Henry A Barker.

The southern gateway of New England online

. (page 3 of 4)
Online LibraryHenry A BarkerThe southern gateway of New England → online text (page 3 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


indeed, some of them have more than doubled. For instance, the Factory
Inspector's report for January 1 , 1 908, shows that the number of employees
in certain "Leading Industries," advanced from 60,858 in 1897 to 137,000
in 1907, showing a gain of more than 125 per cent, in ten years. This
extraordinary record is thoroughly verified by the result of the special
industrial census, taken under the authority of the Rhode Island Bureau of
Industrial Statistics, and relating to sixteen leading industries, for the year
1906. It was found that in but two years' time the invested capital had
grown more than twelve per cent., and the value of products a bit less than
thirty-two per cent. The number of wage earners had increased eighteen
and one-half per cent., while the total wages earned had jumped up by
almost thirty per cent. From all of which, the reader will perceive that
Rhode Island's industries are not exactly decadent.

As evidence of the municipal credit, it may be noted that but four other
cities in America enjoy so low an interest rate. The outstanding bonds of
the city represent permanent investments only. The expenses are much
less than the receipts. The surplus goes into the sinking fund or pays for
various inprovements.

A good illustration is offered by the waterworks, in which it appears that
additions to the plant, amounting to nearly one and one-half million dollars,
have been made within the last few years, without using a dollar from the
city treasury. They have all been paid for out of the profits of the depart-
ment and charged against "Cost of Management," thus with characteristic
conservatism, disguising so far as the city reports are concerned the extreme
prosperity of the public finances.

On January 1, 1909, the net debt was $13,530,203.14 averaging $62.93
per capita, estimating the population at only 215,000. This statement,
however, is somewhat misleading, since $4,416,000 of this net debt repre-
sents outstanding bonds on the waterworks, which must be considered as a
dividend paying investment rather than a burden. The local receipts from
public service corporations, on account of the franchises, are exceeded in
but SIX other cities, and these combined with the net profit from water and
other municipal services, not only more than equal the interest on the entire
city debt, together with cost of sinking fund for its complete retirement, but
earn a very handsome surplus besides. In buildings and lands, in sewers
and waterworks, in interest-bearing trust funds and personal property of
various kinds, the public assets amount to about four times the public

According to the census returns recently announced, the city of Providence
contained, in April, 1910, 224,326 people, and there were about two and


one half per cent, more who dodged the census man as a prehminary to
dodging their poll taxes, or who for some other reason omitted to stand up
and be counted. As the rate of increase is about 600 a month, a fair es-
timate for September 1, 1910, is 230,000. The local habit, however,
is to build detached houses with air spaces all around, and as a consequence,
the city has been bubbling over its boundaries faster and faster through
recent decades. The real Providence, therefore, is the Metropolitan Dis-
trict of Providence Plantations, which has the appearance of a single city,
and is unbrokenly built up for about twelve miles from north to south, and
about five miles from east to west. This Metropolitan district now has
something over four hundred thousand people, and grows at a greater
ratio than the central city. The city proper increased about 28 per cent,
between 1900 and 1910, which is very creditable, considering its handi-
cap ; but the immediate environs, which furnish more room for home-
builders, grew about 39 per cent., which is very unusual except in a "boom
town." But the growth of the Providence District is not spasmodic, and
its variation from one decade to another is very slight. It is one of the
most rapidly growing communities of the East.

But after all, the real question that concerns us most when we are mea-
suring one city against another or against the average city, is this — Is it a
place wherein life is worth living? If it is, business enterprises are pretty
sure to be prosperous, for the help problem, which is the most important
of all, takes care of itself so much more easily. If the manufacturer can
bring his business to the place where the labor market is well supplied and
the workers happily situated, he enjoys an advantage that in most cases
counts for more than cheaper raw material or exemption from taxation.
Especially is this so with those high-grade industries where the skill of
the worker and the extent of the pay roll plays the most important part In
the production. It is in many such industries that Providence excels all
other cities in the country ; and apparently Providence provides its people
with every opportunity to be good citizens by furnishing phenomenal
educational advantages and fortunate environment.



