Front Green, Brown University, Providence, RI

The Front Green at Brown University, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The Front Green in 2016:

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The Front Green is on the east side of Prospect Street, and is just west of the College Green, with the buildings on the right side dividing these two open spaces. These three buildings are among the oldest on the Brown campus, and were mentioned in the earlier post on the College Green. The two most prominent in this scene are University Hall, in the right center of the scene. Built in 1770, it was the school’s first building after moving to the current Providence campus. Just beyond it, in the center of the photo, is Manning Hall, which was built in 1834 as a library and chapel.

In the past 110 years, essentially nothing has changed in this scene. All of the buildings on the right are still there, as are several campus structures in the distance, which are barely visible on the left side of the photos. In the lower left of the scene is Robinson Hall, which was built in 1878 at the corner of Prospect and Waterman Streets opposite the Front Green. Just to the left of it, on the Front Green itself, is the Carrie Tower. This 95-foot tower is the newest addition to the scene, and was built in 1904 in honor of Caroline Mathilde Brown, who was the granddaughter of Nicholas Brown, the man for whom the college was named.

College Green, Brown University, Providence, RI

The College Green at Brown University, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Brown University is one of the oldest colleges in the United States, and one of the nine that date back to the colonial era. It was established in 1764 as Rhode Island College (or, in its original charter, the slightly wordier name of “the College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, in America”). Originally, it was located in the town of Warren, but in 1770 the school moved to its current campus in Providence.

The first building at the new campus is the one in the center of the photo. Known today as University Hall, it opened in 1770, and has served a variety of roles over the years. During the American Revolution, it even housed soldiers prior to the departure for Yorktown near the end of the war. Today, it is used for administrative offices, including the offices of Brown’s president.

On the right side of the photo is the Greek Revival-style Manning Hall, which is another one of the older buildings on the campus. It was completed in 1834 as a library and chapel, and over the years its uses expanded to include a museum, studio, and lecture space. Today, it includes the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology as well as the Manning Chapel.

The newest building in this scene is Slater Hall, on the far left. It was built in 1879, making it more than a century newer than its colonial neighbor. It is named for its benefactor, Horatio Nelson Slater, and was designed as a dormitory by the Providence architectural firm of Stone & Carpenter. Today, it remains in use as a dormitory, and like the other two buildings in this scene, very little has changed in its exterior appearance.

John Brown House, Providence, RI

The home of John Brown on Power Street in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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Not to be confused with the more famous John Brown who led the raid on Harpers Ferry, this house was the home of Rhode Island merchant John Brown. Although they shared a name, these two New Englanders could not have been more different; while one was executed after an attempt to violently overthrow slavery, the other, who lived here, built his fortune from enslaving people.

Rhode Island’s John Brown was born in Providence in 1736, and had a profitable career as a merchant, including with the slave trade. Slavery was not illegal in New England during the colonial era, and although it was not nearly as widespread as in the south, many New England merchants nonetheless became wealthy through the slave trade. Brown was also involved in trade with China, and during the American Revolution he invested in privateers that raided British shipping.

Even before the Revolution, though, Brown showed an interest in the patriot cause. In 1772, he was one of the leaders of the Gaspee Affair, an early conflict between the colonists and British authorities. The HMS Gaspee was a British schooner that had been patrolling Narragansett Bay in an effort to stop the widespread smuggling that was occurring in the colony. While pursuing a smuggler, the Gaspee ran aground in nearby Warwick, prompting Brown and a group of other men to board the vessel and burn it. Although it occurred nearly three years before the Revolution actually started, it was an early sign of the growing tension in the colonies.

Following the war, Brown built this Georgian-style mansion on College Hill, near the campus of Rhode Island College. Brown was involved in the early years of the school’s history, and served as its treasurer for several decades. Other members of the Brown family were also highly influential, and in 1804 the school was renamed in honor of John Brown’s nephew, Nicholas Brown, Jr.  John Brown’s house was among the first of many elegant mansions that would soon appear in the College Hill neighborhood, and the area later became the city’s premier residential neighborhood.

