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In 1880 Providence had a population of almost 105,000, making it the 20th largest city in the United States. In this drawing, the city is viewed from the southeast, and focuses attention in the foreground and center on the harbor facilities along the Providence River and its junction with the Seekonk River. Meanwhile the train station located adjacent to an oval reservoir known as the Cove, is prominently positioned near the center of the map.
Such an orientation suggests the importance of transportation and shipping to the city's economy. Although shipping was an important aspect of Providences economy during the colonial period, the city was one of the earliest in America to be industrialized. By the 1830s, the city's economy was dominated by several different types of manufacturing base metals and machinery, cotton and woolen textiles, and jewelry and silverware.
Close inspection of this drawing, the insets, and the legend together provide ample evidence of this diversified industrial base. The legend identifies more than 100 structures, most of which were industrial, transportation, or commercial enterprises. For example, there are seven tool and machinery factories, six woolen (worsted) mills, and five jewelry-related businesses. The vignettes at the bottom depict Harris - Corliss Steam Engine Works and Nicholson File Company, which in 1900 were touted by the Board of Trade as the largest factories of their type in the world.
While the drawing serves primarily as a business directory for the city's industrial and commercial activities, many churches are also prominently displayed. However, none are identified in the legend. Similarly, the old State House, the seat of Rhode Islands General Assembly, is shown but not identified on Benefit Street, just to the east of Union Depot and the Cove. The current State House, built in 1900, is north of the Cove and Union Station.