Books

Where the Benny’s Used To Be: A Rhode Island Pictorial History Series

Rhode Island Memories is a three volume coffee table book published by The Providence Journal that serves as a pictorial history of this state. With photos beginning in the late 1800s and proceeding through the end of the 20th century, this book archives the many transformations Rhode Island has gone through. Featuring photographs from award-winning and nationally recognized photographers, historical societies (both regional and national) and family pictures, this collection is an authentic representation of this state and its inhabitants. 

Volume I: The Early Years — A Pictorial History has photographs from the 1850s through the end of the 1930s, with a focus on the Hurricane of 1938. Take the time to look at each picture, and you will see how the state was built or rebuilt after natural disasters. It’s fun to see which buildings are still here today and which businesses have come and gone. Of course, transportation changed drastically, from horse-drawn carriages and boats to trains and  automobiles. Paging through this book is like looking through a time capsule from a long forgotten era. This is the standout of the three books. It’s a history not often seen.

Volume II: The 1940s & 1950s shows Rhode Island modernizing itself in the post World War 2 period. While there is less focus on infrastructure, the emergence of cars in society is well documented. This book showcases the fun people had during those times. There were a lot of sports, concerts and community events that took place. A surprising number of national politicians visited and campaigned in the state, which seems odd in today’s world where a Presidential visit in Rhode Island is nearly unheard of (and somewhat of a traffic nuisance when it happens).

Volume III: From Turmoil to the Providence Renaissance: The 1960s Through the 1990s shows a time that is less interesting, because it has already been well documented. This book has everything expected from that time period: the Kennedys, Salty Brine, the longest baseball game ever, Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, the Blizzard of ’78 and the building of the Providence Place Mall. It does well highlighting pictures of events younger people have only heard about.

Each book begins with a letter from former Providence Journal Executive Editor Alan Rosenberg and an introduction from Director of Photography & Graphics Michael Delaney. Chapters each have a brief introduction, and every picture features a brief but detailed description, along with the date (or year) it was taken. 

Interestingly,  the photographs are printed in black and white until the 1990s chapter. The business profile of the Providence Journal reports that they didn’t start publishing color photographs until 1987, when they opened  a new printing plant and switched to a process called flexography. While this is logical, and it would have been difficult to color over 100 years of photographs, colors would have added to the experience of Rhode Island’s history. 

I had fun paging through the visual history of the State of Rhode Island. The many structural changes are interesting, but the pictures of people are  truly wonderful to view. Rhode Islanders’ interests haven’t changed all that much in over a hundred years, whether it be shopping, sightseeing, enjoying nature, working or helping out their community. While the environment and styles are drastically different from year to year, the expressions, joy and camaraderie of the individuals pictured are engagingly familiar.  

You can purchase Rhode Island Memories Vol. I, II, and III through the publisher at pediment.com. 

image_pdfimage_print