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College Hill: Our “Mile of History”

In the Providence, RI portion of the National Heritage Corridor is the historic neighborhood of College Hill. The community we know today as College Hill was the site of the first permanent colonial settlement in Rhode Island. The area currently contains one of the Providence's most extensive and distinguished collections of historic architecture. Located on a steep hill generated from the east bank of the Providence River, the area has always been primarily residential in nature. In fact, Benefit Street, Providence's own "Mile of History," was established in 1756 and became home to many wealthy Providence businessmen.

From its founding by Roger Williams in 1636 to the late 18th century, nearly all the settled area of Providence occupied land on College Hill. By the time of the American Revolution, the narrow stretch of land at the river's eastern shore by the foot of the hill was already densely populated with wharves, warehouses, shops, public buildings, and residential houses. Constructed in 1770, the University Hall of Brown University stood alone at the intersection of College and Prospect streets-the top of College Hill. Other key public buildings which still remain in the neighborhood today include the Old State House (1762), the Brick School House (1767), the Market House (1773), and the First Baptist Meeting House (1775).

After the American Revolution, the residential areas of Providence expanded. Merchants, artisans and professionals began to move farther up the hillside along Benefit, Congdon, George, Thomas, Power, Williams, John, Arnold and Transit Streets. College Hill became a popular location for elaborate mansions of the area's wealthiest merchants. The earliest of these is John Brown's House (1786), described by President John Quincy Adams as "the most magnificent and elegant private mansion that I have ever seen on this continent."

For more about the historic College Hill neighborhood and its attractions call the Providence Office of Arts, Culture & Tourism at 401-421-2489 or visit

National and Statewide Hallmarks

There are significant connections between the establishment of the United States , the founding of the State of Rhode Island and the founder of the colony and its capital city of Providence , Roger Williams. This year our nation becomes 230 years young, and the founding of Providence occurred 370 years ago.  The Roger Williams connection is that he founded a city-state on the ideals of freedom that were embolden when on May 4, 1776 Rhode Island became the first British colony to declare its independence, followed by the rest of the nation on July 4th.


Right now and throughout the year, visitors can see two significant sites located along the Providence portion of the National Heritage Corridor to interpret the beginnings of America ’s democracy.


Roger Williams National Memorial, 282 North Main Street , near the present day RI State House, is operated by the National Park Service and interprets the life and times of Rhode Island ’s founding father. Williams banished from Massachusetts for his beliefs, founded Providence in 1636. This colony served as a refuge where all could come to worship as their conscience dictated without interference from the state. The Memorial is located on a common lot of the original settlement of Providence and includes 4.5 acres of landscaped park. It also provides an excellent perspective of the transformation of Providence , from colonial haven to shipping trade and manufacturing center to today's noted renaissance as an invigorating arts and entertainment destination


At the Visitor Center discover the many contributions Roger Williams made to the cause of religious freedom through exhibits and videos. Walk through the landscaped park that includes the site of the fresh-water spring and common area of the first European settlement in Providence . For more details contact the 401-521-7266 or visit the website at


Across the way is the Old Rhode Island State House, 150 Benefit Street , which serves as the offices for the State of Rhode Island Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission.


The Old State House has been the setting of many important events. Here on May 4, 1776 , the General Assembly repealed a previous act of allegiance to the crown. The date is now celebrated as Rhode Island Independence Day. While meeting here in 1784, the Assembly passed the first act in the United States providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves. In 1781, George Washington attended a dinner and ball given here in his honor. He returned as President in 1790 to attend a banquet commemorating Rhode Island 's ratification of the federal Constitution.


For more about the history of the building call 401-222-2678 or visit the web at

More Attractions/Parks/Sites:

