The Smith Hill Library was built in 1932 as part of a Providence Public Library campaign beginning in the mid-1920s to create branch libraries throughout the city. Designer Albert Harkness was a renowned Providence architect of the time who also did the Providence Music Mansion (88 Meeting Street) and the East Side Friends’ Meeting House (99 Morris Avenue), all in the Colonial Revival style.
This building has typical hallmarks of its period: Harkness designed this building to follow to the floor plan specified at the time for all Providence library branches, and the Colonial Revival style of this one-and-a-half-storied building is typical of 1930s institutional design. But the library has many exterior decorative elements that make it interesting: the corner bricks form Colonial-style quoins; mortared stone was chosen rather than concrete for the foundation; and the pattern of the brickwork is a complex and striking version of “monk bond.” Upon entering the building, the projecting central entrance pavilion lends grandeur while a modern curved double stairway, with elegant aluminum rails leads visitors to the main library level with shelves, window seats, and paneling of mahogany woodwork.
In 2008, financial hardship forced the Providence Public Library to announce intended closures for many branch libraries. In response, library patrons citywide came together to form a new organization, the Providence Community Library (PCL), to support the branch libraries. On July 1, 2009, all nine branch libraries became property of the City of Providence and leased to the PCL.
The Smith Hill Library has its long history of community outreach, responding to the needs of its users. It held well-attended citizenship classes in the late 1920s, even before moving to its current location. Today, a century later, it continues this tradition: a typical day’s schedule includes children’s drawing and art classes, financial and business workshops, homework help with local college students, reading groups, and GED courses. The Smith Hill Library describes itself as a “safe and lively meeting place and learning center for people of all ages.”