Henry A Barker.

The southern gateway of New England online

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glistening lakes, extends from the feet of the beholder.

Quite different from either of the others is Blackstone Park. The See-
konk River is a broad salt estuary that forms the easterly limit of the fashion-
able "East Side." At its northern end the Blackstone River plunges over
the falls near the Main Street Bridge in Pawtucket. Four miles farther
down it contracts to a narrow channel, crossed by several street and railway
bridges and bordered by ugly shops and coal pockets, and enters Providence
Harbor. Along the side where the city would otherwise have crowded out
the pleasant groves, the shores for about three miles have been preserved
by the park and the cemeteries and public institutions beyond. The com-
manding bluffs are richly wooded and intelligently cultivated for most of
the way, and the river road winding along the water's edge will sometime be
extended to the bridges at Pawtucket.

In the very centre of the city is Exchange Place and the Union Station,
where up to a few years ago there extended a great salt water cove.
When this cove was filled, the broad open spaces all around became
immensely valuable, and many thrifty and "practical" inhabitants began


counting up the millions of dollars that these lots would bring, if sold for the
sort of buildings that usually — to the shame of our American cities, it must
be said — surround great railroad stations. Instead, however, of letting
them be covered with cheap restaurants and fish markets and garages, the
city has set aside for itself a superb square and splendid garden, and a
railroad entrance that is at present unsurpassed in America. Around this
area, the most notable buildings are being placed. The City Hall, for
many years the most creditable structure in the city, stands at one end, and
facing it at the opposite end is the beautiful Post Office, which a noted
Boston architect recently described as "The finest government building
outside of Washington." The City Hall Park, with the Banjotti Fountain
in its centre, extends along the whole length of the plaza in front of the
station, to welcome the coming of more than thirty thousand daily travelers.

To further quote the address of the enthusiast from Boston, "Providence
has taken advantages of an opportunity to create a beautiful Civic Centre
such as any city in the world might envy, and it has been the first of the
large cities to achieve results along the lines to which so much modern
thought is being given."

In the rear of the station, three large tracts of weed-covered land had been
left over after filling in the last remaining vestige of the old "Cove," which



once covered nearly all of the central section of the city. These lots, at
present, are the most conspicuous objects that the traveller sees when he
stops at the Providence station on the way from Boston to New York.
When the Bostonian thinks of his own exquisite Public Garden, it makes
him smile pityingly to hear that these unkempt lots have been officially
named the Public Garden of Providence. But time will change all things,
and as soon as the freight cars have been moved away from the door-yard
of the capitol, the city and the state and the railroads may do great things

t ':«. L» V-f


in the way of transformation. To the left stands the splendid new Normal
School, in a beautiful garden where once were ugly foundries and the old
State Prison. On the opposite side of Francis Street the land has been
swept clear of a motly collection of ramshackle rookeries, and the massive
State House rears its classic portico and its magnificent marble dome against
the sky. A happy harmonizing of dignified lines and exquisite detail, is
this building of the State ; — one of the most noble buildings of America and
an everlasting joy to all who look upon it.

Above this plaza, upon the east, is the attractively varied sky line of
College Hill, its richness of summer foliage obscuring all but the highest
roofs and the graceful spires of the "aristocratic section," and crowned by
the Christian Science Dome and the interesting buildings of the old Univer-


sity. Toward the west the channel oi the Woonasquatucket River, with
broad streets on either side, gives opportunity for a boulevard to Davis Park,
and onward by means of the new Pleasant Valley Parkway to the rather
undeveloped northwest corner of the city.

In the conception of the Metropolitan Park System, it was realized that
a serious obstacle would be encountered in the artificial division of "Greater

KXKS 1\ KDlilOH W ri.l.IAMS l'\L(K

Providence" into nearly a dozen independent cities and towns, but although
the conditions were unusual the promoters of the enterprise found a precedent
in Massachusetts, in accordance with which the "Metropolitan Park District"
in Rhode Island was constituted. This provides an official name for a
community that should be in fact, as it is in appearance, a single city, and
the means by which, so far as the park system is concerned, it may indeed,
act as a single city.



Of course, this park
district as such, would
have no revenue of
its own and no bor-
rowing power, but it
was proposed, as in
Massachusetts, that the
state as a whole
should provide the
means, and reimburse-
ment should be made
in proper proportion
by the individual
cities and towns within
the district.

