Vintage Aerials: Providence

Old aerials of Providence taken from different vantage points and at different times in its development.

About this Property

#Vintage View: 1903

Hanging in the office of a former client in Pawtucket, this fascinating and large panoramic image was found in their boiler room along with other detritus. It was not cared for very well but the image, once cleaned and framed, was in surprising good shape.

In the lower left corner reads “Copyright by L. Baker, July 1903.” It seems to have been shot from the top of a smokestack at what is now the Manchester Street generating station off Eddy Street on the corner of Point Street. The large singular stack of the South Street power plant is on the right, along with the Providence River and its waterfront, choked with industry.

The vantage point of the photo makes some sense, as the Manchester Street plant was built in 1903 in a form similar to what we know today1. Interestingly, we think that more aerial photos were taken around this time from the tower of the South Street power plant seen in this photo. The vantage point seems to align with the photos found in The John O. Pastore Photograph Album titled “Looking West,”, “Looking East,” and “Looking Northwest.”

Be sure to review the labelled version of this image as well. We are pretty sure that the labels and dates are accurate, but if you spot something incorrect please be sure to tell us in the anecdotes.

Labelled properties listed left to right — still standing unless noted:

  1. Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Westminster Street
  2. 116 Chestnut Street
  3. Beneficent Church (dome), Weybosset Street
  4. Grace Episcopal Church, downtown, Westminster Street
  5. 365 Eddy Street
  6. Davol Rubber
  7. City Hall (dome), Dorrance Street, built 1878
  8. Union Trust in its smaller incarnation, Dorrance Street, built 1901
  9. Butler Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, built 1872
  10. (not labelled) RI State House, built 1895-1904
  11. Central Fire Station (tower), Exchange Place, built 1903 — no longer standing, replaced by Post Office Annex
  12. (not labelled, not present) Federal Court House, Exchange place, built 1908
  13. Industrial Trust Building, Westminster Street, 1893-1970 — no longer standing, replaced by Hospital Trust Tower
  14. First Baptist Church, Benefit Street, 1774–1775
  15. Former County Courthouse, Benefit Street, 1875-1930s — no longer standing, replaced by a newer Courthouse in 1933
  16. RISD Industrial Design (ID) Building, 161 South Main Street, built 1854
  17. First Unitarian Church, Benefit Street, built 1816

#Vintage View: circa 1983

Again, we were just sitting in an office for the first time and this photo was on the wall. It was a lawyer’s office in the Turks Head building. They must have thought I was a little bit nuts to take photos of a photo on the wall, but we were fascinated with this 1980s-era aerial.

Because the Garrahy Courthouse was completed in 1981, Blue Ribbon Beef was demolished around 1984, and construction had not begun on 100 Westminster Street (1985) but the land has been cleared, we place this photo at 1983. It also captures the railroad tracks downtown before they were decommissioned and removed, starting with the East Side viaduct in 1982–83. The tracks seem to have been newly removed, while the concrete bed alongside 1 Steeple Street is still present.

Here is our list of significant landmarks, from left to right:

  1. (unlabeled, big green park on the far left) Roger Williams National Memorial, one of the 20th smallest national parks in the nation, authorized in 1965 and opened to the public in 1985. Here, the main landscaping is done but there are no trees planted yet, so the photo is earlier than 1985 Source: Wikipedia
  2. Blue Ribbon Beef, demolished circa 1983–84
  3. East Side viaduct for the Providence & Worcester Railroad. The tunnel itself was decommissioned in 1976 but the raised tracks and bridge that ran alongside 1 Steeple Street were not removed until 1982–83. Source: Library of Congress photo
  4. World War Memorial, aka “Suicide Circle”. In 1984, the monument was designated for relocation because of the pending rivers relocation project. It was partially dismantled in 1987 and stored until reinstallation in 1996. Sources: Quahog.org and Providence Journal
  5. (unlabeled, not present) Citizens Bank Tower, One Citizens Plaza, just in front of the World War Memorial, was built in 1987. Source: Wikipedia
  6. Hospital Trust Tower, One Financial Plaza, constructed 1970–1973. Source: Wikipedia
  7. 50 Kennedy Plaza, formerly the Fleet building, now 100 Westminster Street, completed in 1985. Source: Wikipedia
  8. (unlabeled, not present) Providence Amtrack Station, built 1986. The extensive railroad tracks in the foreground behind Union Station were removed and land was released for development during 1982–88. An aerial photo from 1985 shows the Amtrack station but also the old railroad tracks largely still in place. By an aerial from 1988, all tracks are gone. Source: Wikipedia
  9. URI College of Nursing and the State Normal School. Both were demolished in the late 1990s to make way for the Providence Place Mall. Source: Lost New England
  10. Garrahy Courthouse (Family Court), on Dorrance St, completed 1981.
  11. Bonanza Bus Station, built 1963 and demolished in the mid-to-late 90s to make way for the RI Convention Center and Westin Hotel.
  12. (not present) 15 La Salle Square, Blue Cross Building, now leased by Hasbro, built 1987
  13. (unlabelled) Providence Civic Center, opened November 1972. Source: Wikipedia
  14. (unlabeled, not present) The Route 6/10 connector to I-95 was built in 1988. Source: Wikipedia

#Vintage View: circa 1995

This set of two postcards was found over time. We had one of them in our possession and passed over the second more than once because we thought it was the same view. Turns out it was probably the same helicopter ride. Here is why we place the date at around 1995:

  1. The State Normal School (photo 5) is still present on the site of what is now the Providence Place Mall. The Mall opened in 1999 after a prolonged period of excavation due to the ruins of the old state prison on the same site
  2. The Westin Hotel is present in the photo and it was completed in 1994
  3. Manchester Street Generating Station (photo 6) is under construction in the lower left. It was renovated to be gas-fired and more efficient. It was complete and online by 1996.

It’s still crazy to us that the downtown Providence of our youth was overrun with railroad tracks and that Waterplace Park was not always a thing. The 1983 photo shows that very clearly. Even still, while it is more recent, the 1995 photo of I-195 splitting the city in two is hard to remember.

  1. The Merwin Group was responsible for the rework of the plant in the 1990s. On their page, captured on September 10, 2020, they have a photo of the expansion under construction. To the left, the blond brick original tower can be seen. It was taken down at the end of the conversion process. For more photos of the Manchester Street station before conversion, the Library of Congress and HABS/HAER have a collection of images from 1992, before the conversion.