Archive for the ‘Providence’ Tag

Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island: Auton House   Leave a comment

Auton House, from Recollections of Auton House (1881).

Auton House, from Recollections of Auton House (1881).

Alias Hoppin.
by John Williams Haley

This article comes from an Old Stone Bank educational pamphlet published by the Providence Institution for Savings on March 2, 1931. Transcribed by Christopher Martin.

* * * * *

AUTON HOUSE… who would recognize it now? In fact, how many have ever even heard the name? It is not in the property files of Providence. Officially it does not exist. But the initiated, familiar with its origin, revel in their intimate knowledge of its full significance. For them the name “Auton” conveys up the picture of a charming mid-nineteenth century Providence family, one which was in some respects similar to the Alcott family of Concord, Massachusetts.

Auton House stands on Westminster Street at the corner of Walnut Street, nearly opposite the Modern Theatre. At this writing it serves as the home of several business concerns, its first floor given over to stores, its second and third floors to offices and workshops. Someday it will probably be torn down, destroyed to make room for a modern office building; but now, in spite of its constant usage for more than 120 years, its brick walls seem as sturdy as the day they were raised.

And this was the house in which twelve little Autons were born, in which eleven grew up, and of which one paused, in his later years, to reminisce. He called his reminiscences Recollections of Auton House, issuing them in the form of a small book and illustrating it himself. In it he tells of countless little details in the child life of the Auton family, describing many a piece of mischief—the romps and games in the nursery, the thoughtless persecution of poor Deborah, the tyranny of T. Auton in the matter of jonnycake—and portraying character after character, from Rosannah to Mother Auton, with tender humor and intimate understanding.

But so far we have been talking ambiguously; so far you know nothing about Auton house except its location. Let us then unfold the rest of the mystery without more ado.

The Auton family was none other than the Hoppin family of Rhode Island. And the author of the reminiscences was Augustus Hoppin, the ninth in line of the twelve children. Perhaps desiring the opportunity to expand more liberally upon the theme that engrossed him in his writing, he hid his family behind the pseudonym “Auton.” “Auton”, it seems, is a Greek word meaning “self” and therefore was a very apt choice. For distinction among the eleven living children, Augustus Hoppin then prefixed the correct first initial of each individual before his fictitious surname. Thus, in order of arrival in the world, they were

J. Auton………. William Jones Hoppin
A. Auton (girl)…… Anna Jones Hoppin
T. Auton……. Thomas Frederick Hoppin
S. Auton (girl)…….. Sarah D. Hoppin
F. Auton………. Francis Edwin Hoppin
H. Auton…………… Hamilton Hoppin
E. Auton (girl)….. Eliza Jones Hoppin
W. Auton……… Dr. Washington Hoppin
A. Auton…………… Augustus Hoppin
H. Auton (girl)… Harriet Jones Hoppin
C. Auton………. Dr. Courtland Hoppin

The family moved into Auton House in 1815, although it had been built some eight years earlier, and continued to occupy it until 1874, the year of Mother Auton’s death. The father of the family was Thomas Coles Hoppin who, with his brother Benjamin, engaged in business as a merchant, dealing in such commodities as dye-stuffs, drugs, and Chinaware and importing many goods from the West Indies and China. Both men became influential and highly respected citizens of the community. From the various bits of description Augustus Hoppin gives us, we can picture his father as an individual of unusual charm. The former writes that if ever a father was loved by his children Father Auton was, their greatest delight arising in being compared with him whether in matter of virtue, feature, or eccentricity. He would often thrill them when they were quite small by swinging them in a circle until they were literally flying through the air, like the partner of a spinning, dance performer. Every morning, early, it was he who would take a basket on his arm and set out for the heart of the town to do the daily marketing. On each trip one of the elder boys would be taken along to help in bringing home the purchases, and it was not unusual for Father Anton, after buying a live gobbler in the stalls, to give it to his son to carry. This the young man would have to do, regardless of his attire and of the affront to his vanity if he chanced to meet any friends (particularly those of the opposite sex) on the way. Nevertheless, despite the possibility of being ordered to carry an obstreperous turkey home, the chance to accompany Father Auton on his morning expeditions was considered a privileged one and was valued accordingly.

