taken from "The Civic and Architectural Development of Providence" by John Hutchins Cady
Providence's Downtown was not always located in its present location across the river.
The first town center was located along the Moshassock River and North Main Street near St. John's Episcopal Church.
The second Downtown was located around the corner from Market Square.
By the middle of the 18th Century, the Market Square neighborhood began to overtake the north end of Town at Olney Lane and King Street (now Olney and North Main Streets) as the commercial and civic center of Providence.
A sturdy Weybosset Bridge provided a gateway for produce from the farmland to the west across the Providence River while a flourishing shipping trade to the West Indies also contributed to the rapid growth of the center.
The General Assembly authorized construction of a public market place in 1771.
Work began two years later, and the Market House was completed in July 1774 at a cost of $4,500 (raised by public lottery).
Growing commerce and legalization of the lottery in 1744 helped launch a private and public building boom.
Many of these buildings still standing nearby are shown below as adapted from a map drawn by Brown University student, John Fitch, in 1790.
The War of Independence 1776 - 1783 brought a temporary halt to expansion.
Rhode Island was the first colony to openly renounce allegiance
to the King of England at the Colony House on May 4, 1776. Providence was busy building warships many months before the Continental Congress declared independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.
Four years earlier boats from nearby Fenner's Wharf at Planet Street boats had embarked to set fire to the British schooner Gaspee.
Providence soon recovered from the effects of the war and attained such a degree of wealth that property valuations nearby trebled between 1782 and the end of the century.
Newport was surpassed in the number of inhabitants and, by the year 1800, Providence had become the largest town of the state with a population of 7,614.
A total of 129 sailing vessels belonging to the port of Providence were listed in 1791, including 11 ships, 35 brigs, one snow, one polacca, 25 schooners, and 56 sloops.
By the end of the century 58 wharves had been erected along the waterfront.
As the 18th Century closed, the Neck still dominated the town of Providence.
Located within its territory were the state and municipal seats of government, the market, the principal financial institutions and industries, and most of the homes.
Although the first insurance company in Providence opened up offices in the Coffee House on Market Square as late as 1799, the commercial and civic center would soon no longer be around the corner from Market Square.
The town was
expanding westerly across the river where a significant development was already under way.
It was there, on the Weybosset side, that a new civic and commercial center was to materialize in the next century.