Guidelines & Research Process

The PPS Marker Program offers a highly visible and effective way to highlight, document, and commemorate the people and places that contribute to our collective understanding of Providence’s rich cultural, historical, and architectural heritage.  

Since the mid-1960s, PPS has awarded approximately 1,600 markers to historic residential, commercial, institutional, civic, and industrial buildings across the city. While  PPS Markers traditionally have only recognized architectural significance, as of 2022  the program will also recognize sites of historical and/or cultural significance.

Application Process (updated 5/1/2022)

Potential marker locations may be identified by a property owner, another person, a  community group, or by PPS.  

MARKER APPLICATION

PPS’s Marker Committee meets quarterly (March, June, September, and December;  typically the second Tuesday of those months) to review applications. The application deadline is 10 business days before a regularly scheduled meeting.  

At a regular meeting, the Committee may decide to approve the marker application; to continue the review until further information is received; or decline to approve a marker.  Applicants will be notified of the decision in writing.  

Upon approval, the applicant pays the fee for the marker. Any necessary additional research will be done by a consultant of PPS and a written report of research findings will be produced. This report will be shared with the applicant and also posted on PPS’s website for the purposes of public education. The marker will be fabricated and presented to the applicant. 

Note: While PPS Markers seek to highlight places throughout Providence that contribute to our understanding of the city’s history and of its people, the research reports are limited in scope and not intended to be a comprehensive study of all aspects of the cultural, historical, and/or architectural significance of a  building or site. Reports posted on PPS’s website can be updated as needed with additional information that may come to light after a marker has been produced. 

Any applicant who does not own the property for which a marker is requested must obtain the property owner’s permission to install the marker. 

If a marker becomes deteriorated, damaged, or lost, replacement markers are also available. The application process is the same as for a new marker. To receive approval for a replacement marker, the building must currently meet the eligibility criteria for at least one the areas of significance. 

Marker eligibility criteria, application review guidelines, and research protocols are outlined below for each of the three areas of significance: architectural, historical, and cultural. 

Notes for Applicants

Many historic buildings in Providence might already have some documentation in publicly accessible databases and archives. In some cases, earlier research findings may be incomplete or may need to be revised and expanded; however, these earlier studies are good places to start looking for information about a historic building. Please consult the sources below as necessary while completing your application.

When an application for a PPS Marker is approved, PPS enlists professional research services to confirm the data, provide additional documentation as needed, write the text for the marker, and produce a written research report. The fee for the marker pays for this service and the marker itself. 

How to Research a Historic Property

National Register of Historic Places

Guide to Providence Architecture 

Mary A. Gowdey Library of House Histories

Providence City Archives and Recorder of Deeds

Providence Public Library – Rhode Island Collection

Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission Survey Publications include a citywide survey of Providence as well as surveys  of some Providence neighborhoods 

Rhode Island Historical Society Library 

Rhode Island State Archives 


ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE 

Eligibility Criteria

An Architectural Marker recognizes the physical exterior characteristics of the building: its architectural style, materials, and design features. It also recognizes that the building is in a good state of preservation. Furthermore, 

  • The building is at least 50 years old and associated with Providence’s tradition of  architectural excellence: embodying distinctive characteristics of an architectural  period, style, type, or method of construction; or 
  • The building represents the work of a master or locally significant architect or  builder; or 
  • The building is significant or exceptional to the built environment of its neighborhood.  

Review Guidelines

  • The building shall be in good condition, with no exterior repairs or rehabilitation work currently underway. 
  • The building shall be a well-preserved example of its historic type, period, and architectural style. “Well-preserved” means that its character-defining exterior architectural features are either original, or still retain their historic character despite past repairs, replacements, alterations, or additions. 
  • Since many historic buildings have experienced changes to original or historic exterior architectural materials and features, eligibility will be evaluated based on the cumulative impact such changes have had on the overall historic architectural character of the building. 
  • A building must present itself, when viewed from a public way (excluding rear elevations), in a manner that is consistent with its original or historical appearance.  
  • Replacement windows on principal elevations should be of the same size,  type, and muntin pattern as the original or historic windows, and compatible with the historic architectural style of the building. Replacement windows should have either true divided lights or exterior applied muntins.
  • Replacement siding, casings, and trim should be similar in visual appearance to the original or historic features, and compatible with the historic architectural style of the building. 
  • Any later structural additions, or changes made to features such as porches,  posts, and railings, should be compatible with the historic architectural style of the building. 
  • Buildings will be considered in their entirety. Architectural Markers cannot be awarded for a portion of a building. 
  • An exception to the 50-year requirement may be made for buildings of the recent past that are deemed to have exceptional architectural significance.  

Research Protocols

Preliminary documentation of architectural significance will be provided by applicants as part of the marker application process.  

