Mental Floss

25 Things You Should Know About Providence

Liz Loerke
iStock / iStock

Founded on religious freedom, and at the forefront of the industrial revolution, the smallest state’s biggest city has a colorful history (and a lot of doughnuts). Impress locals with these fun facts. 1. Providence was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, who was forced to flee the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of religious persecution. Williams named the area in honor of “God’s merciful Providence,” saying divine inspiration had led him there to create a bastion of religious freedom and tolerance. 2. The city motto is "What Cheer?" This pays homage to the Narragansett Native Americans, who are said to have greeted Roger Williams saying, “What cheer, netop?” Netop is the Narragansett word for friend. [[{"fid":"171448","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


The city was originally named Providence Plantations. To this day, the official state name of Rhode Island is “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”—giving the smallest state the longest name. 6. Sure, everyone knows Providence is Rhode Island’s capital, but until 1854, there were actually five separate capitals, one for each county. In 1854, the capitals were cut down to Newport and Providence, with Providence becoming the sole seat of government in 1901. 7. The Rhode Island State House boasts the fourth-largest self-supporting marble dome in the world. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest, followed by the Minnesota State Capitol and the Taj Mahal [PDF]. [[{"fid":"171449","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 



Like Rome, it was built on seven hills

. Unfortunately, Weybosset Hill was leveled in the early 1880s, leaving only six. 9. Benefit Street is known as the “Mile of History” because it contains one of the highest concentrations of Colonial architecture in the country. 10. Lexington and Concord get all the glory, but the first planned American military action of the Revolutionary War took place in Narragansett Bay. Led by John Brown and Abraham Whipple, residents looted and burned the HMS Gaspee, a British schooner than ran ashore between Newport and Providence in 1772. 11. The largest bell cast by Paul Revere & Sons is located at the First Unitarian Church. It weighs 2,488 pounds. 12. The first diner is credited to Walter Scott, who sold food from his horse-drawn wagon outside the offices of the Providence Journal in 1872. 13. Dunkin, Honey Dew, Sip ‘n Dip, Bess Eaton … take your pick. A 2010 study found that the Providence metropolitan area has more doughnut shops per capita than any other region in the Untied States. [[{"fid":"169851","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 



Brown University’s John Hay Library is home to four anthropodermic books (books bound in human skin), including, fittingly, Vesalius’ On the Structure of the Human Body. 15. Built in 1828, the Arcade, which closed in 2008, was America’s first indoor shopping mall. It now contains a collection of micro homes. 16. At the turn of the 20th century, Providence was home to the world's largest manufacturers of steam engines, machine tools, screws, files, and silverware. 17. It’s home to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the country’s top art schools. Notable alumni include street artist Shepard Fairey, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, and director Gus Van Sant. 18. Along I-95 you’ll find the world’s largest artificial insect, “The Big Blue Bug.” Standing at 9 feet tall and 58 feet long, the blue termite (affectionately nicknamed Nibbles Woodaway) is 928 times the size of an actual termite.

{BBBS QUIZ} The Big Blue Bug is a ________. Do you know what kind of bug Nibbles is? Tell us in the comments. (Photo: Kathryn D.) Posted by Big Blue Bug Solutions on Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Artist Boris Bally’s 12-foot high Gun Totem stands outside the Federal Courthouse. The sculpture, constructed in 2001, contains over 1,000 guns recovered from a buy-back program. 20. You can thank Providence for your favorite bling. The costume jewelry industry began here in 1794 when two brothers, Nehemiah and Seril Dodge, invented a method of plating base metal with gold. 21. Renowned horror writer H.P. Lovecraft spent most of his life in Providence and is buried in Swan Point Cemetery, where his tombstone reads “I Am Providence.” NecronomiCon, a festival celebrating weird fiction, art, and academia, returned to Providence this August in honor of Lovecraft’s 120th birthday. Other famous Providence-born folks include author Cormac McCarthy, TV host Meredith Vieira, and chef Wylie Dufresne. 22. Get spooked at the Biltmore Hotel. Thanks to six mob-related murders during the Prohibition Era, the Biltmore was named “America’s Most Haunted Hotel” in 2000 and is said to have served as the inspiration for Robert Bloch’s Bates Motel and Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel. Today, guests report doors opening, locks unhinging, and the sounds of voices late at night. [[{"fid":"171453","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 

Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Thanks to the elite culinary school at Johnson & Wales, Providence boasts more degreed chefs per capita than any other American city. 24. Former (and the longest-serving) mayor Buddy Cianci spent five years in federal prison for racketeering from 2002 to 2007. He ran for office in 2014, but lost to Democrat Jorge Elorza. These days, Cianci hosts a local radio show and makes pasta sauce, Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce. 25. WaterFire is an award-winning installation of 81 bonfires along the city’s three rivers that attracts an average of 40,000 spectators each night.