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Veterans Memorial Parkway (Barrington Parkway)

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Barrington Parkway
c. 1910, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. 1992, East Bay Bicycle Path (Providence to Bristol). From First St. or I-195 exit 2 to Pawtucket Ave.

This three-and-one-half-mile stretch and a less thoroughly landscaped segment (Narragansett Parkway) on the other side of the bay are the only extensive parkway portions of the 1906 Metropolitan Plan for Providence to have been realized. Modeled on similar plans for Boston and other cities, it is an early example of schemes designed to connect and extend existing parks for pleasant drives and to open areas for suburban development, especially those which connected the wealthiest suburbs to the central city. Barrington, adjacent to East Providence, was already well on its way to becoming the wealthiest suburb in the state. As the parkway winds along the top of a bluff, outlooks provide some of the best overall views of the meeting of the Providence River and the bay in relation to downtown Providence. Shortly after the completion of the parkway, oil companies (and, for a while, one of the largest coal unloading operations in the country) moved in along the harbor, spoiling, one would imagine, what the planners had in mind. Actually, however, the Olmsted scheme specifically envisioned the parkway and its turnoffs as places from which to view the city's industry. Moreover, all but the tops of some tanks were below road level and either partially or wholly screened. The ribbon of planting has preserved a residential district immediately behind it. Most of these “tank farms” along the bay closed during the 1980s. Projected use for condominiums, marinas, and an office park may test the old parkway far more than the tanks.

It is also along the parkway that the more venturesome architectural pilgrim may most conveniently begin a 14.5-mile bicycle trek through four East Bay communities, including the Riverside section of East Providence, Barrington, and (much easier) Warren and Bristol. The East Bay bicycle path follows the old right of way of a rail line from Providence to Bristol along fairly level terrain. The path originates in downtown Providence but is accessible from two parking areas along the parkway, where the obtrusive fencing and signage of this great benefit does some damage to Olmsted's design. At the second parking area the bicycle path dips off the bluff, down to the bay at Watchemocket Cove, which it crosses. The parkway also descends from the bluff to curve around the cove, which is alive with waterfowl, most spectacularly wild swan, returned to the area by a substantial cleanup of the bay during the 1970s and 1980s.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Veterans Memorial Parkway (Barrington Parkway)", [East Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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