Amidst the flurry of trains and industry that marked this area during the 19th century was a much needed bucolic retreat, what we now call Burnside Park. Adjacent to the historic transportation hub of Providence, Burnside Park was originally created as a public space in 1892. The park eventually became a convenient downtown space to showcase two large public art works: the Bajnotti Fountain and the statue of notable Rhode Islander Ambrose Burnside.
Dedicated in 1901, the Bajnotti Fountain was a gift from Italian Diplomat Paul Bajnotti to the city of Providence in honor of his late wife, Carrie Mathilde Brown, whose family was prominent in the city. Bajnotti and Brown married in 1876 and spent most of their wedded life in Italy, but maintained strong ties to Providence. After Brown’s death in 1896, Bajnotti erected three monuments in memory of his beloved wife: the Carrie Tower at Brown University, the Pancratiast Statue at Roger Williams Park, and the Carrie Brown Bajnotti Memorial Fountain at Burnside Park. Enid Yandell, a student of Auguste Rodin and a prominent female sculptor at the time, was the only woman to submit a design proposal. She won the competition. The sculpture consists of three allegorical parts. One interpretation states that life is symbolized by the woman, the spirit, symbolized by an angel, and “earthly tendencies” represented by three male figures. Life holds onto the spirit and they are both bound to the earth for eternity––an appropriate memorial for the marriage.
The Burnside statue, dedicated in 1887, commemorates former Rhode Island governor and Civil War general Ambrose Burnside. Born in Indiana, Burnside attended the United States Military Academy, and was eventually stationed at Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island. When the Civil War began Burnside raised the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry Regiment becoming its colonel. He quickly climbed the Union ranks and played important leadership roles in the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. Unfortunately, Burnside is not well remembered for his military acumen. Failure at the Crater caused Union general Ulysses S. Grant to order Burnside on “extended leave” effectively ending his military career. Following the war, Burnside served three one year terms as governor of Rhode Island, and remained a popular public figure until his death in 1881. Launt Thompson, a New York sculptor, completed this memorial in 1887. It was dedicated in the park bearing Burnside’s name in 1906. The park is not Burnside’s only namesake, however--the term “sideburns” comes from his instantly recognizable facial hair.