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Rhode Island State House facts for kids

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Rhode Island Statehouse
Rhode Island State House 2.jpg
South facade
Location 82 Smith St.
Providence, Rhode Island
Area Downtown and Smith Hill
Built 1895–1904
Architect McKim, Mead, and White
Architectural style Neoclassical
NRHP reference No. 70000002
Added to NRHP April 28, 1970

The Rhode Island State House is the capitol of the state of Rhode Island, located on the border of the Downtown and Smith Hill sections of Providence. It is a neoclassical building which houses the Rhode Island General Assembly and the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and general treasurer of Rhode Island. The building is policed by the Rhode Island Capitol Police and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

History

Rhode Island State House, 1898
The building in 1898, under construction

This is Rhode Island's seventh state house and the second in Providence after the Old Rhode Island State House. The architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White designed it, and it was constructed from 1895 to 1904. The building had a major renovation in the late 1990s. It served as the United States Capitol exterior in the 1997 film Amistad. It also served as the City Hall of Capital City in Disney's Underdog.

Description

The Independent Man atop the Rhode Island State House
The Independent Man

The Rhode Island State House is constructed of 327,000 cubic feet (9,300 m3) of white Georgia marble, 15 million bricks, and 1,309 short tons (1,188 t) of iron floor beams. The dome is "considered to have the fourth largest self-supported marble dome in the world". On top of the dome is a gold-covered bronze statue of the Independent Man, originally named "Hope". The statue weighs more than 500 pounds (230 kg); it is 11 feet (3.4 m) tall and stands 278 feet (85 m) above the ground. The Independent Man represents freedom and independence and alludes to the independent spirit which led Roger Williams to settle and establish Providence Plantations and later the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

The chamber of the Rhode Island Senate is located in the east wing of the building, and the chamber of the Rhode Island House of Representatives is located in the west wing. Other notable rooms include the rotunda (beneath the dome), the State Library (north end), and the State Room (south end). The State Room is an entrance area for the office of the governor and contains a full-scale portrait of George Washington by Rhode Island native Gilbert Stuart. This room is also where the governor has press conferences and bill signings at the State House. It was one of the first public buildings to use electricity. It is lit by 109 floodlights and two searchlights at night.

In 2013, Governor Lincoln Chafee's administration started to remove grass from the eastern side of the Statehouse lawn in order to provide extra parking for employees. The move was opposed by the Capital Center Commission, the public board designated to oversee zoning requirements within the district. Supporters of the proposed parking say that there is demand from employees and visitors to the building. Opponents point to existing zoning requirements that make the surface lot illegal, point to the expense of providing parking, and advocate an increased presence for transit, biking, walking, and carpooling instead. The state spent $3.1 million on an adjoining piece of land on Francis Street next to I-95 for parking, which provides 100 parking spots at around $30,000 a space.

Christmas at the State House

Christmas Tree at Rhode Island State House 2013
The 2013 State House tree

It is an annual State House tradition to feature a Christmas tree and community and cultural holiday displays each December. A Fraser fir or Balsam fir is erected in the rotunda and decorated. The tree, donated by a local family or tree farm, is typically between 17 and 25 feet tall.

It has become a holiday tradition in local media to feature stories about problems with Rhode Island's state tree, often meriting front page treatment:

  • In 2005, the tree was removed from the rotunda after a treatment with flame retardant caused the needles to fall out.
  • In 2007, a "sickly-looking" tree was spotted being replaced a few weeks before Christmas.
  • In 2011 Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and others objected to the wording on tree-lighting ceremony invitations, which referred to the tree as a "holiday" tree. Protestors at the tree-lighting ceremony lit a protest tree of their own and sang “O, Christmas Tree,” drowning out the official music provided by a local children's chorus.
  • In 2012, the official tree lighting ceremony was canceled, as Governor Chafee hastily flipped a switch and left the State House.
  • In 2013, Governor Chafee changed the wording to "Christmas" tree.
  • In 2016, a 14-foot Fraser Fir was deemed too small for the rotunda. A replacement 20-foot tree was placed in the rotunda, and the smaller tree moved to the south steps.
  • In 2017, the rotunda's 25-foot Fraser Fir made national headlines when it began dropping needles "at an alarming rate," after being on display for three weeks. The New York Post remarked, "this is the saddest state capital Christmas tree." The sickly tree was replaced with a smaller (12-foot) tree.
  • The 2018 tree was an 18-foot tall Douglas fir donated by a South Kingstown tree farm.
  • For 2019, state staff assembled and decorated 18-foot artificial tree, described as a "replica of a California Baby Redwood."

Since 2014, holiday displays from "any Rhode Island area-based religious or secular group" have been featured on the first and second floors. Participating groups have included local religious, ethnic, and secular organizations.

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