Rhode Island State House
|Location||82 Smith St.|
Providence, Rhode Island
|Area||Downtown and Smith Hill|
|Architect||McKim, Mead & White|
|NRHP reference No.||70000002|
|Added to NRHP||April 28, 1970|
The Rhode Island State House, the capitol of the state of Rhode Island, is located at 900 Smith Street just below the crest of Smith Hill, on the border of downtown in Providence. It is a neoclassical building designed by McKim, Mead & White which features the fourth largest structural-stone dome in the world, topped by a gilded statue of "The Independent Man", representing freedom and independence. The building houses the Rhode Island General Assembly – the state House of Representatives is located in the west wing, and the Senate in the east – and the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and general treasurer of Rhode Island. Other state offices are located in separate buildings on a campus just north of the State House.
The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
The current Rhode Island State House is Rhode Island's seventh state house and the second in Providence after the Old State House. The structure was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead & White and was constructed from 1891 to 1901. The building underwent a major renovation in the late 1990s.
A private organization, the State House Restoration Society, raises funds and advocates for the landmark building.
The Rhode Island State House is constructed of 327,000 cubic feet (9,300 m3) of white Georgia marble, 15 million bricks, and 1,309 short tons (1,169 long tons) of iron floor beams. The dome is "the fourth largest self-supported marble dome in the world".
Independent Man (1899)
On top of the dome stands a gold-covered bronze statue of a male figure known as The Independent Man. The statue, originally named "Hope," was designed by George Brewster and installed in 1899. The statue weighs more than 500 pounds (230 kg), is 11 feet (3.4 m) tall, and stands 278 feet (85 m) above the ground. The Independent Man represents freedom and independence and alludes to the independent spirit which led Roger Williams to settle and establish Providence Plantations and later the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
The chamber of the Rhode Island Senate is located in the east wing of the building, and the chamber of the Rhode Island House of Representatives is located in the west wing. Other notable rooms include the rotunda (beneath the dome), the State Library (north end), and the State Room (south end). The State Room is an entrance area for the office of the governor and contains a full-scale portrait of George Washington by Rhode Island native Gilbert Stuart. This room is also where the governor has press conferences and bill signings at the State House.
The State House was one of the first public buildings to use electricity. It is currently lit by 109 floodlights and two searchlights at night.
In 2013, Governor Lincoln Chafee's administration started to remove grass from the eastern side of the State House lawn in order to provide extra parking for employees. The move was opposed by the Capital Center Commission, the public board designated to oversee zoning requirements within the district. Supporters of the proposed parking say that there is demand from employees and visitors to the building. Opponents point to existing zoning requirements that make the surface lot illegal, point to the expense of providing parking, and advocate an increased presence for transit, biking, walking, and carpooling instead. The state spent $3.1 million on an adjoining piece of land on Francis Street next to I-95 for parking, which provides 100 parking spots at around $30,000 a space.
Christmas at the State House
It is an annual State House tradition to feature a Christmas tree and community and cultural holiday displays each December. A Fraser fir or Balsam fir is erected in the rotunda and decorated. The tree, donated by a local family or tree farm, is typically between 17 and 25 feet tall.
It has become a holiday tradition in local media to feature stories about problems with Rhode Island's state tree, often meriting front page treatment:
- In 2005, the tree was removed from the rotunda after a treatment with flame retardant caused the needles to fall out.
- In 2007, a "sickly-looking" tree was replaced a few weeks before Christmas.
- In 2011 Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and others objected to the wording on tree-lighting ceremony invitations, which referred to the tree as a "holiday" tree. Protestors at the tree-lighting ceremony lit a protest tree of their own and sang “O, Christmas Tree,” drowning out the official music provided by a local children's chorus.
- In 2012, the official tree lighting ceremony was canceled.
- In 2013, Governor Chafee changed the wording to "Christmas" tree.
- In 2016, a 14-foot Fraser fir was deemed too small for the rotunda. A replacement 20-foot tree was placed in the rotunda, and the smaller tree moved to the south steps.
- In 2017, the rotunda's 25-foot Fraser fir made national headlines when it began dropping needles "at an alarming rate," after being on display for three weeks. The New York Post called it "the saddest state capital Christmas tree." The sickly tree was replaced with a smaller (12-foot) tree.
- The 2018 tree was an 18-foot tall Douglas fir donated by a South Kingstown tree farm.
- For 2019, state staff assembled and decorated 18-foot artificial tree, described as a "replica of a California Baby Redwood."
Since 2014, holiday displays from "any Rhode Island area-based religious or secular group" have been featured on the first and second floors. Participating groups have included local religious, ethnic, and secular organizations.
In popular culture
Statue of Nathanael Greene by Henri Schönhardt (1931)
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Providence, Rhode Island
- List of state and territorial capitols in the United States
- List of tallest buildings in Providence, Rhode Island
- Woodward, Wm. McKenzie (2003). PPS/AIAri Guide to Providence Architecture. Photography by William Jagger Photography (1st ed.). Providence, Rhode Island: Providence Preservation Society and American Institute of Architects Rhode Island Chapter. pp. 107–109. ISBN 0-9742847-0-X.
- "Cupolas of Capitalism: State Capitol Building Histories: States from P to S". Cupola. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- "Facts and Figures". State of Rhode Island General Assembly. Archived from the original on May 15, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- "The Providence Heritage Trail". VisitRhodeIsland.com (Rhode Island Tourism Division). Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- "The Man Atop the Statehouse". www.rhody.com. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
- Grimaldi, Paul (October 16, 2013). "Capital Center chairman opposed to more parking near R.I. State House". The Providence Journal. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- Nickerson, Jef (October 18, 2013). "State defiantly moves ahead with surface parking". Greater City Providence. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- Kennedy, James (February 21, 2013). "Guest post: Parking reform should start at the State House". Greater City Providence. Archived from the original on February 2013. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- Rachel, James (November 2011). "Dear Audubon Society..." Transport Providence. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- Grimaldi, Paul (July 2, 2013). "R.I. will pay $3.1M for land across from State House". The Providence Journal. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- Anderson, Patrick (22 November 2016). "State House Christmas tree didn't measure up, so it got replaced". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
- Amaral, Brian (28 November 2018). "Buckle up, Rhode Island: It's time to light the State House Christmas tree". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
- McKinney, Mike (2 December 2013). "After 'holiday tree' controversy, Chafee now calls RI State House tree a 'Christmas tree'". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
- Bender, John (18 December 2017). "After A Moment In The Spotlight, RI Statehouse Christmas Tree Comes Down". Rhode Island Public Radio. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
- Anderson, Patrick (18 December 2017). "Dead Christmas tree is replaced at R.I. State House". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
- Gregg, Katherine (1 December 2019). "This time an artificial Christmas tree will spruce up the State House". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- Gregg, Katherine (27 November 2015). "Holiday displays at the State House: Open to all, but follow the rules". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
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