Providence is a city of real homes. It is doubtful if there is any other
one of the large cities where so large a proportion of the population are
so well-housed, well-fed, well educated and well provided with the best
pleasures of existence.

In a big New England city, good schools are expected ; and many de-
partments that have been instituted here have been widely copied through-
out the country. The churches represent almost every possible denom-
ination, and the hospitals and the beneficial and charitable institutions
cover every conceivable field of usefulness.

The water system, the sewer system, and the street lighting system are
models of their kind. The public water system has the benefit of one of
the finest filtration plants in existence, and the system of sewerage disposal
is by far the most extensive in America. Railroad grade crossings, common
enough in other cities, have here practically ceased to exist. One tax bill
covers all the cost of city, county and state taxes. There are no special
assessments for parks or schools or highway maintenance as in western


The stores are varied in character and many of them magnificent in size.
The shopping facihties, owing to the fact that Providence is the trading
centre of more than a milhon people, comprising not only the whole popu-
lation of Rhode Island but parts of two adjoining states, are quite unequalled
in any other city of its class.

The great majority of the people of Providence live in detached houses
that contain two families each, one family living on the ground floor and
the other up-stairs, with entrances generally separate, so that each flat is
independent. The house occupies a space near the centre of a lot con-
taining either 4,000 or 5,000 square feet, and it thus has light and air on
all four sides. Even in the poorer districts, the two family house is much
more common than any other sort, though "three-deckers" are rapidly
gaining in numbers. One family cottages are also very numerous.

Happily for the dwellers in Providence, long rows of residence
blocks are almost unknown, and high, crowded tenement buildings
are seldom seen. Individualism shows itself in the manner of building
as in almost everything else in Providence; and in the matter of sub-
stantial and palatial dwellings, the east side and Elmwood district
present many beautiful types. The principal streets, developed with al-
most no original design, radiate in the general way that the first country
roads, or the preceding Indian trails led out into the surrounding country
from the town ; and although Providence is lacking in "show" streets of
great magnificence, it is also lacking in unkempt streets of squalid degra-
dation. From some fortunate circumstance, the areas and numbers of
districts that may be called poverty stricken or downright shabby have
astonishingly diminished during the last score of years, and such plague
spots as we find clustered behind the railroad tracks or down by the waters
edge in most North American cities, are now almost non-existent in the
Providence district.

Some of the older residential districts, moreover, supply a most unusual
sort of artistic delight. It may be safely said that Providence possesses
more fine and varied examples of interesting and domestic architecture than
any other city in the United States. Nowhere have there survived so many
splendid estates of the colonial style or so many humbler but worthy samples
of the early type, and much of the newer building follows these same models.
To the cultivated seeker for an interesting home this is a source of much joy,
and when he looks for a reason for the survival of so much that is fittest
among dwelling places, he finds it in the contour of the East side hills, that
were first built upon by the prosperous citizens of a century ago. The
steepness of the slops has brought about the salvation of the residence


district and diverted business along the valleys and out over the more
level West side.

In this environment of comfortable homes and notable absence of extreme
poverty throughout any considerable area, we find a reason for the infre-
quency of labor troubles. There is not as w^ide a gulf between the condition
of the rich and the poor as one observes in most cities, and evidences of
wretchedness and want are not visible or even discoverable in the ordinary

Providence is an orderly city, and Providence in its administration is
aji unusually honest and businesslike city, h possesses the picturesqueness
that comes from long establishment. It furnishes the comfort that comes
with much prosperity, and the stimulus of an extremely busy and fast
growing twentieth century city. What more can anyone ask for in a town?
Well, plenty of things remain to be done to make Providence still better
"worth living in and working for," but on the whole, — say those who are
most familiar with the other cities throughout the nation, — Rhode Island's
capital stands in the very topmost class as a place in which to live happily
and to labor successfully.

