Providence is the core city of New England’s second largest metropolis, the capital of Rhode Island, the seat of Providence County, a major port, and a center of manufacturing and commerce. It is also home to outstanding institutions of higher learning such as Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. The city is located at the head of Narragansett Bay, about 45 miles southwest of Boston and 20 miles north of the Atlantic Ocean.
Providence was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, an exiled religious dissident from Massachusetts. He dedicated the new settlement to religious and civil liberty, naming it “in commemoration of God’s merciful Providence.” The agrarian economy of the 1600’s gave way to one based on sea-faring trade in the 1700’s. The wealth of this era built mansions such as the John Brown Home that are still found on East Side Hill near downtown. On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island became the first American colony to declare its independence from England.
After the American Revolution, Providence became a leader in the Industrial Revolution. Samuel Slater built the first water-powered cotton-spinning machines in the USA at nearby Pawtucket in the early 1790’s. Nehemiah Dodge perfected a process of gold-plating about the same time. The textile and jewelry industries became mainstays of growth for many years to come.
The textile industry began leaving in the 1920’s, followed by the economic blows of the 1930’s. The area prospered during World War II, but gradual decline set in afterward. The population peaked at 248,674 in 1950. Urban renewal began in the 1960’s with the Weybosset Hill project planned by I.M. Pei. Removal of the elevated railroad tracks opened up large areas between downtown and the Capitol, site of projects such as the Providence Place Mall.
Providence has preserved its history, including a large number of colonial buildings such as the First Baptist Church of 1775, the oldest Baptist Church in the country. The magnificent Rhode Island State House overlooks downtown with the world’s second largest unsupported marble dome.