Wednesday, September 17, 2008: Pre-Cruise Day 1 in Downtown Providence
This was our first opportunity for us to try the bus system for a ride to downtown Providence. Senior citizens with a Medicare ID card can ride the bus for half fare during off-peak commuting hours (between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and again after 6:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; and all day weekends).
The Route 20 bus came right on time, and took us to the principal downtown transportation hub, Kennedy Plaza, in about 35 minutes. This route was a milk-run that took us through working class neighborhoods of Cranston. We were surprised at the extent of the Hispanic presence, both in the passenger mix, and the bodegas and tiendas that stretched along Elmwood Avenue.
Once we reached Kennedy Plaza we disembarked and started walking to the State House, located atop Smith Hill. Providence is undergoing an impressive renaissance downtown that began in the 1980s, centered on WaterPlace Park, located where the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers join to form the Providence River. The restored 1898 Union Train Station, now home to The Rhode Island Foundation, anchors WaterPlace Park on the south. As seen in the photo, WaterPlace contains braziers anchored in the water, that are used for the flaming WaterFire Festival, held at sunset Saturdays during the warmer half of the year. The bowl-like design of WaterPlace Park also serves as a huge amphitheater for outdoor concerts and other happenings.
We found residents to be most helpful when we needed directions to where we wanted to go. When we were having difficulty finding the public entrance to the State House, Ms. Elizabeth Roberts (D), Rhode Island’s Lieutenant Governor, graciously escorted us in, saying in passing: “I’m only the Lieutenant Governor”. This made our day! We walked through the 1904-era Capitol; one of the major highlights is the Gilbert Stuart portrait painting of George Washington that hangs in the State Room, next to the Governor’s Office.
Our next objective on our self-guided walking tour was the Benefit Street “Mile of History” in College Hill, developed during the 18th and 19th centuries. We stopped in at the Benefit Square Information Center, to pick up walking tour maps of significant buildings in College Hill. The Providence Preservation Society leads a concerted effort to restore historic buildings and neighborhoods in Providence, and also maintains a list of “most endangered properties” that deserve special attention. We strolled along Benefit Street and side streets, enjoying the ambiance of tall shade trees with the earliest touches of fall colors.
We continued our walk through the Brown University campus, famed for its Gothic Revival architecture. The public spaces were teeming with students just emerging from their classes for lunch. Our objective was Thayer Street, known for its reasonably priced restaurants and Bohemian atmosphere. Students queued up to patronize ethnic catering trucks and fast food purveyors, but when we reached Andrea’s Greek Restaurant, 268 Thayer St., we found it to be surprisingly uncrowded.
After our delicious meal of Greek salad and pita gyros sandwiches, we walked to the John Brown House Museum, 52 Power Street in time for their 1:30 p.m. guided tour. John Brown was a major Far East trader who participated in the slave trade. This Georgian mansion was built in 1788 and was donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1976. Furnishings were typical of the Colonial period. The Brown family was an early benefactor of nearby Brown University.
After this busy day, it was time to catch the bus back to the Comfort Inn. We really enjoyed this very walkable city and were looking forward to returning tomorrow!