Not all of Father Auton’s shopping was done in the market-place, however, for many farmers would come into the town and cry their products through the streets from house to house. When a huckster with a wagon load of berries came up Westminster Street, Father Auton would stop him, sample his goods, and then, if they proved satisfactory, buy five or six quarts.

Mother Auton was the daughter of Governor William Jones of Rhode Island, and one of the best mothers imaginable, catering to her large brood with wisdom and love. Her ministrations extended outside of her family as well, for her sympathy and intelligent advice was sought by many a distressed female, whether black or white. She survived Father Auton by about twenty-four years, and it is of her in this latter period of her life that Augustus Hoppin gives us an especially fine picture.

“Mother Auton never would sit at a desk,” he writes. “Neither ‘secretary’ nor ‘davenport’ suited her purpose. The little gifts presented to her from time to time, and admirably adapted to write at were always gratefully accepted, but never used. She took her writing materials on her broad motherly lap, pushed her cap-strings from her face, adjusted her gold spectacles over her ample nose, dipped her pen daintily in the ink (just enough to fill it without blotting), and away it ran so merrily and easily over the paper that she would be on her fourth page before we children, who were seated around her, had half gotten through sucking our oranges…

“There she sat in her chair every Sunday morning for over forty years, writing the weekly epistle, with bended head and benign expression, while the wood fire hissed and sputtered, and the old canary sang in the sunlight.”

We have already mentioned Deborah, the long-suffering maid. She was the break-water against which the tireless waves of the young Autons’ energy buffeted endlessly. She slept in the nursery with the children, being allotted a thin strip along the edge of the larger bed, but she was only allowed to sleep after she had brushed the bed clean of the crumbs which fell from the children’s final rations of jonnycake and had supplied all round with a last drink of water. Even then, with the first light of day, she was unmercifully pushed out of bed by several pairs of small feet braced against her back. Yet, though slowly worn to a shadow, she never complained of her lot, and faithfully ministered to all the childish wants, from the youngest to the oldest, doctoring colds, combing hair, answering questions, drying tears, and adjusting sashes and ties.

Far different was she from Rosannah, the colored mistress of the kitchen. The latter was almost regal in her bearing, seldom smiling yet warm-hearted for all of that. She would dole out slices of bread to the small army of young ones that daily invaded her sanctuary, and she alone knew just what pinch of salt or dash of pepper was needed to make each dish exactly suited to the fastidious taste of Father Auton. But like many of the old-time cooks she could not endure the modern types of cooking equipment, and when coal stoves and ovens came into vogue, she resigned her culinary throne.

What became of the many young Autons who filled the old house with so much noise and merriment? What of those urchins who deliberately caught colds in order to stay home from school, who climbed all over poor Deborah, who played house in the nursery, who set out their shoes (instead of stockings) to be filled with candy and trinkets on Christmas Eve?

Well, the eldest, William Hoppin Jones [sic], turned to law and established a considerable practice in New York, later entering the diplomatic service and going to London. The next among the boys, Thomas Frederick, became a distinguished artist, his notable works being the chancel windows depicting the evangelists in Trinity Church, New York, and his bronze statue of a dog, now in Roger Williams Park. Others, among the boys, became well-known physicians and architects, while the girls attained social prominence, one marrying Elisha Dyer, Governor of Rhode Island in 1857.

But last, and especially, we must speak of Augustus Hoppin, the author of the “re-collections.” He, too, was a noted artist, famous as an illustrator. It was he who did the illustrations for the original edition of Holmes’ Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. He wrote a good many books, but of them all none is more delightful, more thoroughly charming than Recollections of Auton House, a pen portrait of a 19th century Rhode Island family.

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

Most of the major players in this story are buried in Swan Point Cemetery.

Left, Augustus Hoppin, from a 1925 Rhode Island Independence Day program. Right, his grave at Swan Point Cemetery.

Left, Augustus Hoppin, from a 1925 Rhode Island Independence Day program. Right, his grave at Swan Point Cemetery.

Hamilton Hoppin, (1821-1885), left Rhode Island to pursue business interests in New York. There, he married Louisa Howland, daughter of Samuel Shaw Howland, a prosperous merchant. In the 1850s, portions of the extended Howland family began summering in Newport, and in 1855 Hamilton Hoppin purchased property in Middletown. By summer 1857 a house was ready for occupancy. The house was featured, under the name Inn at Shadow Lawn, in the 2002 PBS documentary Ghosts and Vampire Legends of Rhode Island. Today it’s known as the Inn at Villalon.

