Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Saving Rhode Island’s Architectural Treasures

Rhode Island has some of the oldest, greatest architecture in the country. Our built environment reflects our ability to adapt and create. It’s a response to our environment, politics, culture, and art. It reflects function and our industrial and mechanical evolution. Our built environment has evolved into a diverse landscape of beauty, function, and chaos.   We Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 10.09.13 AMhave buildings as early as the late 17th century, to entire streets and towns from the 18th century, to massive masonry 19th century factories, to grand mansions of the early 20th century. We have many examples of our rich history by neglect or intent. We have adapted, learned from, manipulated, and evolved with them sometimes without regard to where they came from, but they still exist.

Rhode Island was the next-door neighbor of the first permanent European settlement. They may have come to RI for religious freedom, but future diverse cultures arrived to love RI for the same reasons we do: water, fertile fields, temperate weather, abundant natural resources, and plenty of good building materials. Our architectural styles evolved from this rich cultural diversity and strong industrial prosperity.

RI architecture can go from highly ornate to exquisitely subtle, many with some of highest craftsmanship in the country. While we lost a lot of great buildings, we reatin some of the best architectural gems and firsts, with only a small percentage legally protected. Our 762 National Register of Historic Places buildings are technically not protected, while the 45 National Landmarks, 165 Historic Districts, and 117 contributing buildings have some protections. About 140,000 of roughly 400,000 homes would be over 50 years old and considered “historic”. These buildings tell our story, and contain the history of our people and our industries.

So what does this mean for the building owner? We are all temporary custodians. Some may consider old buildings to be obsticals to progress, while others honor them in saving details during reuse. There are some historic buildings that touch us and some we would not even notice if they are gone. But buildings must be useful to have purpose, and sometimes costs sacrifice a building’s architectural integrity. Yet it is the difficult road that is the most rewarding, since our future selves will see only the building, not the struggle it took to save it, reuse it, or come up with the out of the box design or extra money. Some of the best preserved historic buildings are saved by little money and neglect, and some of the worst have the biggest budgets.

It is easy to make a list of great Rhode Island buildings. But it is more than being on a list that defines a place. Maintaining your building is important to all of us to keep this rich architectural history we sometimes take for granted. They represent our history, who we are, and what we value. So when passing by or touring these buildings, thank those who have allowed us to appreciate them both then and now.

Here are some often missed Rhode Island firsts and gems. Each are unique to Rhode Island in some way. I hope you can take the time to find out why:


Redwood Library

Great Friends Meeting House

Nathanael Greene House

The White Horse Tavern

Rhode Island State House

Gilbert Stuart Birthplace

Touro Synagogue

Stephen Northup House

Gray’s Store

Arnold House

Coggeshall Farm Museum

Lippitt House

Casey Farm

Linden Place

General James Mitchell Varnum House

Vernon House

First Baptist Church in America

Providence Libraries