Here we see the Providence farmers’ market, more or less as Lovecraft would have know it as a teenager. I’ve added a missing bit at the bottom of the picture, by pasting it in from a near-duplicate b&w view. The card is dated 1909, although there is a somewhat similar close-up picture in the archives dated 1904. Which may indicate that the picture itself is perhaps 1904-08? Anyway, when Lovecraft was a teenager.
I guess adolescent summer night-walks in the city could theoretically have brought him to the market just as it was setting up at the crack of dawn — and thus offered him the opportunity to snaffle the best-and-freshest? Judging by one title on a postcard, which reads ‘Fruit Market’, fruits were a speciality of this market. Lovecraft is often thought of as a devoted store-candy lover, but he was also quite partial to fruits and fruit-cocktails.
I don’t know if the market also sold more mundane winter foods, such as potatoes. But I imagine that the Lovecraft family’s market-day shopping, as opposed to the lighter store shopping, was perhaps not something done by Lovecraft himself in his later teenage years. Strapping lad he may have been, and with muscles developed by rowing on the nearby and difficult Seekonk, but it was then common to have the heavier household staples delivered to one’s home.
Whatever its wares, the market place was evidently one of his frequent and favourite ‘passing through’ places. Here he celebrates the place in fiction, in his Dexter Ward…
He liked mostly to reach this point in the late afternoon, when the slanting sunlight touches the Market House and the ancient hill roofs and belfries with gold, and throws magic around the dreaming wharves where Providence Indiamen [i.e. the old long-distance trading/passenger ships] used to ride at anchor. After a long look he would grow almost dizzy with a poet’s love for the sight, and then he would scale the slope homeward in the dusk past the old white church and up the narrow precipitous ways…” (“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”)
The above picture looks toward the distant dome of the State House and is thus an unusual view, and it may need some orientation. Here we see a useful bird’s-eye view, as if looking down from College Hill. The cameraman’s view across to the state house is indicated by my red line.
‘The Old Brick Row’ is thus off-camera to the right, on the postcard seen above. As many will recall, Lovecraft later wrote a public poem for this one-time landmark set of buildings. He also wrote a long public letter on the buildings that lay at “the historic meeting place of bay and hill” and which held behind them “richly mellow old-world lanes”. This was published abridged in his local Sunday newspaper. A scan of his original is now to be easily found in full on the Brown repository.
This cherished row had been a welcoming sight when he returned to his city after New York, the “incomparable colourful row of 1816 warehouses in South Water street”. The row would have faced Lovecraft as he left the business district and paused on the wide bridge area to gear himself for the climb up College Hill. It has to be said that these facades appear to be rather mundane, on what seems to be the only postcard showing them. Possibly his word “colourful” then referred to the many subtle ways that time had touched and varied the red Georgian bricks, mingled in poetic double-meaning with the antiquarian’s concept of ‘local colour’.
Interestingly his poem on the old “East India Brick Row”, like Dexter Ward, also evokes the sun and ‘fire’ in this place. Here he evokes the sun as it stuck and coloured the buildings that once ran along the side of the marketplace…
No one remembers when they did not shew
The dawn’s bright ingots like an open chest,
Or when, near dusk, they were not there to glow
With hinted wonders from a fire-lashed west.
They are the sills that hold the lights of home;
The links that join us to the years before;
The haven of old questing wraiths that roam
Down long, dim aisles to a familiar shore.
Below we see South Water street before and after the partial ‘covering’ of the shipping channel, so as to make the enlarged market area needed to serve the rapidly growing city. This work evidently served to prevent the tall trading ships from coming right up into the heart of the city. Here the last facade of the Old Brick Row is glimpsed on the left, and we see the full run of the row on the right-hand picture.
Stereo-views, here newly restored and colourised by me, and placed side by side for comparison. With thanks to Boston Public Library.
Lovecraft also evokes this long harbour at the end of his “Observations on Several Parts of America”. On finally returning back home at dawn he finds the city…
quiet and mystical with dawn-haze and elder memories … A fresh salt wind came up from the harbour, over the roofs of the centuried warehouses and the Old Market House of 1773; and down the narrow, curving line of the old town street by the shoar I glimpsed the chimneys and gambrel roofs of mouldering houses known to ancient captains…
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