The Providence Athenæum

A Bibliophile’s Guide to Providence

There is so much to see and do in Providence, especially if you like book-related places to visit. The beauty of Providence is that many of these attractions are walking distance from KidLitCon! Here’s a few of Charlotte Taylor‘s favorites!

A Bibliophile’s Guide to Providence

RISD Art Museum

RISD Art Museum

The RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) Art Museum might not look big from the outside, but it is in fact the 20th largest art museum in the United States, and it is full of treasures old and new.  Well worth a visit!  It opens at 10 am Sunday mornings, so do swing by for a visit before you leave Providence, even if you don’t have time for a full East Side walking tour!

RISD has of course produced gazillions of famous artists and illustrators, and if you swing into the RISD store, you may well find autographed copies of their books for sale!

RISD Art Museum

The Providence Athenæum—Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Whitman

The Providence Athenæum

The Providence Athenæum is a private library located on Providence’s historic Benefit Street that has been serving the readers of Providence for over 200.  It’s open to the public at no cost, and is a lovely place for a bibliophile to visit!  This will be a stop on our planned East Side walking tour on Sunday afternoon.

The most famous frequenter of the Athenæum was Edgar Allan Poe, who spent many days there during his courtship of Providence poet Sarah Whitman.  Although Sarah broke off their engagement when she received a message while in the library with Poe, that he had broken his promise of sobriety, their portraits hang together in the Athenæum’s Art room.

The Athenæum has a substantial collection of early children’s books, primarily dating from 1870 to 1930, though with some earlier titles too, and if there is interest we can arrange a visit to see them (probably the Thursday before the conference).

The Providence Athenæum

The “Something Upstairs” house–Avi

The “Something Upstairs” house--Avi

Do you remember reading Something Upstairs, by Avi?  It’s the story of a boy who moves to an old house (built in 1789) in Providence , who finds a ghost of another boy, the slave of a previous owner, trapped there, and who then travels through time to set the ghost free.  Avi used his own house on Sheldon Street for the story, and many of the places described in the book can still be visited today.  It’s a great fictional guide to historic Providence!  Here’s Avi’s house (although he no longer lives there).

The “Something Upstairs” house--Avi

H.P. Lovecraft Shunned House

An even spookier historic home in Providence is the “Shunned House” made famous in H.P. Lovecraft’s story of that name.  In real life, 135 Benefit Street is a well-maintained, perfectly pleasant house built c. 1763, with no signs of sinister weeds and fungi, no foul smell, and no miasmas of yellowish vapours…but it’s easy to imagine them!

One of Providence’s most iconic “skyscrapers” is the former Industrial Trust tower (aka the “Superman Building”) show up in several Lovecraft stories, in particular “Haunter of the Dark.”  Providence’s historic City Hall, where the main character in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” did his research, is not much changed.

Lovecraft was not a fan of one historic building that I myself find rather charming.  There he installed a character from The Call of Cthulhu– “Wilcox still lived alone in the Fleur-de-Lys Building … a hideous Victorian imitation of 17th-century Breton architecture which flaunts its stuccoed front amidst the lovely colonial houses on the ancient hill, and under the very shadow of the finest Georgian steeple in America.”

H.P. Lovecraft Shunned House

This New York Times article has even more suggestions for Lovecraft Tourism.

 

The Old State House

Nearby is another of Providence’s attractions, the Old State house, with a somewhat tenuous book connection—it’s where KidLitCon organizer Charlotte Taylor works.  Before it became home to the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, it was one of Rhode Island’s five statehouses.  The colony couldn’t decide which major town should be the capitol city, so for over a hundred years five of them took turns.  Providence emerged the winner after the Revolutionary War.   This is the building where RI declared independence in May of 1776, where slavery was abolished in RI, and where the last person hung for murder in the state was sentenced to death….You can come inside and see the room where it all happened during business hours (9-4 weekdays).

The Old State House

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If you venture up to the top of East Side Hill, passing through Brown University, you can swing by two houses where Charlotte Perkins Gilman lived.  22 Manning Street was one of her childhood homes, and was where she lived while a student at RISD, and her years as a young artist working for the Kendall Soap Company.  In her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, she reminisces about her time here and shares the poem she wrote as a child about the view across Providence from her window.

Nearby is 21 Humbolt Avenue, the house where she lived after her marriage.  Here she gave birth to her daughter and suffered from the post-partum depression that became the basis for her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Rudolph Fisher

Rudolph Fisher was a brilliant polymath, a talented physician and a significant figure in the Harlem Renaissance, as author of “City of Refuge” and “The Walls of Jericho,”Rudolph Fisher, a great author of the Harlem Renaissance (City of Refuge and The Walls of Jericho) was a Providence native.  Wandering on through streets full of historic homes, you can make your way to the Olney Street Baptist Church, where his father was the pastor.

Coming soon—more bookish and even non-bookish Providence tourism information, coming soon!

p.s. Notable architecture:

Industrial National Bank Building

111 Westminster Street (formerly the Bank of America Building, officially known as the Industrial National Bank Building, and commonly referred to as the Superman Building) is the tallest building in the city of Providence, Rhode Island, the tallest in the state of Rhode Island, and the 28th tallest in New England. Standing at 428 feet (130 m) with 26 floors, the building occupies a footprint on the eastern periphery of Kennedy Plaza.

Industrial Trust Building Providence Rhode Island

Providence City Hall

Providence City Hall is the center of the municipal government in Providence, Rhode Island, and is located at the southwest end of Kennedy Plaza. Built in 1878, Providence City Hall is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Providence City Hall

p.p.s.  Check out our Food and Shopping Finds Near RISD.