Heading into this last leg of my incredible journey, it was extremely difficult to find out much information about the three hotels in Providence that my Grandfather stayed at during his travels in 1929. I did call the Providence Public Library’s reference desk, but unfortunately for me, they were undergoing renovation, and anything that might be useful, was packed away. The historical society website also did not offer any information on these three hotels. My friend and personal librarian, Karen, also tried doing some research to not much avail. So, the trip was going to be kind of a great unknown.
Pulling out of my garage at 6:15 a.m. this morning, I decided to take one of the “tours” that the Rhode Island Guide book suggested, Route 146 from Worcester to Providence. Of course, when I entered it into Google Maps, it had me going Route 20, Route 146, Route 146A, Route 5 and Route 7 before entering Providence from the northern end. And from what I have learned about using GPS on my phone, even though you transfer the map from the laptop to the phone, that doesn’t mean it will be the same route. And once again, it wasn’t once I pulled off of Route 20. Entering Millbury, I expected to get onto Route 146 South there. But, the GPS had other ideas as I drove past the entrance to that highway. Suddenly, I was on nice country roads, that went first through the little town of Sutton, where a very attractive golf course stood looking over the hills. Then, into Douglas, where there was a small section that had mills all around. It was really pretty and before I knew it, the GPS said I was entering Rhode Island and I was now on the Douglas Turnpike. Again, no sign of any numbered routes, but it was a really peaceful ride with the minimum of traffic. Finally, I got instructions to head onto Route 7, passing Bryant University, where my sister Jennifer had attended. I never knew how close that was to Providence, as next up was a sign that I was entering North Providence.
My Grandfather stayed at three hotels in 1929: the New Hotel Allen, the Mohican Hotel, and the Narragansett Hotel. I was not going in the chronological order, but rather, what made more sense geographically.
The Mohican Hotel
At 8:26 a.m., after traveling 63.2 miles (on what seemed mostly backroads), I arrived at 344 Washington Street, which was once the home of the Mohican Hotel.
My Grandfather stayed at the Mohican on the following dates: September 11 and September 16, 1929.
Tena Dear:- Here I am back again in this old burg, called Providence and I am sorry to be back here now let me tell you. I would rather be at a town called Saugus than here.
Tina dear, when I arrived in this town this morning, I had four large windows booked for me, which I had to complete and I sure am tired this evening why I can’t even keep my eyes open, so I hope you will forgive for making this one brief, if I don’t fall asleep. With the greatest love, Joe
The Mohican still stands, although it is no longer a hotel, but rather a home for disabled people. There appears to be an addition from a 1996 picture that Karen found online.
The cool thing is that there is a large painted sign on the back of the building, that is still there. It appears that the paint has been freshened up from the 1996 picture and that the doors are bricked over and there is no longer any firescapes. From the sign about the hotel, rooms were only $1.50 a night and there was dancing and floor shows. I’m not sure that my Grandfather was a fan of this hotel as he said in a letter dated on 9/17/1929,from the Narragansett Hotel, that “Frank and I have decided to stop at this hotel in preference of the Mohican”. Perhaps the dancing and floor shows were too much!
There was a construction crew paving the parking lot across the street from this sign, so some of my video is kind of loud. I do have to note though, that one of the workers apologized for the noise, which was sweet.
Next, I traveled a block up to Westminster Street to find White Electric Coffee at 711 Westminster. I loved the atmosphere – it was what my sons would refer to as “very hipster” and had a great selection of drinks and tasty baked goods. I decided to mix it up a bit and try a frozen green tea that had a little bit of whole milk and honey. Outside the shop were several tables and I enjoyed sitting out there and surveying the surroundings.
I headed back to Sage, taking a few more pictures of the front and sides of the building. At 9:00 a.m, I departed this location to find the next one.
New Hotel Allen
After a very quick three minute, 0.7 mile ride, I arrived at 11 Greene Street to see if there were any signs of the New Hotel Allen. My Grandfather stayed here two times in 1929, on May 28th and on September 9th. I don’t think that he was a fan of this hotel either as he wrote on September 9th that “Frank and I are going to check out of this hotel tomorrow, that is Tuesday, so beginning from Tuesday, please address your mail to the Mohican Hotel.” His two letters did provide some insight into his job:
Tina Dear: – Well here I am in Providence, safe and sound and you are back in the dear old state of Mass.
The only thing that will make it hard for me is that when I am in Boston, I can not use my car after business hours, for the rule of Larus and Co. is that if any salesman gets into an accident after business hours, he will be dismissed without notice and of course, as I told you, my dad won’t allow me to use his car, but don’t worry about that, I will find some way of reaching you.
Tena Dear: – Here it is just a little after nine P.M. I have just completed my supper after having worked until 8:20 P.M., quite late I’ll say, don’t you think so?
Well Tena dear, you see Frank and I were on a window that took us over four hours to complete, it was twenty-three feet long and about three feet wide, it is undoubtly the largest in length that I have ever struck. I put in a table display as you have seen in Lawrence, only this consisted of about one hundred and fifty tubes and eight panels, with four sets of streamers on the ends. Tena dear, the proprietor of the store claimed that it was the most beautiful window that he had ever seen and he has been in business for over twenty years. Frank cut the paper and I put the display in if I had to do it alone, it probably would have taken me about six hours.
