Sights ~ Rhode Island State House, Providence

Rhode Island State House
1 Capitol Hill
Providence, Rhode Island

Rhode Island State House
It was overcast for our visit

Bear and I were a bit embarrassed to admit that we've lived in Rhode Island for about two and a half years now, and we hadn't made the trip to the State House. Finally after much procrastination, we decided to go.

Wikipedia tells us the architectural style is neo-classical, which appears to be a very popular style for government buildings in the decades around the turn of the 20th century.

The architects were McKim, Mead and White, who also designed Newport mansions Isaac Bell House and  Rosecliffe, the Newport Casino, and Brown's Faunce House in Rhode Island alone. They were very active in New York and New England particularly, but built all over the United States, notably renovating the East and West wings of the White House in 1903. The State House was built between 1895 and 1904.

The building is actually the seventh Rhode Island State House, and the second built in Providence. It's made of 327,000 feet of white Georgia marble as well as brick and iron floor beams. The dome is the fourth largest self-supporting marble dome in the world.

Rhode Island State House
the dome on a clearer day
Atop the dome is the Independent Man, also known as "Hope," who watches out over the city with an anchor at his side (symbol of hope, the state motto) and a spear in his hand.

Rhode Island State House: the Independent Man
The Independent Man

Inside is equally impressive. You enter from the North (Smith Street) side of the building, and immediately past the metal detectors, two cannon flank the entry. On your right is a cannon from Bull Run, but the real story is on your left, with the Gettysburg cannon.

photo: Rhode Island State House tour
The cannon was being loaded during Pickett's charge, but was hit by Confederate shells before it could be fired. The two cannoniers were killed, and when their replacements tried to finish loading the charge, the damaged muzzle trapped the ball, despite attempts to force it in by hitting it with an axe. The heat of the gun fused the ball in place and it's been that way ever since. After being displayed in Washington, DC for a few years, it returned to Rhode Island in 1874, and moved into the State House in 1904. It stayed on display until 1962 (99 years!), when someone realized that the charge was still live. The gunpowder was removed and the cannon remains on display.

Gettysburg Cannon
close-up of muzzle

Just beyond the entry and up the stairs is the rotunda, under that self-supporting dome. None of my photos did it justice,

photo: Rhode Island State House tour
There are four seals on the support columns for the rotunda: Educatio, Justitia, Litera and Commercium - Education, Justice, Literature and Books, and Commerce.

In the center of the rotunda floor is an inlaid State Seal. Usually it's roped off to prevent people walking on it, but when we were there, it was covered by a red carpet.

Here's a picture of what it looks like uncovered:

Rhode Island State Seal, Providence, United States
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Little Rhody

Up the stairs from the rotunda is where the action is. The House of Representatives, Senate and State Library all reside on the second floor, as well as lots of offices and artwork.

Bear and I were awed by the library. It mostly houses state and federal lawbooks, and is the repository for state publications, so it wasn't so much the contents that wowed us. It was the amazing architecture. Three stories high with spiral staircases going up to narrow wooden walkways, it's a beautiful room. Replicas of printer's seals from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries border the ceiling's skylight. You could practically smell the cigar smoke of lawyers long-past as they scoured their books for precedents. Of course Bear scurried right to the third tier. I stayed firmly on the ground, envying her youthful bravery. She was thrilled to find books that were hundreds of years old in the stacks.

Outside the library were four bronze books that caught our attention. They're the Rhode Island Honor Roll: the names of people who served in World War II.

Honor Roll

The House Chamber is in the West Wing of the State House. It's decked in red with oak desks and tapestries commissioned for the 1904 dedication ceremony.
House chamber

Facing the House chamber in the East Wing is the Senate chamber. It's colored green, with mahogany desks. Over the rostrum are the state seals of the thirteen original colonies, with Rhode Island's seal in the center.

Senate chamber

archway detail

Just outside the Senate chamber in a steel, fireproof box with warnings about flash photography is the Royal Charter of 1663, guaranteeing Rhode Islanders the freedom of religion that was lacking in the other colonies.
the Charter

Opposite the library and between the two Chambers is the State Room. Basically, it's the Governor's waiting room, and is also used for press conferences, receptions and bill signings.
Governor's reception room

Again, my photography couldn't do it justice, so I'm including one from the RI State House web site:

Bear just goggled over the size, scope and high elegance decor of the room. She was so careful with her signature when she signed the guest book, and so respectful of the artwork.

The State House is filled with historical artworks, statuary and paintings. I'll have to do a whole separate post on them. Although our visit was brief - about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, we really enjoyed it and could see dedicating more time on another visit sometime soon.

My only complaint about the State House is that it's only open during government business hours, which makes it hard to visit if you're not willing to take time off from work and/or school. And I hope they uncover the state seal in the rotunda floor.

Bear and I were both undeniably impressed by the outside and inside of the capitol building. For her, it was the best capitol building she'd ever seen. I have to admit that I was more impressed with Pennsylvania's capitol building, but I rank this a near second.


  1. Oh my word...this is amazing, Erika! I've lived in RI for 30 years and have never been inside the State House, so you trumped me!

    Thanks for this post. I think it'd make a great introduction for any student studying RI history. I'll share it with the homeschooling community!

  2. This is a great post - makes me want to go there! I love the photography and writing. Thank you!


Post a Comment

We love to hear your thoughts. Chime in below, and we'll come to visit you, too!

Popular posts from this blog

Artists ~ Deanna Agresti ~ Cranston

Places to go, things to see in Rhode Island

Artists ~ Jerilyn Spaziano ~ Johnston