Shakespeare's Head (John Carter House)
Shakespeare's Head (also known as the John Carter House) was built in 1772. The owner was publisher John Carter, and the building functioned not only as a home to his family, but also as a post office, bookshop, and printing shop of the Providence Gazette, Providence's first newspaper. Carter's advertising sign outside the building depicted a bust of Shakespeare, earning the house its nickname. The house and a restored Colonial-style garden are now owned by the Providence Preservation Society of Rhode Island.
Backstory and Context
History of the Providence Gazette and the Shakespeare's Head
On October 20, 1762, the first issue of Providence's first newspaper was printed by William Goddard on what is now North Main Street. Publication was suspended in May of 1765 due to the reduced number of subscriptions. When Goddard left Providence, his mother, Sarah Goddard, operated the newspaper.
Benjamin Franklin, as newly-appointed Postmaster General, assigned his apprentice John Carter to the position of Postmaster of Providence in 1767. Carter worked with Sarah Goddard from 1767-1768, when he took over the printing of the Gazette. Through his marriage to Almy Crawford, he acquired the property on which he built the Shakespeare's Head, which was completed in 1772. Operating his press, post office, and bookshop on the ground floor, Carter and his family lived on the upper floors of the three-story building. In 1793, Carter's businesses were moved to Market Square, which he continued to operate until February of 1814. At that time, he sold the Gazette to Hugh H. Brown and William H. Wilson. In an unofficial capacity, the Shakespeare's Head also served as a meeting place for important figures in the community, and may have been part of the Underground Railroad system.
Carter's heirs sold the house in 1854 to Stephen O. Metcalf, who sold it to the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railway Company in 1906. James M. Stockard purchased the house in 1925. In 1938, the building was condemned, and the Shakespeare's Head Association purchased the property to prevent its demolition. Architects John Hutchins Cady and Philip D. Creer were in charge of the restorations. The building now houses the Providence Preservation Society offices.
The Shakespeare's Head Garden
After damages from a devastating hurricane in 1938, the Colonial-style garden behind the Shakespeare's Head was restored by landscape architect James Graham. Slight modifications have simplified maintenance and improved the accuracy of the garden's Colonial history, under the care of Rhode Island School of Design landscape architect Lalla Searle.
Some of the plants featured include: Carolina Silverbell, Common Lilacs, Thift, Foxgloves, Rosa Mundi, Scotch Rose, Fothergilla, Native Columbine, Gas Plant, Dwarf Viburnum, Tree Peony, Common Boxwood, Magnolia, Germander, Rose of Sharon, Barlett Pear Trees, Lady Fern, Herbacious Peony, False Fern, Herbaceous Peony, False Indigo, Quince Tree, Linden Tree, Currants, Wisteria, Cork Tree, and Goatsbeard.Sign 1:
Built by publisher John Carter in 1772 to house the printing press of the Providence Gazette, the post office and a bookshop as well as Carter's growing family, this is one of the oldest three-story structures in Providence. So named for the sign outside Carter's literary establishment: a carved bust of William Shakespeare.
The building was saved from demolition in the 1930s and has been carefully preserved by the Shakespeare's Head Association.Sign 2:
JOHN CARTER HOUSE
21 Meeting Street
Providence Preservation Society
PPS Resource Library
(through gate and up the stairs)
Junior League of Rhode Island
(through gate and down the stairs)