Providence itself, accustomed as it is to the wealth of its own attractions,
but vaguely comprehends the varied delights it has to offer to its visitors,
but the tourist who tarries seldom fails to be impressed by them. If one
considers the list of cities throughout the United States, and the "objects
of interest " that furnish the basis of local pride and exploitation, it is difficult
to think of one so amply and variously provided. You cannot "see
Providence" in a day or even in a week at any time of year. Whatever
phase of human life or activity, or whatever contemplation of the gifts of
nature may interest the visitor, there are few places in the world where he
is likely to find more of his tastes well gratified.

Its parks, its public institutions, its surrounding hills and shores ; its com-
paratively smokeless skies ; its varied architecture and charming suburbs ;
its historic associations, as well as its vast and varied industries, and its
picturesque cosmopolitan character, make Providence the "City of Fascin-



When one considers that the Clyde at Glasgow was once a tiny stream that might be crossed on
stepping stones, and thinks of the work that has been necessary on the Elbe and the Weser to bring
ships to Hamburg and to Bremen, it doesn't look like a very mighty task to make the city at the head of
the noble Narragansett Waterway one of the most useful ports in the world. The situation on the map is
favorable : the natural equipment is unusual ; other available ports are becoming overcrowded and the
ocean carrymg trade is rapidly calling for new facilities. Opportunity is knocking at the Southern
Gateway of New England.

Compared with the milHons that have been spent in every one of the
great ports of the world, the amount now contemplated for harbor improve-
ments in Providence is insignificant, but as the beginning of a new policy,
It IS very suggestive. Compared with the natural advantages that a
great many of the other ports had to start with, the opportunities of Provi-
dence are striking. Here is an absolutely land-locked bay, reaching nearer
to the centre of New England than does any other tidewater. Its entrances
are ideal. Its area is over three hundred square miles, and more than half
of this IS deep enough for the biggest ships in the wodd. And already
the biggest ships may come within ten miles of the Rhode Island State
House, which is considerably nearer than they can get to London at low
tide; while ships of four or five thousand tons may come to the upper harbor
of the city. Undoubtedly Narragansett Bay provides the safest harbor
entrance on the North Atlantic Coast. Providence lies at its head, many
miles beyond the range of projectiles from a hostile fleet.

When the dredging now in progress by the National Government is
finished, its inner harbor will have a uniform depth of twenty-five feet,
over an anchorage area of one hundred and seventy-one acres. Further
plans by the government contemplate straightening and widening of the
main channel at a cost of about $1,000,000 ; and the city of Providence
proposes to expend $430,000 and to donate certain land that obstructs a
more direct approach to the wharves. The state of Rhode Island has
voted half a million dollars for public docks. The New York, New Haven
and Hartford Railroad, which has invested many millions of dollars in
Providence during the last few years, and has just built a new bridge and
a tunnel, at a cost of about $2,000,000, is expecting to spend about
$2,000,000 more on improved dock facilities near India Point. Just how
elaborate the Grand Trunk railroad terminal will be is at present un-
announced, but it will undoubtedly include docks for ocean steamers as a
part of its equipment.


It IS evident that the one great disadvantage from w^hich the city and
state have suffered, as a distributing point for Central and Northern New Eng-
land, and for a populous part of Canada, is the lack of proper Western and
Northern connections. That lack, happily, will be overcome by the
extension of the Grand Trunk Railway system to Providence as its south-
eastern terminus, for by this greatest of all transcontinental railroads there
will be provided direct connection with the Connecticut Valley, Vermont
and Montreal, with the Lake region, the great fields of the Canadian
Northwest, and even with the Pacific Ocean.

Rhode Island has awakened to the importance of waterway develop-
ment and the government is beginning to appreciate the future of Narra-
gansett Bay, although the realization has came tardily. The city and the
state are doing their share for the improvement of the port of Providence,
and expect a profitable return for their investment.

