As they walked into the hidden church dome, the visitors could spot some of the names inscribed on the wall, some dating back to the early 18th century.
“Providence is amazing in the richness of its architecture,” said Matthew Hird, the church’s steward.
This tour of the Beneficent Congregational Church was just one of over 20 unique locations open to the public during the Doors Open Rhode Island festival on Saturday. During the festival, curious visitors could explore historic museums, cathedrals, theaters and studios located across Providence for free.
The tour featured several buildings located on campus and the Rhode Island School of Design. Others were within walking distance or easily accessible through the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which provided free transportation between participating sites on the day of the festival.
In some of the sites, like the Stephen Hopkins House, participants were led on guided tours with special access to 18th-century artifacts and heirlooms. In other places, like the Benefit Street Arsenal, visitors were allowed to freely explore the military collections of the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery, including a large Model 1902 Field Gun.
The Doors Open Festival is part of a wider movement, which aims to connect people with the significant spaces in their city. “When we have access to places in our community, we learn the stories that make us feel more connected to the cities, which contributes to our greater sense of ownership and pride,” said Caroline Stevens MA’16, the festival’s program director. Stevens started the Doors Open venture as a recipient of the 2016 Embark Post-Graduate Fellowship, a program sponsored by the Swearer Center for Public Service that provides grants around $20,000 to graduating students pursuing “social ventures as full-time endeavors.”
Those who attended and volunteered at the festival seemed to do so out of genuine curiosity, wanting to know more about the landmarks that they pass by on a daily basis.
“I went to the Benefit Street Arsenal,” said Jen Liu ’17, “I actually live one minute away from it. I had no idea that any of these places … were historical.”
Glenn Doup, senior vice commander of the American Legion Post 228 in Somerset, Mass., eyed fragile collections at the Benefit Street Arsenal, including some volumes that date back to 1865. “I think it’s a great place, a beautiful place,” he said. “And now that they’ve finally done all these renovations to it, I’m glad I got a chance to come out.”
Additional reporting by Paulina Sengeridis.