When you’re driving on the highway and see the “Historic Providence” sign, do you wonder what makes Providence historical? I don’t. I wonder why I took I-95 when everyone’s just got out of work. But anyway, few are aware of the small city’s rich, literary history, so take that Providence exit and check out my top five picks of literary-related sites, listed in no particular order.
(Keep in mind that the houses on this list are private residences. Always knock before entering!)
1. Providence City Hall
Charles Dickens, the creator of Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghostly friends who wouldn’t let him get a good night’s sleep, visited Providence in 1868. Dickens arrived at Kennedy Plaza (formerly the Exchange Plaza) for a reading at the old City Hall Theater and was mobbed by adoring fans. In 1874, the city chose to demolish the theater and replaced it with the Providence City Hall in 1878, which stands on 25 Dorrance Street.
2. The John Reynolds House
Sarah Helen Whitman, the feminist poet, author and essayist was the fiance of Edgar Allan Poe, best known for his poem about a raven who also didn’t let people sleep. Whitman lived at the John Reynolds house, located on 88 Benefit Street. In 1845, Poe first spotted her tending to the remaining rose garden in back of the house and was smitten. In 1847, the two exchanged poems and letters to one another before meeting for the first time at the house. They fell in love and she agreed to marry him if he promised to quit drinking.
3. Providence Athenæum
Poe and Whitman frequented the Athenæum library on 251 Benefit Street (close by the John Reynolds house). On December 23rd, 1848, a messenger approached Poe and Whitman while they sat in the Athenæum alcove. The messenger handed her a note revealing that Poe broke his promise of sobriety. She broke off the engagement and poor Poe died later that year. Why she believed the letter over Poe’s word? No one knows. I suppose it was a different time.
The books that Poe checked out remain at the library along with a bronze bust of Gothic writer and Rhode Island native, H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness), who also frequented the library, which brings us to…
4. The Samuel B. Mumford House
Lovecraft lived in many different houses in Providence, but the one most notable is his final home. He resided at the Samuel B. Mumford House from May 1933 to March 1937. In 1959, the house moved from its former location at 66 College Street to where it stands at 65 Prospect Street. The house also served as inspiration for the home of character Robert Blake in Lovecraft’s short story, the Haunter of the Dark.
5. Swan Point Cemetery
Lovecraft rests at this cemetery on 585 Blackstone Blvd. During his life, he didn’t receive fame from his work and was buried under his family’s lot. In 1977, fans raised money to erect a separate headstone for the now celebrated author, which is a happy ending to his sad story. Visitors can find the grave in the Phillips family plot on the intersection of Pond Avenue and Avenue B.