The Athenaeum has been called “the quirky pillar of Providence.” A beloved institution in the city, the building, built in 1838, resembles a funky mausoleum from the outside. Yes, one of its original members was Stephen Hopkins, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, but it has also seen its share of titillation. Edgar Allan Poe visited Providence in 1845 to attend a lecture by his friend, the poet Frances Sargent Osgood; while leaning against an elm tree and enjoying an evening in the garden, Poe fell in love with the Providence poet and spiritualist Sarah Helen Whitman as she picked roses in the moonlight behind her house on Benefit Street. The resulting courtship consisted of numerous rendezvous in the nearby Athenaeum, but the relationship was ultimately broken off by Whitman when she received a note from a friend (again, while at the Athenaeum) questioning Poe’s sobriety.
Click the “camera” icon at the top of the page to see historic photographs of the Athenaeum; note that at times throughout its history, its granite exterior has been left as is, while at other times ivy has been trained up its columns and façade to the point that the building appears to be alive with vegetation.