Historical Sites
Museums and Parks
Annmary Brown Memorial, 21 Brown St., Prov 401-863-1994 Mon-Fri 1-5 p.m. Built in 1907 by Christopher Rush Hawkins as a memorial to his wife. A tomblike building which also houses a fine collection of American and European art. The Culinary Archives at Johnson & Wales, 315 Harborside Blvd,401-598-2805 Tues-Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m.. One hr guided tours available by appt. Internationally renown premier museum devoted to preservation of five centuries and a half million items for the culinary/hospitality industries.
Providence City Hall, 25 Dorrance St., 401-421-7740 M-F 8:30-4:30 July/Aug 8:30-4. Closed Holidays. Center of Providence's urban renaissance. Designed by Samuel JF Thayer in regard to heritage of the Louvre and Tuileries Palace in Paris. A Landmark for people gathering on the steps. Cormack Planetarium and Museum of Natural History, Roger Williams Park, 1000 Elmwood Ave. 401-785-9450 or eves 401-785-9457. 10-5 daily. A quarter million objects of natural and cultural history from around the world. Founded 1896.
First Baptist Meeting House, 75 North Main St., 401-454-3418. M-F 9:30-3:30. guided tours available. Closed Sat and holidays. Founded in 1638 by Roger Williams and is oldest Baptist Church in America. Built in 1775 as blend of NE meetinghouse and English Georgian styles. Providence Children's Museum,100 South Street, 401-273-KIDS. 7 days 9:30-5 p.m. Hands on kids museum for play and learning. Discover the world beneath the streets, the whirling ways of water and much more!
Governor Henry Lippitt House, 199 Hope Street, 401-453-0688. May-Oct. Fri- 11-3 and by appt. National Historic Landmark of mid nineteenth century with superb interior and decorative Victorian details. Former home of two RI Governors. Open for public and functions. RISD Museum, 224 Benefit St, 401-454-6500. Tues-Sun 10-5. Third Thurs of Month - open until 9 p.m. History of art from antiquity to present with collection of 85,000 multi-media international pieces
Governor Stephen Hopkins House, 15 Hopkins Street, 401-421-0694. Apr-Dec, Wed & Sat 1-4 p.m. & by Appt. Perfectly restored 1707 clapboard home of ten time former Governor Stephen Hopkins who signed Declaration of Independence. Visited twice by George Washington. Heritage Harbor Museum, 222 Richmond St. 401-751-7979. Al unique consortium of nineteen historical and cultural organizations coming together under one roof to tell the story of all Rhode Islanders.


John Brown House, 52 Power Street, 401-331-8575. Apr-Dec, Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun noon-4 p.m.. Jan-Mar Fri-Sat 10-5, Sun noon-4 p.m. An outstanding historical 1786 architectural gem featuring fine examples of RI furniture, original woodwork, decortive arts. Russian Sub Museum, Collier Point Park, 401-521-3600.  Late 1950s Soviet Cruise missile attack submarine known as one of America's deadliest enemies. Used in Paramount's Harrison Ford/Liam Neeson's K-19:The Widowmaker, a Cold War thriller. 
The Aldrich House History Museum, 110 Benevolent Street, 401-331-8575. Tues-Fri 9-5. Sun - noon-4 (exhibitions only). 1822 Federal style home includes a gallery on RI History, heritage and also has a hall of fame. Gardner-Jackson Park, South Main & College Sts. Includes a World War I Monument and the Verrazzano monument. See outdoor sculpture.
The Old State House, 150 Benefit Street, 401-222-2678. M-F 8:30 - 4:30, closed holidays. The Declaration of Independence was signed here on May 4,1776, two months before the other colonies. 1970 National Historic Register, formerly known as Court or State House for Providence Colony County. New capitol took over in 1901 s State House. India Point Park, India Street. An 18 acre park overlooking Narragansett Bay with playing fields for soccer, playground, jogging and bike paths and the Community Boating Center.
Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street, 401-421-6970. M-Th 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri-Sat 9-5, Sun 1-5 p.m. Tours avail by appt. Oldest subscription library and cultural institution in America and 4th oldest library in nation. Founded by Prov KLibrary Co in 1753 and visited often by Moses Brown, Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen Hopkins. Greek Revival.  Roger Williams Park Zoo, 1000 Elmwood, 401-785-3510. A lovely zoo with Carousel village, park, paddle boats, museum, greenhouses and tennis courts. Near Natural History Museum and Planetarium.
RI Black Heritage Society, 65 Weybosset St, 401-751-3490, Mon-Fri 10:30-3:30. Museum, gallery, art and culture of RI African Americans and library. Prospect Park, Congdon at Cushing Streets. Gives panorama of Providence and site of Roger Williams Memorial.
Rhode Island State House, 82 Smith Street, 401-222-2357. M-f 8:30-4:30 self-guided tours. Tours avail by appt. 4th largest self-supporting dome in world, built in 1895 of white marble. Original portrait of George Washington by local RI artist Gilbert Stuart housed here. The 1663 Royal Charter guaranteeing freedom of religion and government for RI settlers also housed here. Waterplace and Riverwalk, at Memorial Boulevard, 800-562-9895, 4 acre city park and lovely location of Waterfire, running 2/3 mile along the River amidst  the wonderful gondolas, concerts and many other events. 401-272-3111.
Union Station, One Union Station at Exchange Tower, 401-274-4564. Restored central train station with offices, restaurants, clock tower. Roger Williams National Park, North Main & Smith Streets, 401-521-7266. Site of original Providence settlement of 1636. Visitor information available 9-4:30 daily.


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