It has rained all day in Rhode Island, just a perfect blue Monday, even with Frank around, I feel pretty lonely for that month I spent with you was just perfect bliss.
It was difficult to envision where this hotel once stood as most of the street either had new buildings or parking lots. Cathedral Square was at one end of Greene Street.
After a very quick five- minute stop, I was onto my next Providence destination.
The Narragansett Hotel
What was surprising was how close all these hotels were to one another. The ride to the second stop was that long only because it criss-crossed over the highway, my guess is before that was put in, it would had been fairly direct. Dealing with one-way streets also added distance. So, I arrived at 96 Dorrance Street at 9:12 a.m., traveling 0.6 miles. At this location, wasn’t the Narragansett Hotel, but instead, the Narragansett Hotel Garage. So, why did the garage still exist and not the hotel? To me, that is a million dollar question!
The Narragansett Hotel, was referred to on the Narragansett Hotel Garage’s application to the National Register of Historic Places as “the finest hotel in the city’s history” and that it was built in 1878. From the above ad, it had 250 rooms and was called the “Largest and Leading” Hotel in Providence. I am not sure how, but somehow, this grand hotel was demolished in 1960 to make room for Johnson and Wales Campus Center.
My Grandfather wrote from the Narragansett four times -on 9/17/2019, 9/19/1929, 12/10/1929 and 12/11/1929. These letters again revealed some of what happened in his free time.
Tena Dear: – Well I am just like the Wandering Jew for Frank and I have decided to stop at this hotel in preference of the Mohican. It is situated right in the downtown section and it is more convenient than the other to get about. The whole crew and I went down to the State Theater to see Wm. Haines in Spudway. Say, I never laughed so much in a picture as I did to-day. Why some of the foolish stunts that he pulls are wicked and to top that off, our gang comedy was darn good. If you probably saw it, the one where they have the boxing match. Tina dear, even tho’ I have been with the boys this evening, I am terribly lonely. There was an organ solo entitled “The Rosary”. You know how beautiful that song is.
Frank worked with me this day and we got in eight displays, you see that is just four out of my car and Frank puts in the same ot of his.
Next week, we leave for Springfield and Frank does not want to come home for the weekend, but much I care, for I know that if I had three hundred miles to drive to see you, I would gladly do it.
I suppose you are wondering why I did not write you last night, well I’ll tell you, Mr. Hall, his wife and daughter, Frank, Ed Hoffman and I went down to Cliff Mitchell’s home. We all had a very pleasant evening, playing bridge, Frank at the piano while Cliff and I were endeavoring to sing later, we had a little lunch and then it was about 11:45 p.m., so we decided to get back to the hotel.
Cliff Mitchell has a beautiful home, a home which is my ideal and I hope that some day I’ll be able to have one like him. WIth the proper encouragement and also with plenty of ambition, I do not see why I could not have one.
I expect to go to the office Saturday and then load up for my trip to Springfield, then wash up, get dressed and hurry to you for a few hours of happiness. I
I have as yet to make out my reports, that is to say yesterday’s and to-day’s.
Well honey dear, I have just completed a tour of the art gallery for the fourth time tonight and honest the drawings and paintings get e more lonely with that everlasting desire to have you with me. Tena dear, when I look up at the paintings, I only wish that you were here to enjoy them with me.
I was through today at seven and I feel kind of tired. This you see dear, I have this darn cold and that takes a lot of pep right out of a person.
I have done some shopping today and I wish you would tell me what you want as for your initial, T or A.
Tena Dear: – This morning when I awoke the ground was covered with snow and when I got outside, it was terribly cold. This evening, I believe the temperature must be close to zero for my lsat window was all frozen with the inside of the store well heated.
Tonight, I feel very blue for all the drug stores that I went into to-day had a radio going and I’ll be darned if they all did not have some dreamy melodies on them, and of course, I have told you the effect that type of music has on your little Joey
What I found interesting is that these two letters were the only two that were written after the Stock Market Crash. I had often wondered if there was any impact on my Grandfather. But in the letter dated 12/10/1929, he talks about buying sterling silver for my Grandmother:
“Cliff Mitchell’s brother said that they were worth about twelve dollars a set and the silver in them was compound, so of course, I paid a price for them and he said that he would give a guarantee on the set for a life time and also your children’s for it is pure sterling silver in the latest design by the silversmiths and I hope you like the set for I think it is very cleverly designed for the greatest little girl in the wide world and of course that means you dear. ”
What was very curious to me was the large amount of older buildings that still exist in this neighborhood. The Narragansett Parking Garage, was built in 1923 to accommodate guests who were now driving. It is now the oldest parking garage in Providence and it was admitted to the National Register of Historic Places after some of the garage’s details were brought back to their original looks.
At 9:22 a.m., I once again got back into Sage to journey to our next stop. While I didn’t find out a lot of information about these hotels, my Grandfather’s letters from these stays did provide a great glimpse into his working and leisure time while on the road. I am definitely going to dig deeper into why this hotel, which was rather significant, was allowed to be demolished.