Bordered by the Providence River and Interstate 95 is Providence’s downtown neighborhood, the geographical, political, economic, and cultural core of Rhode Island’s capital.
Colonial Providence was born on the East Side along the Providence River, but with the successes of the mercantile trade followed by the industrial revolution, the small city expanded west. With the advent of technology Providence became a bustling manufacturing town. The metal machinery, textiles, and jewelry industries all flourished due to the extensive railroad network here. By the late 19th century, Providence was the transportation hub of southeastern New England and attracted a variety of industrialists, bankers, and businessmen to its downtown neighborhood. East Side residents moved downtown and opened shops along the newly fashionable Westminster Street, further expanding the commercial district. Simply look at the architecture on Westminster Street to see remnants of this thriving era!
The 20th century brought an era of booms and busts for downtown. The 1920s saw the opening of cultural and social hubs, like the Biltmore Hotel, where Rhode Islanders gathered and celebrated in style. This era also saw the creation of Providence’s modern skyline with new Art Deco structures home to banks and businesses, now icons of this prosperous time in Providence’s history. However, the prosperous times did not last forever. The Great Depression, as well as other recessions in the mid 20th century, shuttered once thriving businesses downtown. Remarkably, in moments of plenty, residents organized to save and preserve buildings from earlier prosperous times. As a result of these preservation efforts, many architecturally significant buildings from Providence’s past still stand today, refashioned to fit the needs of 21st century.
Today, downtown Providence is a vibrant mix of nationally recognized arts and cultural institutions, top-ranked restaurants, universities, creative industries, financial and legal firms, and locally-owned businesses earning the city the name, “The Creative Capital.” Explore downtown and its cycles of economic successes and recessions where preservation and an appreciation for architecture and history is the constant thread in the neighborhood’s story.