Saturday, December 29, 2012

Providence, 1790

Cambridge, December 29, 2012

In 1790 John Fitch, a student at Brown University, drew what we take as the earliest surviving map of Providence.  Fueled by the wealth of maritime commerce (including the slave trade of course) Providence had left behind the egalitarian map of parallel lots dreamt by Roger Williams 150 years earlier and was well on its way to become a city.

Fitch's drawing shows not only a thoroughly built up Main Street to the east of the river, but also substantial development to the west.  The two sides are connected by a bridge between the Town Parade and Weybosset Point.  To the north of the bridge (left on the drawing) is the "Great Salt Marsh" and to the south, the Providence River populated by wharves, warehouses and ships, the economic engine of the city.  Along Main, there are several churches, the First Baptist Meeting House at the center, the Episcopal Church to the north and the First Congregational Church to the south up on Benefit Street.  John Brown's house at the corner of Benefit and Power (the street that goes up at an angle.)  Brown University at the top of the hill.  Back on the water, Market House facing the open space of the Town Parade.  On the other side, where Westminster and Weybosset come together at a sharp angle, Jacob Whitman's store, with the figurehead of the ship "Sultan" above its door.  Yes, the corner was already known "by the sign of the Turk's Head."

Also in 1790, Samuel Slater began construction of his first cotton mill in nearby Pawtucket, putting in motion a whole new economic era that would change everything.

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