22 properties range from 1730 to 1776.
Relatively little remains of Providence’s pre-revolutionary development, but these places and buildings make up in quality and significance what they lack in number. They include streets, public spaces, and several dozen houses, private institutions, and civic structures. Today they seem to blend into the city that unfolded around them, but each presents an eloquent and unique testament to a way of life so different from today’s.
Most of the city’s earliest buildings and spaces are located in what was known at the time of their construction as the “Compact Part of Town.” Until the eighteenth century, when other communities began to hive off from the Town of Providence, it comprised all of what is Providence County today, the northern quarter of the state. Not surprisingly for a community in which walking was the principal means of transportation, early Providence buildings and spaces are largely close in proximity to one another. Their location, as seen on the area-tour map, gives today’s visitor a good idea of the extent of that settlement. Their actual placement on the land varies from building to building and reinforces their meaning as cultural artifacts. The father-flung buildings, noted at the end of the tour, reflect the outlying farms that dotted the landscape.
Perhaps the most salient lesson from this tour is the way this group of buildings collectively demonstrates the increasing wealth and power that Providence began to enjoy in the third quarter of the eighteenth century. That the earliest remaining buildings are houses seems appropriate, for they represent the most prevalent type of building in what was largely a subsistence-economy community. The few pre-1750 institutional buildings, no longer standing, were exceptionally modest. By the time of the Revolution, however, as seen in the type, size, and style of the buildings constructed in the decade immediately previous, Providence was naturally poised for achievement.