The house was designed by Brown’s brother, Joseph, who had also designed Providence’s historic First Baptist Church building, and it was completed in 1788. During the time that Brown lived here, he was the subject of controversy over his slave trade practices. Some members of his family, such as his brother Moses, were abolitionists who opposed his occupation, but he also soon ran afoul of new slave trade laws, which forbade outfitting American ships to be used in the slave trade. Brown was the first to be tried under this new law, and in 1797 he was found guilty and forced to forfeit his ship. This conviction notwithstanding, Brown was elected to the US House of Representatives the following year, and served one term from 1799 to 1801.

After Brown’s death in 1803, the house remained in his family for nearly a century. By the time the first photo was taken, it was owned by Marsden J. Perry, a prominent bank and railroad executive who purchased it in 1901. He made some modifications to the house, but overall it retained its original appearance, both on the interior and exterior. Perry died in 1935, and it was sold to John Nicholas Brown, the great-grandson of Nicholas Brown, the college namesake. He aimed to preserve the historic house, and in 1942 he donated it to the Rhode Island Historical Society, who has owned it ever since. Today, with the exception of the ivy on the walls, essentially nothing has changed about this scene, and the home is now open to the public as a museum.

Wadsworth House, Cambridge, Mass

The Wadsworth House on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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The Wadsworth House is the second-oldest building at Harvard, after the nearby Massachusetts Hall. It was built in 1726 for college president Benjamin Wadsworth, who lived here until his death in 1737. For over a century, eight additional Harvard presidents lived here, with the last being Edward Everett, who was president here from 1846 to 1849, in the midst of a lengthy political career that included serving as a Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts, Ambassador to the United Kingdom, US Senator, and US Secretary of State. However, the most prominent resident of this house was George Washington. It served as his first headquarters when he arrived in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army in July 1775, and he stayed here for two weeks before moving into the John Vassall House on Brattle Street.

Although no longer the home of the Harvard president, the Wadsworth House is still part of the campus and is used for offices. Over the years there have been some additions to the side and back, but overall the nearly 300 year old building remains an excellent example of early 18th century Georgian architecture.

Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass

Christ Church on Garden Street in Cambridge, on October 25, 1929. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leon Abdalian Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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This church, which is also visible in the previous post, is the oldest existing church building in Cambridge. It was completed in 1761 and designed by Peter Harrison, who was the first formally trained architect to work in the future United States. It is one of only a few existing buildings that he definitely designed, along with King’s Chapel in Boston and several others in Newport, Rhode Island. Like King’s Chapel, and unlike most colonial New England churches, Christ Church was Anglican, and was intended to serve the town’s small but wealthy Anglican population along with students at nearby Harvard. Early in the American Revolution, Cambridge served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston. Many of the Anglicans here were Loyalists who fled the city, and the church closed for several years. However, George and Martha Washington, who were Anglicans themselves, did attend a service here in 1775.

The building reopened in 1790, and along with the Washingtons, the church has seen a number of other distinguished visitors. In 1879, Harvard student Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School here until a new pastor asked him to stop, because he was Dutch Reformed rather than Episcopalian. Nearly a century later, the church was more accommodating to Martin Luther King, Jr., who held a press conference here after Harvard refused to allow him to use one of their buildings.

Aside from an 1857 expansion to accommodate its growing congregation, the church has remained true to Harrison’s original design, and over 250 years later it is still in use as an Episcopalian church. Because of its historical and architectural significance, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Burying Ground, Cambridge, Mass

The Old Burying Ground in Cambridge, across from Harvard Yard, around 1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The cemetery in 2016:

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Cambridge was first settled in 1631, just a year after Boston, at a location a little further up the Charles River from Boston. Originally given the creative name of Newe Towne, the settlement centered around the Harvard Square area, and this was the town’s only cemetery for nearly 200 years. The first burials here date back  to around 1635, but headstones were not common at the time, so the oldest one still standing is dated 1653.

Most of the headstones here are from the late 17th and 18th centuries, with very few after the early 19th century. Because it was the town’s only cemetery, the burials here represent people from all classes and walks of life. Some of the prominent citizens have more elaborate monuments, such as the table stone in the foreground, which marks the grave of Colonel John Vassall, who died in 1747.

Today, the historic gravestone remains essentially unchanged since the first photo was taken some 117 years ago. In the background is Christ Church, one of two churches that borders the cemetery on either end. It was built in 1760, and although partially hidden by trees in the 2016 scene, it is still standing as one of the few surviving works of prominent colonial architect Peter Harrison.