Auton House as it appeared circa 1918, quarters of the Providence Wall Paper House. From Old Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence in 1918.

Auton House as it appeared circa 1918, quarters of the Providence Wall Paper House. From Old Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence in 1918.

An earlier account of Auton House, from Old Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence in 1918, offered these details:

It requires a considerable stretch of the imagination, when the stranger to-day views the Auton House at the upper corner of Westminster and Walnut Streets, to place it in the midst of spacious grounds. It is now in the heart of the commercial district, and is the home of the Providence Wall Paper Company. “It was built,” according to information given by Mr. William W. Chapin, “in 1807 by Isaac Greenwood, who removed to Boston in 1810, first advertising his house for sale, and saying in the advertisement that it had been built three years before. The house was bought by Benjamin Hoppin, brother of Thomas C.; and in 1815 Benjamin conveyed it to Thomas C. The family occupied it until the death of Mrs. Hoppin in 1874. The interior of the house has been changed beyond recognition, except that in the shop of the Providence Wall Paper Company there remains the original fan-light over what were old-fashioned folding doors—not sliding doors—separating the two parlors when desired.”

The dog statue by Thomas F. Hoppin is known as “The Sentinel.” He designed it and had it cast by Gorham Manufacturing in 1851. It is variously credited with being either “the first bronze statue cast in America,” “the first bronze statue cast in Rhode Island,” or “the first bronze dog statue cast in America.” It was exhibited at the Crystal Palace in London during the Great Exhibition of 1851, and won a gold medal from the New York Academy of Design.

"The Sentinel" in 1958, with a young rider astride.

“The Sentinel” in 1958, with a young rider astride.

“The Sentinel” depicts Black Prince, a mastiff owned by the Jenkins family who lived in the 1798 John Innis Clark House at 383 Benefit Street. On November 20, 1849, a fire broke out in the house and Black Prince barked frantically to alert the family. Some accounts say he broke his chain, and that is why a short length of chain dangles from the statue’s studded collar. Despite his efforts only two family members survived—Moses, 15, and Anna, 17. Anna later married Thomas Hoppin, and he built an Italianate villa (which still stands) on the ruins of the Clark mansion. “The Sentinel” stood watch over their front lawn for several decades.

In 1896 the Hoppin family gave “The Sentinel” to the City of Providence. It was installed in the Japanese garden at Roger Williams Park, and later moved to the zoo grounds. Generations of children have climbed on his back to pose for a photograph.

Westminster and Walnut, the former site of Auton House, as seen in January 2014.

Westminster and Walnut, the former site of Auton House, as seen in January 2014.

Auton House was replaced, as Haley predicted, by a multi-story office building—the non-descript 1971 addition to the 1917 New England Telephone and Telegraph Building. As of 2014 it’s occupied by Verizon.

* * * * *

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index.

Big Rooster   Leave a comment

New digs at Antonelli's, November 2013.

New digs at Antonelli’s, November 2013.

Big wings, big thighs, big breasts, oh my!
Antonelli’s Poultry Company, 62 De Pasquale Avenue, Providence
(401) 421-8739

Nothing calls attention to your business better than a freakishly large fiberglass animal.

This fantastic fowl originally graced the sidewalk in front of Sollitto’s Liquor Mart at 905 Narragansett Boulevard beginning around 1969, when, at the suggestion of his brother, Domenic Sollitto bought it at an auction for $200.

It was stolen at least twice, once in the early 1970s by a Brown University fraternity that employed a pickup truck to make off with the bird, and once in the late 1990s by less-resourceful Johnson & Wales students who tried to drag it away on foot. The Brown students reportedly got caught because a postman saw them muscling the ungainly 150-pound cock into their dorm, and reported the sighting to Sollitto. The safe return of the rooster was brokered by the dean of students a few weeks later. Supposedly a case of bourbon was suggested as ransom, but whether that was the dean’s idea or the students’, we don’t know. The J&W kids didn’t do nearly as well. They were spotted by patrons of a nearby bar who gave chase as the students humped the statue down Indiana Avenue. Thinking only of their own interests, the kids dropped the chicken, leaving a minor crack in its skin. As a result of these shenanigans, the bird was subsequently brought inside the store each night to remove the temptation to larceny.

