Saturday, May 06, 2006

Lovecraft's Providence: Antecedents

In 2006 we are 116 years removed from Lovecraft's birth and 69 years from his death. He never saw WWII, Hiroshiima, Neil Armstrong, or Viking on Mars. Yet, he was a product of his times.

Poe, in many respects, was closer to HPL than he to us. Lovecraft lived in the greatest revolutionary period in American history - perhaps rivaled by the advent of the information age. When he was a kid, there were no airplanes, automobiles, and few electric anythings. By the time he became middle age, he could have flown to Havanna in several hours, watched television, and road a speedster automobile. He died 20 years before the space race, but he (and other scientifiction writers) clearly saw the future - and it wasnt always "Better Living through Chemistry" or "We light up your life".

Here is a little excerpt that brings home the historical trajectory that created the Providence of HPL's life, memory and caused him to declare, "I am Providence".

"Providence, the capitol city of Rhode Island,was situated about 60 miles south of Boston and 200 miles north of New York City. The city is one of the oldest in the country, founded in 1636 by Roger Williams. Williams founded Providence (which he named for God's guidance and care) as a haven for persecuted religious dissenters . Early colonists called this the lively experiment.

"By the late 18th century, the town gained economic momentum, and its transportation network was expanded. Providence had a flourishing maritime trade and a stagecoach line. In the early 1800's Providence grew from town to city. The advent of steam power brought manufacturing and textile mills to the rivers. It wasn't long before a system of canals and turnpikes was developed to enable the transport of goods."

{This was the Providence of Poe - CP}

"By 1835, the iron horse had come to Providence from Boston. ...In 1848, the Union Passenger Depot was built to serve as a terminus for many of the trains coming through the city. The Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill line was completed in 1854, connecting the city with the Hudson River. The year after, the Providence, Warren, and Bristol line was completed to provide access to the East Bay. This road was extended to Fall River in 1860.

"The city's transportation system was further improved with the funding of a major road improvement program. The program widened and extended existing streets and built new cross streets and bridges. "

{Watch for this in the postcards I post. The streets are enormously wide for pedestrian traffic and horses, but they needed to be sloped for drain offs and to keep from turning to mud in rainstorms. - CP}

"Waterborne transportation was also enhanced when a portion of the Providence River was dredged in 1853 to allow for new and larger vessels to come to port. "

{The Providence River is a virtual canal by 1900 - CP}

"During the Civil War decade, Providence continued to grow and develop. It was then that urban mass transit came to the city. The horsecar, which relied on horses to pull streetcars on rails, became a popular mode of travel. The horsedrawn trolley lines were laid throughout and beyond the city, allowing people to disperse to the suburburbs. "

{This would have been the hey-day of Whipple Phillips who no doubt made and lost fortunes betting on this technology - CP}


"By the late 1880s, advances in electric technology led to the replacement of horsedrawn trolleys by electric trolleys. At the turn of the century, Americans saw the birth of the automobile. "

{One wonders, as Lovecraft's father went to convention at the 1880's Chicago Fair, perhaps contracting a noxious social disease there, and saw all the marvels of cars and planes. - CP}

"However, it wasn't until 1908 with the release of Henry Ford's Model T that the automobile became widely accepted into the American way of life. The advent of the American automobile fundamentally changed Providence's transportation system. Roads were quickly built, paved, and widened to accomodate this new mode of travel. "

{HPL would have been exiting his teen years and entered his hermitry at this exact moment}

http:// envstudies.brown.edu/ Thesis/ 2004/ Rachel_Kwok/ thesis /bkgd_hist.htm

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