by Florence Markoff

The story of the many changes she's witnessed.

An engraving of the First Baptist Meeting House, circa 1861.

She's been sitting on North Main Street in Providence for more than two centuries and the stories she knows about Rhode Island would keep you fascinated for hours. The education she's gotten, the degrees she's collected, and the honors she's won would make anybody's head turn. As a matter of fact, hers almost did during the Great Gale of 1815. If sometimes you should walk through her doors you might even ask her questions directly. Sit in one of her pews for a while and she'll tell you all about it. She loves to talk, especially when Brown's commencement rolls around. It's her favorite subject, Brown commencements. It should be—she's been to every one of them from the very beginning.

When she started off, Providence wasn't much more than a cowpath. She used to look down on a little nest of wooden buildings. Sometimes she wasn't altogether happy, like when the East Side Railroad Tunnel was built in 1908—she did a little complaining about that. Of course, she had been around a long time when that happened.

When she started off, she was the only one there. But then the Art Club came on one side of her, the School of Design on the other. Judges moved into the courthouse down the street. Oh, yes, there were many changes, but she's stayed the same through the years.

Experts have described how she was built; how every piece of wood was perfectly fitted and matched; how she was painted white so she could be seen at a distance. Her huge bell weighs 2500 pounds and was cast in London, and another of her features is a beautiful crystal chandelier—a gift from Hope Brown in memory of her father Nicholas. And this might sound like vanity, but she does like to have people stop and look at her as they pass by. It shows they have good taste, she says. She was designed by one of the famous Brown boys—Joseph Brown—who did some of the best architectural work in town.

There is one thing she doesn't like. She doesn't want you to talk about how well she's preserved. In spite of her age she feels like she's just starting out in life every year at Brown graduation.

So when you pass by on North Main Street in Providence, between Waterman and Thomas, take a good look at the distinguished First Baptist Meeting House.

Providence resident Florence Markoff (1927-2017) was a speaker, performer, storyteller, and radio personality.

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This article last edited January 23, 2003

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