Begin at Market Square.
As in most early American communities with prominent hillsides surrounding their original settlements, Providence’s richer citizens and their institutions began an ascent, both literal and figurative, up the steep slope of College Hill in the last years of the eighteenth century. The buildings found in the area covered by this tour represent Providence’s first flourishing as an economically important regional center, with an abundant self-confidence that manifests itself in richly individual architectural expression.
Benefit Street forms the spine of this tour. Like North and South Main Street, it extends north and south of the community’s eighteenth-century center at Market Square. This tour is arranged into two sections: one that explores the north end of the street, and the other along the south end and its side streets.
The buildings in this tour range from the small-scale post-revolutionary frame houses that seemingly define northern Benefit Street and the side streets off southern Benefit, to the large-scale family seats of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century China Trade-era merchants, to the sturdy brick houses of mid-nineteenth-century manufacturers. Attendant institutions fill the interstices.
Along this tour route are buildings and space that began Providence’s strong architectural definition. Here is where the visitor to Providence first meets John Holden Greene, Providence’s defining figure of the early nineteenth century. Green’s gutsy Federal building set the stage for what followed in domestic architecture. Large-scale and high-style Greek Revival houses are absent (and seem never to have been much in evidence), but the many middling buildings are Green’s sturdy successors. Beefy Italianate buildings abound. The architecture found in this tour, in many ways, helps those interested in Providence architecture to form a base of working knowledge for what followed in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.