Upon approval of an application for a marker, PPS will consult with individuals and/or groups with expertise in architectural history, as needed, to do additional research focused on confirming the text that will be presented on the marker. Written reports of research findings, citing sources of information, will be made available on PPS’s website.  

  • The goal of this research will be to document the architectural history of the building: when it was first constructed, the name of the person(s) or entity responsible for that construction, and its architectural style. Dates of major alterations or additions, and the name of an architect or builder, will be included when such information is available. 
  • Primary sources of information may include chain of title cards, deeds, historic maps and atlases, city directories, tax records, and building permit records (as available at Providence City Hall, City Archives and Recorder of Deeds). In cases where a property was transferred through inheritance, wills and probate records  as well as genealogical records may also be investigated.  
  • Secondary sources may include publications, oral history projects, museum exhibit catalogues, etc. 

HISTORICAL & CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE 

Eligibility Criteria

A Historical or Cultural Marker recognizes the significant people,  groups, and/or events associated with a specific building or site in Providence. 

Historical Significance: Property is associated with the past life or lives of an individual or group who made a notable contribution to local, regional, national, or international history, culture, arts, or other endeavors. Or, the property is associated with notable events in local, regional, national, or international history. 

Cultural Significance: Property is associated with the traditions, practices, and social institutions held and valued by living people; that reflect collective experience, continuity of use, and the transmission of knowledge across generations; and that are meaningful to community identity, as that identity is defined by the community itself (e.g., race or ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, class, occupation, geography, or other dimensions).  

Review Guidelines

  • The building may be less than 50 years old. 
  • The building’s physical characteristics (type, period, and style of architecture;  how well-preserved it is) will not be considered for the purposes of a Historical or  Cultural Marker, unless the building was specifically constructed for or in relation to the historically significant person or group, historically significant event, or the cultural heritage to be recognized.  

Research Protocols

Preliminary documentation of historical or cultural significance will be provided by applicants as part of the marker application process.  

Upon approval of an application for a Historical Marker or Cultural Marker, PPS will consult with individuals and/or groups with expertise in history and/or cultural heritage,  as needed, to do additional research focused on confirming the text that will be presented on the marker. Written reports of research findings, citing sources of information, will be made available on PPS’s website.  

Historical Significance: The research goal will be to demonstrate the importance of the historically significant person(s) or event(s) that are associated with a particular building or site. 

  • For significant person(s), research will primarily focus on the individual’s personal history: their birth and death dates; the years that they lived in Providence  (whether in the building in question or elsewhere); the notable accomplishments that they made in their particular arena of endeavor; and how those accomplishments contributed to local, regional, national, or international history.  
  • Living persons may be recognized for being the “first” to do something notable:  e.g. the first woman or person of color to serve in an elected office in city, state, or national government.
  • If the significant person lived in more than one building in Providence over a  period of years, the marker should be installed on a building where the person lived during the timeframe of their significant accomplishment(s).  
  • For significant event(s), the building or site must be the location where the event occurred. Research will focus on summarizing the historical context leading up to the event, describing the event itself and its aftermath, and demonstrating how the event contributed to local, regional, national, or international history. 
  • Examples: a mill or factory that was the site of an important labor strike or technological innovation; a museum, gallery, or theater that presented a  significant art exhibit or performance; a community center that was the site of public gatherings and social events for a particular ethnic group that immigrated to Providence during a specific period of time. 

Primary sources of information may include census records, genealogical records, city directories, and oral history projects.  Secondary sources may include publications, museum exhibit catalogues, etc. 

  • If the building was constructed specifically for or in relation to a significant person or event, then the research report and the marker will include the building’s historic name and date.  
  • If the building was constructed prior to its association with significant person(s) or  event(s), and the historic name and date of the building have previously been identified (e.g., the building is listed on the National Register, or there is a report in PPS’s Gowdey Files, or the building is mentioned in a publication), then the research report will include that information, but the marker text will not. New original research about the architectural history of the building will not be provided. 

Cultural Significance: The research goal will be to demonstrate the importance of the cultural heritage associated with the building or site. PPS will rely on members of that cultural group to provide the information necessary to document significance.  

  • If the building was constructed specifically for or in relation to the cultural heritage being recognized, then the research report and the marker will include the building’s historic name and date.  
  • If the building was constructed prior to its association with the cultural heritage being recognized, and the historic name and date of the building have previously been identified (e.g., the building is listed on the National Register), then the research report will include that information, but the marker text will not. New original research about the architectural history of the building will not be provided. 

For additional research, primary sources of information may include census records,  genealogical records, city directories, and oral history projects. Secondary sources may include publications, museum exhibit catalogues, heritage group websites, etc.

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