Rhode Island State House, Providence, RI

A view of the southwest corner of the Rhode Island State House, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

1087_1905c-loc

The scene in 2016:

1087_2016
The first photo was taken only about a year after the completion of the Rhode Island State House. As mentioned in an earlier post, it was the state’s first purpose-built capitol building, and was designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Today, it is still in use as Rhode Island’s capitol, with legislative chambers for the General Assembly, as well as offices for the governor and other state officers. Nothing in its exterior appearance has changed, and the only differences in the two photos are the trees in the foreground and the Transportation Department building in the distance on the left.

Faunce House, Brown University, Providence, RI

Rockefeller Hall, later known as Faunce House, on the campus of Brown University, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

1066_1906c-loc

The building in 2016:

1066_2016
This building at Brown University was built in 1904, a few years before the first photo was taken. It was originally named Rockefeller Hall in honor of its benefactor, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. He had graduated from Brown in 1897, and although only 30 when the building was completed, he was already very wealthy thanks to his father’s fortune in Standard Oil. Along with being named for a prominent family, the building was also designed by one of the country’s foremost architects of the era, the New York-based firm of McKim, Mead & White.

When completed, the building had a variety of different uses, including offices for student clubs, a bookstore, a reading room, an assembly hall, and offices for the YMCA. It was expanded in the 1930s, thanks to another donation from Rockefeller, who requested that the building be renamed Faunce Hall, in honor of the late William Faunce. He had been the Rockefeller’s pastor at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in New York, and from 1899 to 1929 served as Brown’s president.

Today, the building still bears the name of Faunce, who remains the longest-serving president in the school’s history. Aside from the 1930s addition to the right, not much has changed in its appearance, and it is still in use as a campus center more than 110 years after its completion.

Rhode Island State House, Providence, RI

The south side of the Rhode Island State House in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

1058_1906c-loc

The scene in 2016:

1058_2016
Rhode Island is known for having the smallest land area of any US state, but despite its diminutive size, it had an unusual state capital situation for many years. Providence had been the capital of colonial Rhode Island for over a century, but starting in 1776 the legislature alternated sessions between the five county courthouses, effectively giving the state five capital cities. While much larger states managed to make do with just one capital city, this arrangement continued until 1853, when the rotation was reduced to just two, Providence and Newport. Having joint capitals was not unique to Rhode Island – neighboring Connecticut did the same for many years – but Rhode Island continued the practice until 1900.

At this point, when the legislature was in Providence, they were still meeting in the small colonial-era courthouse on Benefit Street. It hardly compared to the far grander capitol buildings other New England states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, so in 1895 construction began on the present-day Rhode Island State House. It was built on Smith Hill, a hill that overlooks downtown Providence on the other side of the Woonasquatucket River. Its architecture resembles the US Capitol Building, with wings on either side for the two legislative houses and a large rotunda in the center, and it was designed by the prominent firm of McKim, Mead and White in their distinctive Classical Revival style.

The Rhode Island legislature began meeting in the new building in 1901, although it was not completed until 1904, after nearly a decade of construction. Today, the area around the State House has seen some dramatic changes. Interstate 95 now passes just west of here, and just to the east is the Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in the country. To the southwest is Providence Place, a large shopping mall with adjacent parking garages. However, here on the State House grounds, very little has changed. The grounds retain a park-like atmosphere, and the historic building itself is still the seat of Rhode Island’s state government.

Grand Staircase, Boston Public Library (3)

The hallway at the top of the grand staircase at the McKim Building, in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

970_1896 bpl

The scene in 2016:

970_2016
Designed like a Venetian arcade, this hallway connects the grand staircase on the left side with Bates Hall, the library’s main reading room, on the right side. Like the rest of the area around the staircase, this hallway was decorated with a mural by French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. When the first photo was taken, the poetry murals on the left side had not yet been added, but the large mural on the right had already been installed. It features the nine Muses who, in Greek mythology, provided inspiration for literature, science, and art, and the entire work was collectively given the title of “The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Harbinger of Light.”

The first photo was taken before all of the finishing touches, such as the murals on the left and the light fixtures, were added. Otherwise, very little has changed here, and this scene, along with the rest of the building, still retains the splendor that it had when it first opened over 120 years ago. As mentioned in earlier posts, the building was the combined effort of architect Charles McKim and many prominent artists, and it set the standard for public libraries that was later followed in places like New York City.

Grand Staircase, Boston Public Library (2)

Another view of the grand staircase at the McKim Building, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

969_1901c loc

The staircase in 2016:

969_2016
The previous post shows this same staircase from the opposite side. Each side has a lion statue by Louis Saint-Gaudens, the younger brother of prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who also did work here at the Boston Public Library. As mentioned in the previous post, the staircase also includes nine murals by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, with the title of “The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Harbinger of Light.” The three panels here focus on poetry and feature three ancient Greek poets, with Virgil on the left representing pastoral poetry, Aeschylus in the middle for dramatic poetry, and Homer on the right for epic poetry. Not much has changed here since the first photo was taken, although the lamp has moved from the corner on the left side in the first photo to the right side in the 2016 view.

Grand Staircase, Boston Public Library

The grand staircase at the McKim Building, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

968_1901c loc

The staircase in 2016:

968_2016
The main branch of the Boston Public Library is a work of art. With the architecture of Charles McKim, the sculptures of Augustus and Louis Saint-Gaudens, and murals by Edwin Austin Abbey, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and John Singer Sargent, the building combines the work of some of the world’s finest visual artists of the late 19th century. This marble staircase is one of the centerpieces of the building, which was completed in 1895. Years before the New York Public Library had its iconic lion statues, the Boston Public Library had its two lions here, which were sculpted by Louis Saint-Gaudens. The one in this view is a memorial to the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry from the Civil War, and the one on the other side of the staircase is for the 2nd Regiment.

Along with the lion sculptures, the grand staircase features nine murals by French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, entitled “The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Harbinger of Light.” The three murals visible here are, from left to right: Philosophy, Astronomy, and History. In the 2016 photo, the Philosophy one has been temporarily removed. Earlier this year, it was discovered that moisture damage was causing paint to flake off of the canvas, so the mural is currently undergoing restoration. Otherwise, nothing else has changed in this scene over the past 115 years, with the grand staircase remaining as impressive as it was when the building was first opened to the public.