Benefit Street, College Hill, Providence

Got 24 Hours in Providence? Here’s One Way to Spend It!

Deb Architecture, Travel 15 Comments

As luck would have it, I was recently invited to be a guest on GoLocalLive in Providence, RI to speak to host Molly O’Brien about the genesis of The Front Door Project. While nervous for my first broadcasted interview, I was thrilled for the opportunity and decided to give myself a little extra time to familiarize myself with the third largest city in New England. How much could I pack into 24 hours? Turns out, quite a bit!

Getting up early and exploring is my favorite way to see a new place, so I spent the night before my interview at Hotel Providence, a boutique hotel in the downtown arts district that checked every box for me. Historic architecture: check. Restaurants, shops and museums within walking distance: check. Immaculate, quiet, and outstanding service: check, check and check!

hotel providence, providence

The entry to Hotel Providence, in the historic Lederer Building, built in 1897.

providence, hotel

The roofline of the Lederer Building, one of three buildings that were combined to form Hotel Providence.

The stately facade of Hotel Providence brings one back to an earlier time, with its yellow brick, cast iron facade, and copper bay windows. It once housed milliners, dress makers, and musicians among others, and along with the Westminster Hotel building and Liner Building eventually became the current hotel.

The hotel has an arts and culture theme perfectly suited to its arts district location, with many of its rooms and suites named for authors and artists including the Henry David Thoreau suite reserved for me. With art, antiques and references to Thoreau throughout, the suite was a welcoming spot to relax and research my game plan for the morning.

suite, hotel providence

The spacious living space in the Henry David Thoreau Suite, complete with a stack of his books and a framed photo of him.

Perhaps my favorite part of the hotel is its lobby, filled with precious antiques and art. With a backdrop of wooden walls and marble floors, the space practically glows with warmth and is a destination unto itself. Guests and visitors interested in learning about the collection can consult a book in the lobby detailing each item (such a thoughtful touch!)

lobby, art, hotel providence

An example of the stunning artwork in the hotel lobby.

lobby, hotel providence

A quiet spot to have your morning cup of coffee and read the paper.

I don’t normally sleep well in hotels, especially on the first night, but such was not the case at Hotel Providence. I didn’t hear a sound from the street below, or from my neighbors down the hall. I woke up bright and early to an overcast, foggy day. Not the most inspiring weather for photography, but I planned to make the most of it.

When researching places to see in the city, one neighborhood was at the top of every list: College Hill, and more specifically, Benefit Street. While the concierge told me I could certainly walk, he explained that College Hill was a HUGE hill, and that my calves would thank me if I drove. He was right!

benefit street, providence, college hill

Known as the “Mile of History”, no visit to Providence is complete without a stroll on Benefit Street.

On the East Side of Providence, College Hill is home to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Benefit Street is lined with countless pristine colonial and Victorian homes, each more beautiful than the last. The area was constructed during the city’s formative years, when trade from rum, molasses, and sadly slaves generated great amounts of wealth.

providence art club, thomas street, college hill, providence

Perhaps one of the most photographed streets in Providence is Thomas Street, with four historic homes housing the Providence Art Club including the colorful “Fleur de Lys” building.

One scene that took my breath away as I rounded a corner was a view of the First Baptist Church in America, founded by Roger Williams in 1638, two years after his founding of Providence. The present building was constructed and put into use in 1775, and is a National Historic Landmark today.

first baptist church of america, college hill, providence

Many streets surrounding the church in College Hill are named for early pastors of the church.

Brown University is associated with the church via one of its founders, James Manning, who became Reverend of the congregation in 1771 and oversaw construction of the present building. While the university had close religious ties to the church for many years, it is now a secular institution that still holds commencement exercises at the church in the name of tradition.

sayles hall, brown university, college hill, providence

Built in the Romanesque style in 1891, Wilson Hall is one of many architectural gems surrounding the university quad.

Strolling Brown’s quad, stopping for coffee at the RISD location of Bolt Coffee, savoring a melt-in-your mouth vanilla glazed doughnut from Knead Doughnuts, and taking in the view of downtown from Prospect Terrace Park completed my time in College Hill for this all too short visit.

rhode island state house, providence

View of the capitol building from Prospect Terrace Park. Completed in 1904, the building sports the fourth largest self-supporting dome in the world.

prospect terrace park, providence, college hill

View of the city from Prospect Terrace Park in College Hill. Imagine on a sunny day!

