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Market House was constructed in 1775 by Joseph Brown, a prominent local architect, and Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The bottom level originally functioned as a market place while meetings took place upstairs. the building was the site of numerous historically significant political events and protests while the building itself has hosted civic functions and meetings of local organizations nearly two-and-a-half centuries. During the American Revolution, French soldiers encamped in Providence used the Market House as their barracks. The Providence City Council used the building as their headquarters for decades before the city built a dedicated City Hall.


  • Two watermarks -- noted by two plaques -- denote to significant weather events, of which the Market House survived: a 1938 hurricane and a large storm in 1815.
  • Providence's Market House & Square, 1844.
  • Market House, Providence, April 30, 2009
  • Civil War Era picture (1860s) of Market House.

In 1771, the Colonial Assembly of Rhode Island approved a petition in which created a lottery with profits being dedicated to the construction of this building which became Providence's first public market house. By 1775, the Georgian-style Market House construction was completed, just in time to become a strategic building during the Revolution. The Continental Congress Committee of Inspection was formed in 1775 and met at the Market House on March 1st of that year. While at the Market House, they burned 300 pounds of British-taxed tea. Later, during the Revolutionary War, French soldiers used the upper floors of the Market House as their barracks. 

The building and associated town square became the center of the community during its formative years and continues to serve as both a market and meeting space.  The building's lower level was designed to serve fishmongers, butchers, and other food vendors while the upper floors functioned as a meeting hall. The stalls used in the lower levels for the market functions were sold at auction in 1776. 
 
After the war, the Market House served as the focus for many civic activities. For instance, in 1797, and after completing a new third story on the structure, St. John’s Lodge of Masons installed Rhode Island's first Masonic Hall.  In 1802 Thomas Webb Smith organized St. John's Encampment (now Commandery) Number One, the oldest organization of the Knights Templar in the U.S. From 1820 - 1890, the Market House served as the seat of Providence's government.

After a thirty-year debate that lasted roughly 1845 to 1875, Providence also constructed a new City Hall. As a result, the city leased this building to the Providence Board of Trade five years later (1880) and relocated to the new city hall. However, this building and the associated market square continued to be the site of political gatherings and protests. For example, in September of 1897, anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman was arrested at this site and charged with unlawful open-air speaking and attracting a crowd. 

Many years later, in 1948, Providence deeded the building to the Rhode Island School of Design, who have used it for classrooms and as a place to house student art displays. Market House also serves as a meaningful reminder of the architect, Joseph Brown, who designed many buildings in Providence including  University Han at Brown University (1770),  the First Baptist Meeting House (1775), and the John Brown House. 

Market House demonstrates the connection between local and national histories and its prominent events serve as a timeline of major themes in American history. From hosting protests by colonial Patriots during the Revolutionary War, to the arrest of a feminist speaking out for women's rights, to important meetings by local organizations, the building has been at the center of the community's history in ways that reflect the larger history of the nation. 

Providence Warwick Convention & Visitor's Bureau. "Market Square and the Market House." Go Providence. Accessed August 23, 2018. https://www.goprovidence.com/listing/market-square-and-the-market-house/23123/.

Renshaw, Clifford M. "Nomination Form: Market House." National Register of Historic Places. June 21, 1971. http://www.preservation.ri.gov/pdfs_zips_downloads/national_pdfs/providence/prov_market-square_marke...

Photo Sources

Market House water mark plaques: By Kenneth C. Zirkel - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39486822

1844 Picture: By Welcome Arnold Greene - Engraving from "The Providence Plantations for 250 Years" (1886), p. 87, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39491730

April 30, 2009 picture: Photos by Jef Nickerson, located at http://www.gcpvd.org/2009/04/30/flickr-finds-market-house/

Civil War Era picture: From Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island Vol. 4 (1944), found within a blog (pic collection) at https://quahogannex.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/images-of-market-house-and-market-square-providence-ri/