The Library has various sources that may be helpful in pursuing architectural research, including Providence Preservation Society records, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, industrial and architectural surveys and post-1850 Rhode Island atlases. To research the deed or title history of a building, it is recommended to contact the city or town in which the building is located. However, deed histories for a small number of Providence houses, compiled by the Providence Preservation Society, are available at the library. Reference sources for non-Providence houses are limited.
Additional records and visual representations of particular buildings may be available in the Manuscripts and Graphics collections, as well as online at Historic American Buildings Survey (H.A.B.S.) .
- Providence City Hall House Research Guide (Adobe Acrobat required)
- House History Resources (Adobe Acrobat required)
Houses in Providence
For Providence houses, researchers should first consult the 21 volume series of Providence Preservation Society (PPS) house histories known as the Gowdey Collection available in the Reading Room. The series was compiled by Mary A. Gowdey and Antoinette Downing, the founder of the PPS. Each house history consists of worksheets that outline ownership of the house in chronological order, starting with the earliest owner. Sources consulted for the worksheets may include deeds, probate records, tax records and city directories. There may also be a tracing of the street numbers a house has had over the years and the address from which a house may have been moved. Photos or drawings usually accompany the worksheets and genealogical information may also be included.
Additional sources include surveys by the American Institute of Architecture (A.I.A.), arranged by city/town, and Historic American Building Survey (H.A.B.S.) for Providence, arranged alphabetically by street address. These surveys are in the Library’s vertical files available in the Reading Room.
Houses outside Providence
For houses outside of Providence, the best resource is the Historic and Architectural Resources series compiled by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission. Published from the 1970’s to the 1990’s, the series consists of architectural and industrial surveys of each Rhode Island city and town. Photographic images are usually included. At the back of each survey is a listing, arranged by street name, of surveyed structures with a brief description of each. Descriptions may include the date of construction, architect’s name and the name of the original owner. Another resource for photographic images of buildings is the Images of America series, published by Arcadia Publishing. These books are available for several Rhode Island towns and villages in the first floor Reading Room.
The Historic American Buildings Survey (H.A.B.S.), compiled by the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.), may also be useful. The survey is on microfilm and a printed catalog is also available. Additionally, online files for certain Rhode Island H.A.B.S. can be accessed via the American Memory Project on the Library of Congress Web site. The Reading Room vertical files also contains A.I.A. files for Rhode Island.
Rhode Island industrial and commercial sites
In addition to sources listed above, an excellent source for industrial site research is the illustrated Providence Board of Trade Journal (also known as Providence Magazine). Published between 1889 and 1931 by the Providence Board of Trade, the magazine traced in detail the construction and incorporation of businesses throughout Rhode Island. Periodically, the magazine dedicated entire issues to a specific Rhode Island industry. New technologies, sciences, social concerns and the impact of industry on the environment are also discussed. A printed index exists for the first seven volumes (through 1900) and a card file index is available through volume 21 (1909).
An additional source for industrial site research is Rhode Island: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites (1978). Conducted by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) in partnership with several state organizations, this source is a thorough inventory of historic industrial sites around the state, including buildings, bridges, and dams. There are two volumes of worksheets for each site surveyed, and a separate volume, arranged by city/town, outlines the histories of particular sites.
Bridges: Additional HAER files for specific bridges in Barrington/Warren, Lincoln, New Shoreham, Smithfield, Westerly and Woonsocket can be found in the Reference Division’s vertical file.
The Reference Division may have other materials useful to your architectural research. Please see the reference staff for assistance.