Providence does not get enough credit. While the Pilgrims (Separatists) landed in Plymouth in the quest to abandon the Church of England, and the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony sought to reform it, both imposed their own strictures on their population. Enter Roger Williams (a Separatist) who managed to offend the gentle people of Boston, Salem and Plymouth Colony with his notion of separating church and state and insistence that land must be purchased from Indians rather than stolen.
After his inevitable trial and conviction of sedition and heresy, he fled south and in 1636 established the settlement of Providence (through “God’s merciful Providence”) on land that was gifted to him by the Narragansett. This started a bit of a trend with other non-conformists settling in the area after banishment from Massachusetts Bay. There’s something about being banned in Boston that makes good things happen.
And so Providence, and indeed Rhode Island, got its start.
Located at the mouth of the Providence River at the head of Narragansett Bay, the settlement grew from initial maritime roots into a major industrialization center in the 19th century. Following the decline of that industry, the city, like others in New England, suffered. Rising above such challenges, the city has reinvented itself as a knowledge center and service economy. It’s a vibrant city, with eight colleges and universities, including Ivy League Brown University, renowned Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence College, and the esteemed culinary school Johnson & Wales University.
Art and culture abound. Waterfire, a fire sculpture installation on three rivers in downtown Providence, accompanied by music and performances, captivates not only visitors but locals as well. The Rhode Island State House with its marble dome topped with the gilded “Independent Man” presides over a hopping downtown, where you can take in a show at the Performing Arts Center, stroll around Waterplace Park, and dine at a brewpub. Spend a day at Roger Williams Park Zoo. Lose yourself in RISD’s Museum of Art. Stroll and dine historic Federal Hill with its deep Italian roots. Admire the colonial buildings along Benefit Street. There is so much more – options abound in the city’s 15 neighborhoods.
Head west from Providence to rural towns to enjoy parks, farms, orchards and vineyards. Have a family style chicken dinner at Wright’s Chicken Farm in Burrillville. Go antiquing in Glocester.
North of the city, visit the Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket, where New England’s textile industry started, or take in a ballgame at McCoy Stadium (home of the Pawtucket Red Sox minor league team) followed by a libation at one of the local breweries. Spend a day in Woonsocket, visiting St Ann Arts and Cultural Center and the Museum of Work and Culture, and catch a performance at the Stadium Theatre Performing Arts Centre.
Above all, give thanks to Roger Williams for following his convictions to Providence.