I made my way back to the downtown arts district (also known as the “Downcity Arts District”) section of the city, which is rich with architecture of a different era. There are numerous Federal and Victorian mercantile buildings from the early 19th century, as well as later art deco styles, with the entire region listed as a National Register Historic District.

The streets are narrow with little to no street parking, giving the area an old city feel. Ornate storefronts and entryways abound, but as in every city the key is to “look up” to take in the architectural details of the surrounding buildings.

downcity arts district, commercial architecture, providence

One of numerous historic commercial buildings lining the streets of the Downcity Arts District.

providence journal building, downcity arts district, providence

The original Providence Journal building, c. 1906, was sold to a developer in April 2016 who has plans to restore it to its former grandeur.

The arts district claims two major performing arts venues, the Providence Performing Arts Center (with the most fabulous marquee!) and the Trinity Repertory Company. While there are many artists and musicians that live and work in the district, the most visible sign of the importance of the arts is the larger than life murals dotting the building landscape.

mural, providence

A street scene facing a narrow alleyway is a pleasant surprise.

trinity repertory company, majestic theater, providence

Trinity Rep’s home is the former Majestic Theater, built in 1917. It was named the State Theater of Rhode Island in 2014.

shepard fairey, muralist, providence

The Providence Industrial mural, painted by world-renowned muralist Shepard Fairey, a graduate of RISD, coordinates perfectly with Rosalina’s storefront.

While there is so much more to see and do in downtown, my free time was running out. I made my way to the Malted Barley for lunch and enjoyed their Bacon Beast Burger (aptly named!), popped into Symposium Books to browse for a few moments (yeah for independent book stores!), and then met up with Molly for my interview. I’m not entirely embarrassed by the result, so feel free to take a peek here.

bookstore, providence, symposium books

Symposium Books deals in both new and used books, and has an excellent architecture section.

I’ll leave you with two final shots from my 24 hour adventure. The first is a reminder to really look around you as you explore. Up, down, and into every nook and cranny. There are so many hidden little surprises! The second is the result of an impromptu conversation I had with a local resident. She noticed I was taking photos of architecture, and she insisted that I go into City Hall to see its fabulous staircase. Point taken.

Providence, ghost sign

The “Tri-Store” pedestrian bridge for three different Providence department stores over the years.

providence, city hall, staircase

A three-story marble staircase graces the center of City Hall, built from 1875-1878.

While my 24 hour stay in Providence was far from leisurely, the experience went far beyond my expectations. I’m already imagining my return: shopping, dinner, a show and another long walk around this charming little city to see what I can see. Hope you check it out for yourself!

Many thanks to Hotel Providence, who sponsored my overnight stay. I have no relationship with any other businesses or locations mentioned, and all opinions provided are an accurate reflection of my experience.

About the Author


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I am a lifelong Connecticut resident with great love for New England's architecture and history. As a passionate advocate for historic preservation, my wish is that others come to appreciate our architectural history more through my photography and writing. I'm also busy with my finance career and loving family, including my husband of over twenty years, two teenage children and two lovable golden retriever rescues.

Comments 15

  1. I miss my college city so much! Loved this post and as a Hospitality major that was one of my favorite properties in the city to visit and stay once I graduated!

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      Hey Tracy! I have been MIA on the blog these last few weeks and I apologize for missing your comment! What a wonderful place to go to college – so glad this brought back happy memories!

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      Thanks Julie! It really is amazing how much we have within just a couple hours of here. Psychologically it seems so far away but it’s really very do-able!

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      Thanks Bonnie! Boutique hotels are my fave 🙂 Providence (and RI in general) is a great place to go to college! I tried to get my daughter to look at a couple schools there but she wanted to go South.

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  2. What a great tour! I’m glad you were able to pack so much into a morning stroll/drive (yeah, I would have driven too). I spent a lot of time in Providence in the early 80s, working on various consulting projects. I always liked the city. There’s a link to your blog, too. If you drive in from Rt-6 /44. you pass under the welcome arch with the pineapples (at least you used to).

    Great post, lovely photos!

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      Dan – thanks so much for your comments! I wonder how much Providence has changed since the 80’s?? It really is a great little city, at least the bits that I saw. I saved my legs by driving to College Hill but then did quite a bit of walking from there. Best way to see things!

      And the welcome arch with pineapples – I want to know if that still exists!

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