The First Unitarian Church Meeting House Turns 200

A performance by the Atwater-Donnelly Trio and other month long exhibits mark the bicentennial

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

In 1720, a small group of Rhode Islanders formed a congregation in Providence, meeting in a small house on Rosemary Lane. Within a few years, they called their first minister, and in the late 1700s, purchased a tract of land and erected a beautiful wooden church. Within 20 years of its completion however, a demented parishioner set fire to a column of the building and burned it to the ground. Undaunted, a member of the congregation, architect John Holden Greene, designed the First Unitarian Church. Made this time of stone and dedicated in 1816, it is this fine building that is celebrating its 200th anniversary this month.

There have been many changes to that stone church. During the Victorian era, it was updated to include diamond-shaped windows and columns were painted in stripes, changes that were reversed at the time of the church’s centennial. When the meetinghouse marked 150 years, another effort was put into updating and sprucing up the building, but disaster struck again, this time in the form of a lightning strike to the steeple. Fire broke out as the electricity traveled down the steeple and into the organ, causing its pipes to blow out. While the fire was extinguished, all the work on the building’s interior was ruined.

Today, the Providence County Courthouse stands where the original meetinghouse was located, Rosemary Lane is called College Street and the First Unitarian Church’s Meeting House is in fine form as it prepares for its 200th anniversary celebration weekend.
Festivities include a month-long exhibit of photos and memorabilia, and a special concert featuring the award-winning Atwater-Donnelly Trio will be held in First Unitarian’s Meeting House on October 29 at 8pm. Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly (who were married at First Unitarian) along with Cathy Clasper-Torch will provide a unique blend of traditional American and Celtic folk music and dance. $25 tickets will be sold at the door.

The First Unitarian Church
1 Benevolent Street

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