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Adult Correctional Institution

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1873, State Workhouse, Christopher Dexter. 1878, Providence County Jail and State Prison, Stone and Carpenter. Pontiac Ave. (near intersection with Sockanosset Cross Rd.)

In contrast to the openness of the boys' correctional facility, the slightly earlier facilities for adult prisoners reflect the nineteenth century's approach to the prison as a fortress. To the south, Christopher Dexter's T-plan gabled barracks building recalls the format of such institutional buildings from earlier in the century, including its predecessor, the demolished 1845 state prison in Providence. To the north, Stone and Carpenter's massive granite building also originates in a T-shaped core of cell blocks, but centered in an octagon as the heart of a sophisticated massing which means to suggest the basic functions of a complex institution. The octagonal core was designed to house a reception room at ground level and centralized guard stations at the levels above, all topped by a chapel, its interior rising within the conical roof into the domed cupola. It is laterally flanked by two cell blocks on either side, stepped wings composed of the outermost block stepped back from its companion. Another cell block projects from the hub building rearward. Together, they give the prisoners' portion of the complex an overall T-configuration with extended arms and a stubby stem. Walls cornered by guard towers slide a little beyond the outermost cell blocks, to make a rectangular enclosure for exercise courts divided by the rear cell block. Finally, the attached building for the warden's house and prison office fronts everything. A near cube, it is gabled across its width and doubly cross-gabled toward its porte-cochere-covered entrance. The tall, multistoried arching of the cell blocks gives way to a livelier pattern of domestically scaled windows. Each gable in the warden's house has the fillip of a chimney, and the motif is echoed at the centered gables of each of the prison blocks. These accents, in concert with the guard towers and the culminating octagonal cupola at the core of the composition, animate the skyline against the sullen spread of cells and enclosing walls. Axial, hierarchical, visibly ordered to its function, sparely detailed, expressively shaped, and very, very solid: such buildings proclaim the nineteenth-century faith in institutions and belief in the virtue of strong institutions in society.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


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William H. Jordy et al., "Adult Correctional Institution", [Cranston, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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