Sollitto's flag-waving message, photographed August 2, 2003.

Sollitto’s flag-waving message, August 2003.

The rooster became a booster for belligerent American patriotism sometime after 911, with the painted admonition, “USA, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.” Prior to that, it bore the harmlessly capitalistic and far less jingoistic “SPIRITS LOW, SEE SOLLITTO.”

The rooster was featured in a Zippy the Pinhead cartoon on May 30, 2006, which poked fun at the idea of a barnyard fowl spouting outdated messages of narrow-minded patriotism. Zippy pointed out that chickens are more closely identified with cutting and running than with stolid, staightbacked, clear-eyed dedication to cause, and the rooster agreed that “Cutting and running [is] the new patriotism!” Maybe the punchline hit home for Sollitto, because a year or two later the bird had been rendered messageless.

Sollitto’s closed in 2013 and the rooster was sold to Antonelli’s Poultry on Federal Hill, marking a sharp shift in the bird’s promotional career. The connection between fresh poultry products and an eight-foot clucker are obvious in retrospect, and forty-four years of shilling for booze are easily swept under the henhouse, especially with the aid of a fiberglass restoration and spiffy new paint job by Bob Connell of Nick’s Auto Body

Wright's big rooster, photographed November 6, 2004.

Wright’s big rooster, November 2004.

A second giant rooster once stood in a prominent spot at Wright’s Farm Restaurant in Burrillville. A comparison of photos shows that Sollitto’s and Wright’s roosters appear to have hatched from the very same clutch of fiberglass eggs. If not brothers, they are at least close cousins. Wright’s rooster can still be seen, but it’s somewhat hidden on the roof of a shed at the back of the restaurant complex.

Are two big roosters enough for the Biggest Little? No, there was a third that used to hang out at Kiddie Land at Rocky Point Park in Warwick. It was purchased at auction by Chris Gasbarro of Gasbarro Liquors who, in 2007, donated it the Tomorrow Fund, which refurbished it and auctioned it off at their annual fundraiser on November 3, 2007. Its whereabouts are currently unknown.

All three roosters were likely manufactured by International Fiberglass of Venice, California, in the 1960s. According to Wikipedia, “boatbuilder Steve Dashew established International Fiberglass in 1963 by purchasing and renaming Bob Prewitt’s workshop, Prewitt Fiberglass. The oversized fiberglass men, women and dinosaurs began as a sideline. Increases in costs to deliver the lightweight but oversized figures proved problematic and business declined with the 1973 oil crisis. International Fiberglass was sold and closed permanently in 1976. The moulds for the figures, originally worth thousands of dollars each, were not retained and are now lost.”

Sollitto's questionable color scheme, photographed January 26, 2008.

Sollitto’s questionable color scheme, January 2008.

You may well wonder, given their residence in Rhode Island, if these statues are of the famed Rhode Island Red breed of chicken. They are not. In fact, try as we might to find a picture online of a living rooster with a white body and a red tail, we came up empty handed. Perhaps, and this is just a guess, the paint scheme for both roosters was informed by depictions of the Warner Brothers cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn. The 2008 version of the rooster at Sollitto’s bore a green wattle and legs. You can’t tell us that ever occurs in nature. In any case, these fiberglass roosters are found all over the country, and given that they’ve probably been painted many times since their manufacture, they share remarkably similar color schemes. See Debra Jane Seltzer’s page of Giant Roosters, Chickens and Turkeys for more compare and contrast fun.

Information

Cost: Free

Time required: Allow one minute to gawk, more if you’re shopping for dinner

Hours: During business hours

Finding it: From Route 95 take exit 21 to Atwells Avenue. Go under the pinecone arch and turn right onto Dean Street. Turn left onto Spruce Street. Park. Antonelli’s is located in De Pasquale Plaza, a small pedestrian plaza on the left.

Other Big Things in Rhode Island

  • Big Blue Bug
  • Big Coffee Mug
  • 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 Rosary Beads, Jesus Savior Church, 509 Broadway, Newport

* * * * *

Return to Quahog.org |

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.

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.

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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