Winter weekend in Providence, Rhode Island

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By Lisa K. Berton

On a tepid yet blustery January day, the weekend escape began high on one of many hills in East Providence. Here sits the brick three-level home, now The John Brown House Museum, formerly owned by John Brown who served as the Brown University treasurer for twenty years.

Our tour guide met us in the Carriage Room aptly named for storing the transport. It took two years to restore and not much money as the gentleman who did the work charged very little given all that was required.  Our next stop was to learn of Rhode Island and John Brown's significant participation in the slave trade and of his brother Moses' opposition and efforts to abolish it.

Once inside the original house, visitors are taken into a half dozen rooms including a dining room, bedroom, sickly room, and a living room of sorts, where a baby walker and group of wooden shapes sit nested in a wagon, the pieces of which were discovered strewn across the floor one morning by a staff member. The tour guide said it's one reason why walking through rooms is off limits. Given that children sadly passed away in the home, who really knows how if the antique toys were dislodged or played with.

The museum only operates on Saturdays from December thru March. Visitors can choose an audio tour or guided tour for the same price. A small gift shop sells books, jewelry, and note cards.

All wallpapers in the home are reprints of the originals.
All wallpapers in the home are reprints of the originals.
Hear stories of triumph and tragedy

My knowledge increased, a quick drive over to Wickenden Street (found parking on Hope St) placed me among artsy and comfortable restaurants. An affordable late breakfast/ lunch time meal of three chocolate chip pancakes and two scrambled eggs were consumed at Brickway at Wickenden. 

Setting 1950's style tables
Setting 1950's style tables

Walk a few blocks up or down Wickenden St and you'll discover Nostalgia, a shop filled with curious moments from years passed. Try all three levels for a look at framed art, glassware, lamps, records, comic books, jewelry, clothing, and the same Corning Ware your mom uses. Need a larger selection of vinyl records to search? Try Round Again Records and Olympic Records. 

Drawn to Weybosset St in the late afternoon, it's home to Providence Performing Arts Center, street murals, and Arcade Providence. Inside the latter are cafes, a hair salon, clothing, and another vintage shop, Carmen and Ginger, this one specializing in the 1930's to 1960's with kitsch in mind.

The Providence Police Dept has a strong presence in the busy neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants, trendy shops, a parking garage, and apartments.

Beyond the Arcade is what's left of Providence National Bank at 1791 Weybosset St. The building, now just one brick wall, looks more like something found on a movie studio back lot than anything else. 

Position in the just the right angle for a glimpse at the towering Art Deco phenomenon referred to as the Superman Building. Currently void of any tenant, locals are set on not only saving the 26 floor structure but revitalizing it as well.

Slides, postcards and 1930's ice cream cups
Slides, postcards and 1930's ice cream cups
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's the Superman Building
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's the Superman Building

Evening plans of enjoying a free concert of Irish music at AS220 came to a halt upon news that the musicians failed to show for their gig. Attempts to find entertainment options lead to Cable Car Cinema and Cafe. Seating in the cafe is limited to seven small rounds tables with two chairs each. Sandwich offerings are also limited but should your sweet tooth crave candy, more choices are within reach. The cozy theater screens one movie to folks seated in padded seats, mini couches and the occasional odd chair from theaters of yesteryear.

Returning to East Providence the next day proved less windy and made for a comfortable walk after circling South Main, North Main, Benefit, and other streets in search of parking. Meters do not operate and hourly signs are not enforced on Sundays.

Perk number two, free admission to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum every Sunday. Stretched across four distinct architectural buildings sit a collection of European, Ancient Greek and Roman, Contemporary, Egyptian, 18th and 19th Century American, and RISD student galleries. One might find themselves wandering the halls for two hours.

Once back in the neighborhood of College Hill, take a look at colonial houses, churches, and the Providence Athenæum. Download the free Rhode Tour app to guide you.

Rhode Island School of Design Museum
Rhode Island School of Design Museum

The Providence Flea reallocated to Hope High School to avoid snow and rain filled seasons. Vendors offer an eclectic assortment of vintage clothing, leather purses, handmade jewelry, baked goods, art, cameras, antique signs, and more. This past Sunday found hand blown glass pineapples with air plants, red and blue macarons for Patriots fans, knit hats, along with lavender oils and soaps. Non-profits are welcome as are musicians. Out in the parking lot, two food trucks served hungry shoppers.

Goods change from week to week as the market puts vendors through a juried application process and space can be rented for just one day. Rates are not specified on their website, only the mandatory cost to sell in the ocean state.

The Perfect Sweet will tempt you
The Perfect Sweet will tempt you
Charged Glassworks' hand blown glass

Put Providence on your bucket list for a look back at government and business, and into the future of science and the arts. Explore East Providence neighborhoods of Victorian style and Pratt St where for a moment, the architecture will spin your memory into coastal California. Shop the handmade and the previously owned. Dine on seafood or vegetarian delights. When your visit concludes, dig into further pockets of the smallest state.

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