The Old Brick School House, 1769 (PPS Office & Meeting Hall)
The PPS offices are located in the 1769 Old Brick School House (24 Meeting Street), a rare and important part of Providence’s educational history. It is a marvel of historic preservation, a multi-faceted structure that has existed in numerous iterations since its original construction in 1769. A two-story, brick building in the Georgian style, the school house stands on a site that traces its history back to 1636, when the land was first granted to William Carpenter, one of the 12 original proprietors of Providence along with Roger Williams. The school house is also located on the ancestral territory of the Narragansett nation. PPS acknowledges that our work throughout Providence and the State of Rhode Island takes place on their traditional lands.
While not the first school house built in Providence, it is the oldest one still in existence, and one of the earliest surviving brick school houses in the country. Since its construction by a group of education-minded citizens who intended to establish a public school system for the children of Providence, the building has existed in many forms: as an arsenal during the Revolutionary War; a primary and grammar school; classroom space for Brown University (at that point known as Rhode Island College) during the construction of University Hall; the first school for African-American children fully supported by the City of Providence; a sewing and cooking school; an open-air school for tubercular children; the original home of the Meeting Street School of the Society for Crippled Children and Adults in Rhode Island, now located on Eddy Street; and, since 1959, the offices of the Providence Preservation Society. Its many roles in Providence’s history are nearly unmatched by any structure in the city.
The project to renovate and update the school house as a home for PPS’ educational programs will honor its heritage and serve as a once-in-a-career showcase for a creative and preservation-minded architect. The building presents opportunities and challenges in equal measure. Its interior is a patchwork of eras and iterations, with layers of history embedded within its walls, ceilings and floors. Approximately 40-50 percent of the existing interior woodwork dates to the 1700s. The two-story front stair tower was added in 1808. It contains roof trusses from the 1870s and interior walls from the 1970s. To survey the building is to take an architectural tour of two-and-a-half centuries of Providence history.
The Old Brick School House has had many lives, all of which influenced the course of education in Providence. PPS is proud to steward such an important piece of Providence history.
OBSH Historic Structure Report: a report completed by Myron O. Stachiw in 2014 (large file, 8.6 MG)
Rhode Tour: an excellent tour of Rhode Island’s Black Heritage with a stop describing the Brick School House’s role in educating Providence’s African American children.
Gowdey Files on 24 Meeting Street
February 1960 PPS newsletter article on the acquisition of the Brick School House.
Shakespeare’s Head Building, 1772
21 Meeting Street has been known as “Shakespeare’s Head” since colonial times. Also known as the John Carter House, the building is a square, three-story structure with a low hip roof, a center chimney, and a five-bay façade. The name “Shakespeare’s Head” recalls the colonial era, when the building was used as a print shop and post office by John Carter, who had trained with Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. His family lived upstairs. The writing-related enterprises inside were advertised by a sign featuring the head of Shakespeare on a pole outside the building.
John Carter built the house in 1772 and published the city’s first newspaper, The Providence Gazette, here until 1793. His family continued to live in the house after the print shop and post office were moved to Market Square.
The Shakespeare’s Head Association acquired 21 Meeting Street in 1938, and ownership was transferred to the Providence Preservation Society in 2016. The offices of the Junior League of Rhode Island and other tenants are located in the building.
Shakespeare’s Head Garden
The garden behind the building known as Shakespeare’s Head is also stewarded by the Providence Preservation Society. Following the 1938 hurricane that devastated much of Providence, the garden was redesigned by landscape architect James Graham in the Colonial Revival style (original 1939 garden plan). Since then, it has been modified slightly to simplify maintenance and more accurately reflect the earlier colonial period of the house itself.
For many years, landscape design and care was provided by Shakespeare’s Head Association board member Lalla Searle, a landscape architect who also taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. The Barbara S. Gwynne Fund, established at the Rhode Island Foundation, contributes to the ongoing care of the garden.
Partial Plant List: Foxglove, Hellebore, Iris, Rosa Mundi, Scotch Rose, Fothergilla, Native Columbine, Gas Plant, Lady Fern, False Fern, Peony, False Indigo, Mayapple, Solomon’s Seal, Goatsbeard
Shrubs: Lilac, Dwarf Viburnum, Common Boxwood, Rose of Sharon, Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Bottlebrush Buckeye
Trees: Carolina Silverbell, Quince, Bartlett Pear, Linden, Magnolia Stellata, Amur Cork