Museums and Galleries

A Blast From the Past

The Rhode Island capital building in Providence is by far the most treasured museum in the entire state. Students of architecture, art, culture, politics and history would certainly appreciate the design and construction of this austere white Georgia marble and the self-supporting marble dome of this statehouse building - only one of four domes in the world that is built this way.

The Independent Man, symbolic of the founding of Rhode Island by Roger Williams in 1636, stands at the center top of this special dome.

Inside, the walls of the hallways are adorned with paintings of the founding fathers. The Library is home to the numerous documents dating from the days of Roger Williams. Included in this collection is the original law enacted against slavery in 1652 - the first law to be passed in North America outlawing slavery.

The State of Rhode Island is 48 miles at its longest height and the widest point spans 37 miles from west to east. Its 39 cities and towns are situated within the boundaries of five counties, which only serve as regional divisions of the state. The counties have no governing powers. The five counties are Providence, Kent, Bristol, Newport and
Washington. Certain areas of “South County” (Washington and Newport) have recognized artist colonies with an abundance of art galleries populating these areas.

Providence County

Located at the northernmost landlocked section of Rhode Island, Providence County is the largest of the five counties in the state. There are eight “large” cities in Rhode Island and six of them are located here. Those cities are Central Falls, Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket. Ten towns are also included in Providence County: Burrillville, Cumberland, Foster, Glocester, Johnston, Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield, Scituate and Smithfield.

The Rhode Island Statehouse, of course, is the museum that dominates this county. It is more than just a museum. It is also the seat of county government and the capital of the entire state. Of course, there are other historical (and contemporary) museums and landmarks in Providence County.

One major geographical route takes visitors back in time to the Industrial Revolution which began in America along the Blackstone River Valley. There is an information center at each end of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. The Corridor stretches from Providence, RI to Worcester, MA and takes visitors through old mill towns, past many historic sites and also features canal barge narrated tours of this area known as the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.

Rhode Island had only one covered bridge in the entire state. The 40-foot long replica of Swamp Meadow Covered Bridge was completed in 1994 by an all-volunteer crew using donated lumber that was cut from local forests. It crosses over Hemlock Brook, just a bit north of Foster Center, RI.

This is the “short list” of other museums, both natural and historical: Slater Memorial Park Carousel, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Culinary Archives and Museum, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, Cormack Planetarium, Museum of Work and Culture and Providence Children’s Museum.

Kent County

Kent County is just south of Providence County. Its western border connects with the eastern border of the state of Connecticut. Warwick is the largest city in this county. Four towns are also located within the Kent County boundaries: Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich and West Warwick.

This county claims bragging rights to the Warwick Museum of Art. The Museum provides space to talented artists, writers and performers for exhibits of their works. Warwick is also home to the ever-evolving New England Institute of Technology as well as the University of Rhode Island Environmental Education Center. The Environmental Education Center is of special interest to children, youth groups and school groups.

Bristol County

The tiny area of Bristol County is just across the East Bay from Kent County. Three small towns are located on this peninsula that juts from the southern border of East Providence in Providence County. The towns of Bristol, Warren and Barrington occupy the area called Bristol County.

A state-of-the-art natural history museum is located in Bristol, RI. The Audubon Environmental Education Center is part of a wildlife refuge that features a boardwalk trail that winds around and through fresh and saltwater marshes. The walking trail ends at a point where you will find a magnificent, picture-perfect view of Narragansett Bay.
Bristol County offers many different types of museums to satisfy the many and varied visitor interests, such as: Barrington Preservation Society Museum, Blithewood Mansion, Gardens and Arboteum, Coggeshall Farm Museum, Fire Museum, Herreshoff Marine Museum and the America’s Cup Hall of Fame. With all of these offerings, you just can’t sit around and complain if there’s a rainy day in Bristol, RI.

Newport County

A small channel separates Bristol County from Newport County, a group of islands - large and small - sitting in ocean water. Newport County has one large city and several smaller towns. The large city is Newport and the smaller towns include Jamestown, Little Compton, Middletown, Portmouth and Tiverton. The city of Newport became world-renown as the vacation spot for the rich and famous for more than 150 years.

The Newport Harbor is packed with many boats of all sizes from Memorial Day through Labor Day each summer. For 100 years until 1983, this city has hosted the America’s Cup Yacht Race earning it the nickname of the Sailing Capital of America. Also, Tennis is BIG in Newport where the greatest players of this game are featured in the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum.

There are almost a dozen “summer cottages” now or formerly owned by some of the wealthiest elite in American History. These elegant mansions draw busloads of visitors to Newport all year long. The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff are all open to tours. Two of the Mansions were owned by the Vanderbuilt brothers and others belonged to equally wealthy names of the early 19th century (The Gilded Age). Bellevue Avenue continuously welcomes tour buses from far and wide filled with curiosity seekers.

There are so many different activities in the city of Newport that this county is no longer limited to summer vacationers. The early 1990s found Newport evolving into a four-season destination spot where festivals, attractions, celebrations and general happenings have become year round events. Museums, galleries and landmarks are sprinkled liberally throughout the county. The “short list” includes: Naval War College Museum and the Newport Vineyards Art Gallery, Museum of Newport History, Museum of Yachting, National Museum of American Illustration, Portsmouth Historical Society, Sydney L. Wright Museum and the Wilbor House Museum.

Washington County

A portion of Washington County is often referred to as “South County” which is the area stretching across the beach fronts of Rhode Island. Washington is second in size to Providence County and is dotted with eight small towns plus New Shoreham on Block Island, a mere twelve miles offshore. Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Westerly are within the boundaries of Washington County and each offers its own special atmosphere and unique appeal.

The County, itself, presents a landscape of woodlands, rolling hills and charming villages providing the sites and sounds of an unspoiled Colonial Era region. Museums, galleries, landmarks and attractions are located very close to Old New England-style inns, small cottages and bed-and-breakfast accommodations. This “short list” includes: Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum, Helme House Art Gallery, Museum of Primitive Art and Culture, Quonset Aviation Museum, Seebee Museum and Memorial Park, Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum and the Block Island Historical Society.

Theatre-by-the-Sea is a wonderful venue for summer stock theatre productions. Memories are made in Washington County’s South County! Sandcastles, surfers and clam diggers are the normal, picture-perfect attractions in this simple, nostalgic corner of Rhode Island.

It’s true that great things come in small packages. Rhode Island is a perfect example of this. It is packed with history, full of landmarks and galleries and it is hidden away in the far northeastern corner of United States. So, what is “Little Rhody”? It’s whatever you want it to be. Come see!

Rhode Island Artists

Paula Martiesian

Regina Partridge