Roger Williams was, of course, the founder of Providence Plantations in 1636, and that history will be the subject of another post.
Plans to construct the statue were initiated in 1850, when the Providence Association of Mechanics and Manufacturers raised $100 to that end. A decade later, Williams descendant Stephen Randall organized the Roger Williams Monument Association to raise funds for a memorial. Only a little over $1,100 was contributed. Eventually Randall deposited $1,000 in an account earmarked for that purpose in his will--it was to be left to accumulate (as would the monies raised by the Association) until there was enough to construct a memorial.
The park itself (minus a monument) was developed in 1867.
It was not until 1934 that a renewed effort (led by a new Roger Williams Memorial Association) was begun, with the hope that a monument could be build as part of the city's 300th anniversary in 1936.
Randall's will had two requirements for the funds he had contributed--first that the statue be designed specifically for Prospect Terrace, and secondly that it be tall enough to be seen from far away. The Association held a contest for a design that would meet those criteria, and the winning proposal was submitted by architect Ralph T. Walker and sculptor Leo Friedlander. (Friedlander is probably better known as the sculptor of the two Arts of War figures of men on horseback that flank the entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC.)
The statue as constructed is 14 feet high, and carved from Westerly granite. It shows Williams standing on the bow of his canoe with his right hand extended as if blessing the city he founded.
The monument was paid for by a combination of Randall's funds, the original Association's funds, allocations from the City and the Tercentenary Committee, and donations from private individuals. It was finally dedicated on June 29, 1939. Two boxes were placed in the base--one containing various documents related to the statue and its history, and one containing Williams' remains.
In 2006, Roger's hands were vandalized--someone chopped off all five fingers on the left hand and the thumb of the right. In 2010, this damage was finally repaired by Jim Lawrence and his daughter Ally. Jim, a history major at the University of Rhode Island, who started off his career as a stonemason apprentice, seemed uniquely qualified to do the work, and his daughter Ally, a sculptor, assisted him with the project. They inserted stainless steel rods into the arms, and built up the area with restoration mortar. Then Ally sculpted the new fingers to match the original statue. You'd never know!
Illustration Credits and References
Sources for this post include: the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Providence Journal, and Brown University.
All photos in this post by Catherine B. Hurst.