Rhode Island might be the smallest state in the Union, but it is packed with a ton of historical sights. You can find places dating back from the American Revolution to the beginning of the 20th century. Here are some of the top spots for all those history fans to enjoy throughout the Ocean State.
Great Friends Meeting House
Rhode Island was a haven for those escaping religious persecution. In Newport, you can find the oldest structure in the state. Built in 1699, the Great Friends Meeting House showcases the influence of the Quakers in the area. While most structures have elaborate designs, this building has modest architecture that fits in with the Quakers’ beliefs of simple worship. This building served the Quaker community until 1905 when it became a center for the African American community. In the 1970s, the structure was donated to the Newport Historical Society. You can still take a tour of the house. While you are in town, make sure to head to the Newport Historical Society to take a gander at the various exhibits on display at the museum.
Nathanael Greene Homestead
Rhode Island was one of the thirteen original colonies, and it played an essential part in the Revolutionary War. One of the unsung heroes of the war was Major General Nathanael Greene, and today, you can visit his former homestead. In 1770, he built his house in Coventry and raised a family while building his iron business. By 1775, he joined the American forces and eventually led the Southern army. For Greene, his stay at the property was short-lived, and the homestead was passed on to his brother, Jacob. Today, the General Nathanael Greene Homestead Association operates and owns the property. You can explore the fully-restored home with two floors of belongings from the Greene family, along with early American and Colonial artifacts.
Gilbert Stuart Birthplace
You might not know his name, but you have definitely seen his portrait. If you take out a one-dollar bill with George Washington, you will see the work of Gilbert Stuart. Stuart was born in Saunderstown and created famous portraits of James Madison, John Adams, and of course, George Washington. Built in 1751, the homestead was developed initially to process snuffing tobacco. Today, the property operates tours throughout the year. You can see the working gristmill, herb garden, and exhibitions featuring colonial artists.
Rhode Island played another vital role in American history. It was the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. In Pawtucket, you can find the Slater Mill, which is North America’s first water-powered cotton mill. Samuel Slater was born in England, but he moved to America in 1789. The British government outlawed exporting details for building a spinning mill outside of their country. Slater memorized those plans and built his mill in Pawtucket. With business partner Moses Brown, they finished construction in 1793. This mill began the framework of the Industrial Revolution. Visitors can take a guided tour and learn about life at the mill.
Along with the Slater Mill, you can also visit the Sylvanus Brown House, which is an early example of a worker’s home, and the Wilkerson Mill. This site also includes a preserved 19th-century machine shop and reconstructed water wheel. At this property, you can learn how the early industrial revolution changed the country.
The White Horse Tavern
If you travel across the United States, there are a lot of places that want to claim the title of “oldest.” In Newport, you can actually eat at the oldest operating tavern in the country. The White Horse Tavern was built in 1652, but it did not become a tavern for travelers until 1673. In 1702, owner William Mayes, Jr. became licensed and started to sell all types of liquor in the area. One interesting bit of trivia, Mayes was a well-known pirate before acquiring his liquor license. The White Horse Tavern was a popular establishment in the city until the late 1800s when it became a boarding house. By 1957, it was restored and once again, became a tavern. Today, you can still enjoy a selection of meals, wines, and desserts at this farm-to-table restaurant. If you are looking to experience history besides visiting a museum, make sure to book a table at the White Horse Tavern.
Rhode Island State House
A stop in historic Rhode Island would not be complete without a visit to the State House. When you are in Providence, you can see this modern marvel. Built in 1895, this building is the fourth largest unsupported marble dome in the world. While inside the capitol building, you can visit several rooms throughout the building, including the State Room with Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Washington. The Charter Room holds the 350-year-old Royal Charter which made Rhode Island a British colony, along with artifacts belonging to the colony’s founder, Roger Williams.
While many of the historic sites in Rhode Island date back to the original colony days, you can visit a modern spot. When you are in Newport, there is one location you will want to check off your list. Located along Bellevue Avenue in the Historic District, you will find the Breakers. This mansion was built in 1893 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The Vanderbilt family was one of the wealthiest families in the United States. Cornelius didn’t live long after the mansion was completed, but the family continued to reside in the building. Make sure to visit the magnificent rooms with ornate and expensive furnishings. Don’t forget to explore the grounds on the estate. These gardens have many varieties of hemlock, Japanese yew, and native flowers. This mansion is one of the most visited attractions in the entire state.
From modern times to the colonial past, you can see many historical sites in the Ocean State. Whether you are a history buff or not, you will want to visit these fascinating locations in the area.