Upon the petition
of the Public Park Association, the Legislature in 1 905 appointed a Metro-
politan Park Commission to make a preliminary report, and the commission
was so constituted as to represent the extent of the proposed park district as
well as its varied interests, educational, artistic and commercial. The work
was a labor of love on the part of all those who promoted it.

The first Commission oudined a plan — of comprehensive character, but
substantially along the lines already advocated by the Public Park Asso-
ciation, — and the unqualified support that it received from the newspapers

and from leading or-
ganizations of every
sort, gave striking
testimony indicating
in how many very
vital ways such a pro-
ject touches all classes
of the people. The
Commission was con-
tinued, and in 1 906 a
much more elaborate
report was presented
to the Legislature
together with a request
that the people of the
state be given an




opportunity to vote
upon a proposition for
a bond issue for the
beginning of tlie work.
Tfie Legislature
shortly approved this
suggestion without a
dissenting voice, and
when the electors
came to decide the
question at the fol-
lowing state election
in November, they too
approved it, — by a
vote of two to one. In
only one large town in
the state was there an adverse majority. This vote allowed the next
legislature to issue bonds and to provide proper machinery to bring the
Metropolitan Park System into being, and thus, Rhode Island became the
second state in the Union to institute a Metropolitan Park System.

Upon the plan of this Metropolitan Park District, within an area of about
eleven miles by seven, that is occupied in 1910 by about 405,000 people
and has the State House as the geographical centre, are noted the valleys of
ten rivers of assorted sizes, the shores of the bay, of which almost none is
held by the public,
and something like
forty ponds and lakes.
There are precipitous
hillsides from which
gorgeous views are
obtained, and
fragments of wood-
land that still remain
to be the joy and
benefit of their tres-
passing neighbors.

Such places are
seldom lit for ordi-
nary building pur-
poses and if not



reserved for public lands, soon degenerate into slums. When we choose
the former alternative, we thereby add value to the surrounding lands, and
to the city as a whole, that invariably repays all the outlay many fold.
But let no one advocate that they be made into parks in the old-fashioned
understanding of that word, for up to recent times city parks have furnished
a very bad and fantastic imitation of nature ; and even though they have
afforded refreshing scenes of grass and flowers amid the walls of the city,
they have generally been intended to be looked at with awe rather than
used with full delight. People were supposed to stroll decorously through
wonderful curving paths and among magic mazes of geometrical designs,
with warnings on every hand to keep off the grass under threat of capital
punishment. Nature was fantastically caricatured by unhappy hedges
trimmed into weird shapes, and artificial lakes with edges made into prim
angles and parabolic or diabolic curves. Atrocious iron dogs glared at
crazy quilts of flowers made into shapes of things that never existed on sea
or land. Such places served a certain purpose in interesting and surprising
the eye,' even as did the fragile wax bric-a-brac creations under the glass
domes on the marble topped parlor tables of a past generation. Happily
their day is over, and it is no longer the purpose of the park promoters to
tack artificial adornments on to the frame work of the city, — nor to create
mere ornamentation of sand papered hills and marble paved lakes, — but
rather to preserve natural assets that are vital to the civic welfare.

The inner ring of the proposed parkways is about eighteen miles in extent,
while the circuit which encloses Pawtucket on the north and traverses the
Pawtuxet Valley upon the south would add perhaps twenty miles more,
but plans avoid the taking of valuable real estate so successfully that
comparatively litde cosdy land is called for in the provision of park areas
many hundred acres in extent.

It would not have seemed possible that within the four mile circle from the
State House of the most densely populated state in the Union, any tract of
land could have been discovered, so wild, so primitive, and so apparently
remote, as that which the Metropolitan Commission has secured for its
largest reservation, and dedicated on the one hundredth anniversary of the
great emancipator's birth, to the memory of the immortal Lincoln. No
sight of busy cities or of commercial strife disturbs the sweet serenity of the
Lincoln Woods, where the primeval forest borders the waters of its gem of
lakes. Over the tops of its encircling hills, the roar of traffic and the clash
of industry come floating softly as might the hum of bees or music of waters.

There are gigantic rocks and tangled glades, a winding river at the base
of the forested hills ; and rolling pastures and meadow lands, where primi-



tive agriculture has been practised for more than two hundred years. "The
orchard, the meadow, the deep-tangled wildwood" are all to be found m
this beautiful parkland ; and so, too, are old farmhouses that have defied the
storms since the days when the Indians were their frequent visitors. Yet
this litde wonderland of nature, almost surrounded by the swelling tide of
population, has somehow escaped destruction all these years. Lincoln
Woods is a priceless possession for future ages.

