Rhode Island Normal School, Providence, RI

The Rhode Island Normal School, seen from Francis Street in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2016:

The building in the first photo was once the home of the Rhode Island Normal School, a teacher preparatory college that has since become Rhode Island College. The school was established in 1854, and was housed in several different buildings in the city until 1898, when the building in the first photo opened. Here, it enjoyed a prominent location just south of the Rhode Island State House, with a large lawn on the Francis Street side of the building.

During its time here, the school steadily grew. In 1920, it became the Rhode Island College of Education, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees for the first time. By the 1950s, though, there were talks of merging the school into the University of Rhode Island. However, the school remained independent, and in 1958 they moved to a new campus in the outskirts of the city. A year later, with the school expanding beyond just education degrees, the name was changed to simply Rhode Island College.

After the college moved to its current campus, the old 1898 building remained here in downtown Providence for many more years. It was finally demolished in the late 1990s to build Providence Place, the large shopping mall that stands on the site today. I don’t known whether it was deliberate or not, but the Nordstrom section of the building appears to pay homage to the design of the old Normal School, with its yellow brick exterior and the similar-looking cornice with dentils at the top of the building.

7 thoughts on “Rhode Island Normal School, Providence, RI”

  1. You are correct about the exterior design of Nordstrom’s being different from most of the remainder of Providence Place. It is in fact a deliberate homage to the Normal School building that once occupied that site. Throughout the 1990s I worked with the Office of Higher Education, the RI House of Representatives, RIC and its Alumni Association, and the developers and contractors of the new mall to ensure that the site would feature some distinctive design reminiscent of R.I.N.S. We were also successful in rescuing and preserving some large architectural pieces from the old building, many of which were incorporated into the John Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts on the RIC campus.

    • When was the building torn down? Is it possible that I took URI extension courses there in the mid 1980s or am I making that up?

      • Yes indeed it was a URI extension before it was torn down in the 1990’s to make room for the Providence Place Mall.
        My parents met there in English class in 1963, having both recently emigrated (separately) to America from Germany.
        Dad was a Toolmaker at Speidel on Ship St. in Providence, and Mom was an au pere for a family living on Hope St. on the East Side.

  2. Robert Gallo. I am researching family history. My grandmother attended the Normal School. I believe it was in the 1900’s maybe 1915 or later. I am interested in the registry which you referred to.


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