Video: Church, state, mob, food, art, etc.: What I found in Providence

Roughly midway between Boston and Newport, Rhode Island’s capital city has history, grit and a lively student population.  

Providence -- the capital of Rhode Island and the star of this video -- could use a little more respect.

Part of the problem is its location, an hour south of Boston (which has more culture and more history) and 45 minutes north of Newport (more mansions, more shore). Moreover, for years, Providence was better known as a Mafia stronghold than as a rest-and-relaxation destination.

But if you’re a first-time visitor like me -- I shot this video in early July -- the city is full of happy surprises and noble history.

Its founder, Roger Williams, was an early crusader for the separation of church and state. In the 17th century, this was dangerous stuff, and Williams’ success in Providence shaped the way the United States would later grow. A pleasant park along the Providence River is dedicated to him, and nearby you’ll find the tall, white steeple of the first Baptist church in the Americas, at 75 N. Main Street. (Williams was a Baptist.) There’s an equally handsome Unitarian church a few blocks away at 1 Benevolent Street.

I found less charm in the riverside convention-center-and-mall complex near the massive Statehouse dome downtown, but by many accounts that territory has been much improved by redevelopment over the last 30 years.


My favorite spot? The Rhode Island School of Design Museum (which gets plenty of time in the video) on Benefit Street near the Providence River. The Brown University campus is just a few blocks away, as is Johnson & Wales University, whose culinary arts and hospitality students help keep the city’s restaurants and hotels lively.

Speaking of which, my two favorite meals, both in the central “Downcity” area, were at Rosalina, a sleek Italian place on Aborn Street; and the Hotel Providence’s Aspire Seasonal Kitchen (whose pleasant patio is in the video for about two seconds).

Now, about the city’s Mafia history: Much of that grew out of the Federal Hill neighborhood, especially its main artery, Atwells Avenue. Though nobody imagines that organized crime has vanished entirely, the avenue’s many Italian restaurants now draws legions of tourists.

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