Comparatively undeveloped as they are to-day, the bay and its adjacent
waters carry annually more commerce than the whole Mississippi River
system, with the exception of the Ohio branch. Yet the government,
since its history began, has spent upon Rhode Island waters scarcely more
than one per cent, of the appropriations made or authorized for the Missis-
sippi Valley. Rhode Island considers itself fortunate when it secures out
of the rivers and harbors bill $974,500; while the state of Washington,
whose tonnage is no greater than her own, is allotted $3,836,000.

Providence is thoroughly interested in the proposed inland waterways,
but she by no means believes that the Coast Canal will satisfy her ambitions.
She IS determined to have her share one of these days in the ocean carrying
trade. She looks upon the inland waterways as valuable feeders for that
business, and especially useful in bringing to her great factories and to those
others clustered about her, or scattered through New England, the coal and
the raw materials she wants from southern ports. By these canals and by
the new Erie canal, Rhode Island and all New England will be connected
with the cotton fields of the south, the coal fields of Pennsylvania, and the
iron mines of Lake Superior; and barges may proceed without unloading
to Narragansett Bay. There will thus be the combination that has made
Hamburg and the other German cities great and prosperous; and Provi-
dence has recently remembered that the Elbe at Hamburg, which has de-
veloped into the the second commercial city of Germany — has less depth of
water at its celebrated docks than Providence already has in her inner

She remembers also, that her ships once sailed on every sea before her
manufacturers grew so prosperous that she turned aside from the ocean to


attend her looms and spinning frames, and she looks ahead with abundant
justification to a revival of her maritime trade, since she is the natural
distributing point for New England of all things that come in ships.

The port already offers abundant opportunities for coastwise and foreign
commercial and passenger service. There is ample space along the water
front for warehouses and for manufacturing plants of endless variety, with
unrivaled facilities for receiving raw material and dispatching the finished
product of manufacture, at the least possible expenditure in handling.

Though the present business is not a tithe of what ought to be expected,
its annual amount is by no means inconsiderable. About seventy per cent,
of the tonnage is coal; thirteen per cent, general merchandise in steamers ;
four per cent, lumber and three per cent. oil. The oyster business is very
large, 2676 boats having been counted by the harbor master in 1 909. Of
other vessels there were 2342 steamers, 1335 barges, 797 tugs, 322
schooners and 5 barks. The number of passengers carried by steamers
is about 2,400,000 per year.

Considered as the "Southern Gateway of New England," it is worth
recalling that but two other ports in the whole Western Hemisphere have so
large or so wealthy a population, or such extensive industries, located
within the radius of two or three hours travel distance. When the history
of other harbor development vv^orks is studied, it does not seem unreasonable
that a direct channel of thirty-five or forty feet should be demanded for
the very short distance necessary to make Providence one of the greatest
of modern commercial ports.




The visitor arriving in Providence steps forth from the Union Station into a Civic Centre that at
present has no counterpart in the United States. Washington, to be sure, is proceeding rapidly in the
creation of a magnificent approach, and several western cities are looking forward to the day when they
shall greet their incoming guests more worthily; but a combination of fortunate circumstances brought the
Providence plasa into being some years before the modern movement had begun. Its existence is a
memorial to that long contention that preceded the establishment of the present railroad approach, and to
the resulting compromise between those who were striving for a much larger central park area, and
others who believed in a commercial use for every inch of space.

