory (sometimes referred to as the Rhode Island State Armory) serves today as the State Fire Marshal’s Office, as well as providing a secondary home and storage facility for the Board of Elections.

It’s easy enough to walk around the outside of the building and see the care that went into its construction, the details that make it special. They certainly don’t make them like they used to. But, while anyone can walk around the outside of the building, not everyone gets to see the interior. I’ve had the opportunity to explore inside a bit, and would like to shed some light on some very cool hidden details in this crumbling architectural masterpiece.

The largest part of the armory is the parade floor, covering nearly 9,000 square feet and surrounded by an enormous steel skeleton. I’m told that during its heyday, the floor was so highly polished that you could see your reflection in it. Sadly, those days are over and today the floor is drab and dusty, patched here and there with plywood. Over the years, the floor has served a number of interesting purposes, but today chain-link fences line the sides of the floor, containing much of the Rhode Island Board of Elections’ inventory of voting booths, ballot boxes, and polling place signs. Down one side of the room lies a row of suitcases and cinderblocks, used as training aids for sniffer dogs. In 2007, the parade floor was used as a sound stage for Disney’s Underdog.

Perhaps the most interesting detail on the parade floor is the pair of “wheelhouses” at one end of the room. These wooden structures were built to resemble the bridges of warships, with observation ports and duty stations. Their purpose here was to train ships’ artillerymen in “dialing in” their shots. Receiving coordinates from their two “spotter ships,” the artillerymen would then adjust their windage and elevation settings to hit an imaginary target. I’m told that for a long time, a ship’s gun sat in the middle of the floor, and that there’s an enormous concrete vault in the basement that was built to accommodate the gun’s weight.

My tour guide, one of the Marshals, was kind enough to take me all the way up to the roof. The views of Providence were extraordinary, and it gave me a chance to see some other architectural details that I would have never known about otherwise. Each of the towers has several parapets, and from the roof, each one is accessible by a small door. These were sniper nests, meant for crowd control in the event of a rebellion or riot. This makes some sense, considering that this armory was built on the site of one that stood during the time of the now nearly-forgotten Dorr Rebellion.

Sadly, there wasn’t much else of interest inside the towers. Years of neglect have taken their toll, and there’s significant evidence that a large number of pigeons once took roost above the first floor. Light fixtures hang askew from the ceilings, everything is covered in dust, and the paint, no doubt leaded, is peeling from every wall. While there are tentative plans to open the building up to more state offices, it’s going to take a lot of time and taxpayer money to get it to that stage.

Because each tower only has one staircase, the building doesn’t have adequate fire escapes. This means that for the foreseeable future, only the first floor is inhabitable. Putting in fire escapes would require building escape stairs into the parade floor, or, more reasonably, along the outside of the building. Given the cost of rehab needed on the building’s exterior, this is also highly unlikely in the near future. The city continues to put money into repairs and upkeep, but it seems to only be a palliative measure. This historic building deserves more, and I’m glad I got the chance to see it before it crumbles further.

"1904 Designed and Built by the Boston Bridge Works" – plaque on one of the major support beams on the parade floor.

“1904 Designed and Built by the Boston Bridge Works” – plaque on one of the major support beams on the parade floor.

A view of the parade floor. The white frame in the middle of the floor is for fireman training. The large blue mass in the back corner are stacks of voting booths.

A view of the parade floor. The white frame in the middle of the floor is for fireman training. The large blue mass in the back corner are stacks of voting booths.

One of the "ship's bridges," designed for artillery training. Note the azimuth "scoreboard" at top left.

One of the “ship’s bridges,” designed for artillery training. Note the azimuth “scoreboard” at top left.

A row of suitcases for sniffer dog training. The ring of cinderblocks in the background holds cans of scented materials for further training.

A row of suitcases for sniffer dog training. The ring of cinderblocks in the background holds cans of scented materials for further training.

Detail of West door.

Detail of West door.

A stairpost. The anchor motif can be seen all around the first floor, but nowhere above. Likely, the artistic details were meant to be seen by visitors who wouldn't progress beyond the first floor.

A stairpost. The anchor motif can be seen all around the first floor, but nowhere above. Likely, the artistic details were meant to be seen by visitors who wouldn’t progress beyond the first floor.

A dizzying view of the parade floor from the catwalks above.

A dizzying view of the parade floor from the catwalks above.

One of the dusty, crumbling rooms in the West tower.

One of the dusty, crumbling rooms in the West tower.

Corner detail, taken from the catwalk.

Corner detail, taken from the catwalk.

A view of the roof. Note the sniper's door in the corner turret.

A view of the roof. Note the sniper’s door in the corner turret.

Another roof view.

Another roof view.

Commemorative plaque at the East entrance. Photo by Christopher Martin.

Commemorative plaque at the East entrance. Photo by Christopher Martin.

Information

Hours: The armory is not generally open to the public. You need to keep your eye out for the rare public event, or else know a guy, to get a peek inside.

Finding it: From Route 95 take exit 21. If coming from the north, continue straight from the top of the exit ramp and turn right on Westminster Street. If coming from the south, turn left at the top of the ramp onto Broadway, take an immediate left onto John J. Partington Way, then turn right on Westminster. Once on Westminster, bear left at the Y intersection onto Cranston Street. Go about one half mile, the Cranston Street Armory is on the right.

Related:
The Cranston Street Armory on Wikipedia.
The Cranston Street Armory on ArtInRuins.com.

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Michael Schemaille is a former English teacher and a current freelance writer and editor. A native New Yorker, he has lived in Rhode Island since 2006 and is quite fond of his adopted state. He is an avid geocacher, a hobby that takes him to many strange and unusual locations.

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