Beneficent Congregational Church // 1809

The oldest religious structure on Providence’s west side, the Beneficent Congregational Church is a key Providence landmark. The church visually dominates the part of Downtown that saw widespread demolition in a period of urban renewal, where a large portion of historic buildings and homes were razed for new development and parking. The current structure (the second Meeting House on this location) was built in 1809 to plans by Barnard Eddy and John Newman, the latter of whom supervised construction. It was substantially altered in the Greek Revival style in 1836 to a design by James C. Bucklin, which oversaw the addition of the columns and Classical trim. This work was funded with a $30,000 donation from textile entrepreneur Henry J. Steere in honor of his father. Steere also gave to the church a chandelier containing 5,673 pieces of Austrian crystal! It is not the columns or chandelier that catches people’s attention, it is the massive dome. Legend has it that when designed, Reverend Wilson wanted to recall the domed Custom House in Dublin, which had been dedicated shortly before his emigration to America. The building looks similar to the Massachusetts State House, built in the 1790s, especially when the church’s dome was covered with gold leaf. Due to weather damage to the gold leaf, the congregation voted in 1987 to replace the roof with more durable copper sheeting, which now has a green patina.