PROVIDENCE, R.I.HISTORY Historic Benefit Street in Providence's tony East Side, has also been called "The Mile of History". It also serves as a functional museum of sorts, displaying Colonial and Victorian-era architecture that is reflected in the residential, commercial and religious buildings that line the street. Another sight that harkens back to an earlier time is the remaining presence of gas-style street lamps which line both sides of the street. It what can only be called a simple twist of fate, the primary reason for its survival in the form you see today is that plans to tear down and renovate a large portion of the area in the 1950s failed because the city of Providence lacked the funds to do so. Where urban development failed, history triumphed.Providence - "East Side" The lineage of Benefit Street begins in the 1750s when it was first known as Back Street. In time the city began its transformation from a decidedly religious settlement founded by Roger Williams (statue right), who had been expelled from Massachusetts for his religious views in the early 1600s, to a more commercial setting. As the population grew, so did the need for housing and expansion. The more affluent were seeking unique and exclusive locations that would reflect their financial status and separate them from the rest of the population. What better location then than the hill that overlooked the Providence River, a nod to their "lofty" positions in society. In was then, in the 1770s, that Back Street was widened, straightened and renamed Benefit Street as it was deemed to be "a benefit for all". Today many of these homes rich in history and legend remain much as they did in that era. One of the more prominent is the John Brown House (below) which is now a museum under the stewardship of the Rhode Island Historical Society. A massive Georgian-style home built in 1788, its owner was a merchant and trader of means who among other things, was also active in slave trafficking. A fierce supporter of the Independence movement, he was instrumental in the burning of a British warship and founded the College of Rhode Island which came to be known as Brown University. The home eventually became a kind of status symbol to some of the city's nobility, most notably Providence utility, real estate and trolley mogul, Marsden Perry in the early twentieth century. Interestingly his brother Moses, an abolitionist, did not share John's views on slavery. Moses was a leader and pioneer in textiles and eventually converted to the Quaker religion. There is a private high school on the East Side - Moses Brown - which bears his name (below).Moses Brown School Next door to the Brown House sits the Nightingale-Brown house, built in 1792 for Joseph Nightingale, a wealthy merchant-trader. It was sold by his widow to Nicholas Brown in 1814 and his descendants lived there until 1985. It is now the home of Brown University’s Center for the Study of American Civilization and is considered to be the largest wood-framed structure in North America. The home was rebuilt in the 1980s with the funding for the project coming from a most unusual source - the sale of a desk for the sum of eleven million dollars! The Meeting House of the First Baptist Church (l.) is the oldest Baptist institution in the United States. This was the church founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The church as it stands today also bears the imprint of a Brown - Joseph - who was the brother of John and Moses. The building was constructed in 1775 and as a precursor to modern financial initiatives, was constructed in large part with funding from a lottery. As the upper-class populace of Benefit Street grew, so eventually did cultural influences. More fascinating is how Benefit Street and the East Side in general remain the city's epicenter of art and culture today. The most impressive testament to intellectual advancement comes in the form of The Athenaeum, a library established in 1831. The current building was constructed in 1844 and is a subscription library for members only - who pay a yearly fee for the privilege of checking books out of it. A frequent visitor to the Athenaeum in the 1840s was famed author and poet Edgar Allen Poe, who resided for a time in Providence while courting a widow named Sarah Helen Whitman, one of the city's best-known poets at that time.Edgar Allen Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman But Poe was not alone in his appreciation of the library. Another writer of some renown named H.P. Lovecraft also made frequent trips to the Athenaeum. Lovecraft is the subject of some of Benefit Street's greatest legends, but perhaps his most famous contribution to its lore lies in a short story called "The Shunned House", which is based on the (fictional?) hauntings at a 1763 house that still remains in place just down the street (below).THE HAUNTINGS OF BENEFIT STREET The haunted history of Benefit Street may take root in the fact that at the time of the Revolutionary War the city had no proper burial grounds. In those times, families would