1832 1856 1889 1918 1939 1985 1995 2002 2007 Click image for larger
Cove Basin a.k.a. Waterplace Park

the Evolution of Waterplace Park

The revitalization of Waterplace park and the uncovering of the river during the early nineties was much touted by the Cianci administration and started the whole “Providence Renaissance”. But where did they get the idea?

History, of course. When Providence was founded, much of what is now called Capital Center was under water. Part of what is now the mall was the “Grand Point”, which jutted out into the Cove. By 1856 some of the land in the Cove was filled in and landscaped into a smaller circular body of water surrounded by a raised Promenade. The original Union Station was built right up to the Cove and the Promenade was used for the tracks. By 1889 the Cove was filled in and the area resembled what remained in Providence until the late 80s, with a shaped body of water and a raised platform of railroad tracks. The redesign of Waterplace Park incorporated a smaller circular design and a rerouted railroad and river.

the Maps and Photos

Drawn by J.H. Cady. 1944. The Cove, bounded by North Water Street to the east and Cove Street to the south. Notice that the land that will eventually be home to the State House was called “Jefferson Plains”.
Drawn by J.H. Cady. 1945. The Cove is a circle for the first time. The first Union Station is standing, which was completed in 1847, so the Cove was probably shaped around that same time. Gaspee Street now borders the north and a promenade surrounds it. Notice as well that a prison stands on the north shore, which opened in 1838 (it was later demolished in 1894).
Drawn by J.H. Cady. 1946. The Railroad viaduct takes shape. This map is actually a projection of what the Cove would become. The outlines indicate the old plan with the old Union Station which burned in 1896. The more solid lines indicate the new plan which incorporates the new station, opened in 1898. More of the river is encroached upon, and the Cove loses its circular shape.
Scan of a Plat Map, RI Gen Web The State Capitol, completed in 1904 sits prominently atop the former Jefferson Plains. What we now call Capitol Cove and Waterplace is strewn with railroad tracks. Notice how Francis Street runs Northwest to Southeast and seemingly through Union Station, and how the RI Normal School has appeared.
Street map scan, RI Gen Web Not the clearest view, but you can see that very little has changed. A new building seems to be built on the site of the old prison. The VMA and Masonic Temple are not indicated on this map, but would have been partially contructed by now, with their start dates being 1928 and 1929. Interesting, the previous plat map from 1918 does show “Palestine Temple”, “Ancient Arabic Order”, and “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” in that location.
A topo map, US Geological Survey Again, not very clear, but not much has changed. See a photo of Union Station that illustrates this map beautifully (photo 6).
March 1995
Satellite image, US Geological Survey Finally, the Cove has returned – albeit smaller – to its original circular shape. This is pre-Mall, so CCRI’s Capital Campus is still standing. The raised railroad tracks have been removed and a new Train Station has been built (1986). Also new are the Gateway Building (1990), One Citizens Plaza (1991), Center Place (1992, also known as The Avalon)and the Westin Hotel (1993, middle bottom).
April 2002
Satellite image, US Geological SurveyMore of what we know and love (?). The Mall (1999) is the dominant structure now, but also new is the Courtyard Marriott (2000, bordering the north of Union Station). Notice that the Westin does not have its new tower yet.
Summer 2007
Satellite image, Google Maps Capital Center has exploded, with the new GTECH (2006), Waterplace Towers (2007) and the Residences at the Westin tower (2007). Still to break ground is Capitol Cove.

chuckA Feb 15 2012 Wonderful map/picture series! I had no idea the cove was so large and how dramatically Providence had evolved over time. Was one of those earlier buildings on the cove labeled a Prison? (ED – Yes, it was. This is one of the foundations that was uncovered during construction of the Mall, documented by PAL in 1997. )

Lynne May 22 2010 The book, “Providence, Renaissance City,” by Mott & Leazes gives a fascinating and accurate account of the process and people that made the river relocation project happen.

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