Much nearer to the homes of the multitudes, who can use them every day,
are the reservations of Edgewood Beach and the Woonasquatucket. There
was but one stretch of level sandy shore anywhere upon the west side of the
Bay between the city and Gaspee Point, and by its public ownership,
unborn millions, as well as present thousands, may put into practice the
honored principle that "Cleanhness is next to godliness." On account of
its proximity to the heart of things, it is by far the busiest bathing place in
the State, though Newport and Narragansett need not tremble for their
fame as the most fashionable ones. From the Edgewood Bluffs above the
bathing houses, there are fascinating views of the upper Narragansett,
where ever-chugging motor boats, white winged yachts, and more majestic
steamers forever enliven the scene.

Over at the other end of the city we find the busy Woonasquatucket
turning the wheels of great mills, but anon resting from its toil and gliding
peacefully through the Merino meadow, where the toiling thousands of
the Olneyville district have their only daily playground. Here are ball-
fields and steep hillside groves, and a tiny lake, that for those who are not
old enough or wise enough to play with the river, is safe to wade or paddle

Meshanticut Park, with its gem of a lake, is farther from the business
centre. It is celebrated as the haunt of birds, and is the gift of a generous
citizen to the State.

It is doubtful, however, if any part of the Metropolitan System will meet
with such immediate appreciation by so many classes of people, as the section
of the Barrington Parkway, which is just now in process of construction, for
it is rather difficult to recall any other drive leading out from the heart of an
American city, that combines so many kinds of interesting views in so short
a distance.

But, after all, considering the extent of the district to be served, and
realizing the splendor of the natural gifts that have been bestowed upon the
favored people of the "Providence Plantations," — gifts which mutely
plead for preservation that they may remain a part of the public heritage
forever, — we cannot escape the fact that but a slight beginning has been made.


There are long and beautiful beaches upon the bay at Bullock's Point and
Gaspee Point, the latter place made famous by the first act of rebellion in
the Revolutionary War. There is the commanding bluff of Field's Point,
whose old fortifications tell again of the Revolution, and command miles of
glistening bay and busy harbor. From here we may proceed through the
woodlands of Roger Williams Park to the broad waters of Mashapaug
and on to the exquisite little Lake of Isles, and then to the winding Pocasset,
now broadened into lakes, and again contracted to a deep and narrow channel
through sedgy meadows, with the great rocky face of Neutaconkanut Hill
rising high above the fertile valley. There is the exquisite Scott's Pond,
though its shores are even now preserved from defilement and maintained
for recreation purposes by a great mill corporation which owns them. There
is the broad valley of the Blackstone, surrounded by steep bluffs crowned
by pine groves, and full of circuitous lagoons and fertile islands ; the Ten
Mile River, daintily winding under the branches of great trees or rushing
swiftly through the craggy glen at Hunts Mills. There is the broader Paw-
tuxet upon which thousands of canoeists and boating enthusiasts enjoy the
summer days ; and the lake-like Seekonk which will really be a lake when
the dam at its narrow mouth shall have been built. These places have
been free in all the past, and by the making of the Metropolitan Park System,
may still in all the future be the breathing places and recreation grounds at
the doors of a great and ever increasing industrial population. Wisdom
and humanity demand their preservation, and their harmonious joining in
one grand chain as a magnificent possession for all posterity ; — a public
domain in which the poorest of the people may gam delight and strength
and claim part ownership ; — a domain that all the wealth of kings could not
create where nature had been less kind.




On the map of the MetropoHtan District opposite, only a few of the
principal thoroughfares are shown. Blue indicates water area ; Light
Green shows city parks and grounds of several public institutions ; Dark
Green shows reservations acquired by the Metropolitan Park Commission
during 1909 and 1910 and Yellow or Buff indicates proposed extension
of the park system.

"We find that the rock hills, the stream banks and bay and pond
shores, are the available and valuable sites for public open spaces ; avail-
able, because they are generally unoccupied and cheap ; valuable, because
they present the grandest and the fairest scenery. Private ownership is
thoroughly bad as a matter of public financial policy. Public ownership
will so enhance land values that the whole community will profit in the
end. " — Charles Eliot.






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