bury their dead on their own property, an not-uncommon practice. Many of these burial would take place on the aforementioned Back Street which essentially at that time was nothing more than a glorified pathway. When the area entered its redevelopment phases, the bodies were exhumed and moved to the North Burial Ground, but there remains some doubt as to whether all the bodies were relocated. Might this be the catalyst for much of the ghostly activity in the area as some restless spirits still roam the neighborhoods? One of the more famous sightings involves the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe whose ghost is said to still haunt Benefit Street in contemporary times. His tie to the area remains his affection for Sarah Whitman, whom he would visit on many occasions during their courtship. To that end, many have seen an unknown figure in black wearing a top hat and sporting a walking stick strolling the streets at night bearing what many say is a close resemblance to the famed writer. His wandering spirit has been seen stopping at the doorstep of the house Ms. Whitman used to live in and then vanishing as it is approached. Another favorite Poe haunt is the Athenaeum (r.), where he lectured and spent many hours immersed in the volumes of books stored there. One night in the 1980s, a man in shabby clothes - at first thought to be homeless - was sighted lying on the library steps and was approached by a considerate passer-by thinking assistance might be needed. When the man was roused he cryptically said to the kind stranger, "I was dreaming of the conqueror worm. I thank you for waking me." As the good Samaritan walked away, he looked back over his shoulder for another glimpse of the man whose sleep he had disturbed and to his astonishment, saw the figure slowly begin to dissipate until at last he was gone. The "Conqueror Worm" is a Poe work bemoaning the futilities of life. Occasionally, Poe would stay at the Mansion House Hotel, a once-grand inn that would eventually fall on rough times. One night a tenant found an old slipper inside one of the closets in his room and set out to find its rightful owner. Canvassing the entire building, he had no luck doing so and gave it no further thought. From that time on (until he moved from the place) he would be awakened at night by the swishing sound of a woman's skirt through his room. Was she looking for her lost property? Stories abound of pianos being heard inside homes where no such instrument was kept. Inquiries revealed that the house once was a music school. A man brandishing a pistol walking through an abandoned home where he once lived, protecting the fortune he kept there was continually seen by passers-by and visitors for a number of years. The neighboring Rhode Island School of Design, a world-renowned art college has been the scene of many a hauntings over the years. The Barstow House (1) is said to house a demonic entity and has mirrors that reflect ghosts at night. The Dexter House (2) was once a morgue and has what are called friendly spirits roaming the halls. The Dunnell House (3) has a menacing spirit in the basement that knocks over and moves objects and a woman who peers at students through a window on the second floor. Farnum Hall has many spirits who are seen and heard, include some who visit students in their rooms at night. Homer Hall has two spirits living on the fourth floor, a male and female. The male is known to break things and the female likes to turn on faucets. The Pardon Miller House (4) holds the spirits of two children who have been seen in the basement and a young woman whose voice is often heard on the second floor. 1 2 3 4 Two custodians working at the Nightingale-Brown house (below). One was fairly new to the business and became very unsettled one evening when he noticed the eyes of the subject on a portrait over a fireplace seemed to follow him where he went in the room. Upon completing his task, he turned to switch the lights in the room off when he heard a voice admonish him, "Don't turn those lights off!" Running upstairs to his partner as fast as he could, he started to relate the story when the other custodian interrupted him by saying, "Yeah, I know. That portrait talks, but don't listen to it. And leave the lights on." The most compelling of stories though, lies in the phantom carriage of Benefit Street. One night while taking a leisurely walk, a local college professor glimpsed movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see what would change his life forever and go down in history as the most incredible phenomena ever witnessed on Benefit Street. There now in full view, was a horse-drawn carriage being pulled down the middle of the street. To his astonishment though, the horses were in plain sight but their hoofs made no sound on the cobblestones under them. The image just moved along silently as if it were a vision from another time. Was this a time slip or a time warp? That is a matter of conjecture, but it is important to note that the same apparition has been seen by others over the years.