|F "Greater Providence" had not been so well
provided with diversified natural attractions
or river and hill and bay, and with great
open grounds of semi-public institutions, the
full development of its Metropolitan Park
System would be an easier task. These
^^ places of recreation and enjoyment have been
so long and so fully made use of, that it is
difficult for the average citizen to perceive
that their use is a fleeting privilege, and that
the rapid growth of the population, which
in itself increases the need, will certainly obliterate, or close to public use,
most of the places that have ministered to the well-being of past generations .
In order that such a sad calamity might not come to pass, the Metropolitan
Park Movement was started. It proposes to connect eventually all the
out-lying towns of Greater Providence into one complete and attractive
whole ; and when finished, with its miles of smooth driveways, its beautiful
wooded parks, traversed by winding streams and dotted with many lakes,
it promises to make Providence notable for its wealth of recreation places,
within easy access. To those who perceive that the loss of existing oppor-


tunities, and an almost overwhelming cost of artificial substitutes, must
always be the penalty of delay, the movement appears to proceed rather
haltingly, although the acreage of public recreation grounds has doubled
within the last two years.

Providence started with a glorious legacy of river and hill and bay, and
a climate stimulating to the best fruits of labor. At the head of a commanding
waterway, m the midst of country well-suited to be the abiding place of an
active and happy population, the reasons for its growth and prosperous
condition are not difficult to discover ; but its present achievements are in many
ways accidental, or the result of independent and spasmodic effort. This
has been the case with the parks as with most other things.

Thirty-three parks, containing an aggregate of 646 acres, are under the
control of the city park commissioners. In addition there are about 479
acres of reservoir sites or semi-public grounds, besides various amusement
parks. Public institutions control 803 acres more which are open to
the public most of the time, like the extensive grounds of the Rhode Island
Hospital, Butler Hospital, the State Home and School and the new City
Hospital. There are about three and one half miles of boulevards, includ-
ing the new Pleasant Valley Parkway; and the Metropolitan Park
System will eventually add about thirty-six miles of boulevards and many
hundred acres of parkland, including lakes, hills, forests, river and bay shores.

At present the Metropolitan Commission controls a little over 750 acres.

In 1892 the combined area of all the parks was about 155 acres. In
1871 Betsy Williams had bequeathed to the city her ancestral farm, and
middle aged citizens may remember now with some amusement the opposi-
tion to the acceptance of a park "so far out in the wilderness." Hayward
and Tockwotton Parks had been established in 1 888, and the historic home
of Hon. Thomas Davis had been added in 1891 . A deep ravine, with a
little brook emptying into the Seekonk River, and comprising two or three
acres, was all there was of Blackstone Park. Since that time an extensive
pond area with its islands and surrounding shores has been added to Roger
Williams Park. The other parks have grown and several new ones have
been created.

Roger Williams Park, of course, is one of the most notable public pleasure
grounds of New England. There are fine forests and rolling hills and many
miles of drives. There is a splendid casino with a cafe, and a natural
history museum that is popular and useful.

In the extensive chain of lakes, there are nearly 1 40 acres of water surface,
extending into so many bays and inlets that they make a shore line of seven
or eight miles.


In the winter, throngs of skaters hasten to the park and it is not unusual
to see 10,000 people upon the ice. But Roger Wilhams Park is at its best
upon a moonht summer night, when the hot city has poured out its throngs
by trolley car and auto and bicycle, or by the humbler vehicle of "shanks
mare. "

From the gaily lighted platform in the lake the music of the band floats
over the waters. High among the trees is the terrace of the casino ; around
the bandstand are flitting dozens of row boats and canoes, and on all the


surrounding hillsides are happy parties hushed by the music to a decorous
silence. Red and green lights from tiny launches dance upon the water,
and over on the opposite boulevard are immense tangles of motor cars, with
staring eyes. It is all very entrancing, and a celebrated writer, who
knows almost everything there is to know about almost all the places
there are, once wrote that he had not supposed there was anything quite so
poetically exquisite this side of Venice.

From the park on Neutaconkanut Hill, the prospect embraces the homes
of nearly seven-ninths of the population of the state, besides those of the



Massachusetts city of Fall River, spread out in all its length upon a distant
hill. Narragansett Bay is visible for more than twenty miles, and a rich
panorama of urban activity and suburban growth, of wooded hills and

1 3

Online LibraryHenry A BarkerThe southern gateway of New England → online text (page 3 of 4)