Providence Stories and Tips

Roger Williams National Memorial

This is a beautiful little unit of the National Park System, right in downtown Providence. It honors Roger Williams as the founder of the first government in the world with complete religious freedom for all (see previous entry in this journal for more about him).

Unlike many national park areas, this one offers no grand scenery (though it is a beautiful urban oasis) or historic buildings to link you to the past of a famous person or time (although the park's visitor center does date back to the 1730s). No, this is a memorial in the truest sense -- a plce where nothing tangible exists from the time or person being commemorated. Rather, it is a place for contemplation. It is not by accident that this 4.56 acre park is in between the 19th century St John's Episcopal Cathedral and the stunning Rhode Island State House. The park is symbolic of William's idea of a "hedge of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." A hundred years before Thomas Jefferson used a similar analogy (the wall of separation), Williams and his followers were practicing what they preached right here on this little plot of ground.

The visitor center features exhibits on Williams' life and times, and also offers information for visiting many of the cities other famous sites. Take a stroll out to the Hahn Memorial, built in the 1930s as an even tinier urban oasis in a neighborhood of warehouses to honor the supposed site of the actual spring where Williams founded the city.

Do take a few moments to find a quiet bench and ponder Williams' contributions to American life. Whether you are a Christian Fundamentalist, a Jew or an atheist, his ideas have a direct impact on how you live your life today.

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