Core of URI’s main campus listed as a historic district

Photo by Kristain Erickson | Top: Lippit Hall is one of 17 locations on campus recently added to the historical district. Below: East Hall, built in 1909, also recently added to historical registry.

125 years after being established, the center of the University of Rhode Island’s main campus has been recognized as a historic district on the National Historic Registry.

“I think it’s a very good thing for the University,” URI’s President, David M. Dooley, said on the recent recognition. “The historic quad has been recognized for a long time by the State of Rhode Island as historic and we’ve worked with the state for years in preserving the appearance of the quad.”

Although the center of URI’s campus, which stretches across 29 acres surrounding the quad, has been recognized as historic on the state level for quite some time, some felt it was time for URI to be nationally acknowledged.

Joanna Doherty, an architectural historian for the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, prepared the nomination for the Registry. While preparing the nomination, Doherty studied the archives at URI, including photos and articles, to see how the campus had developed over time.

“URI has a close relationship with history,” Doherty said. “These buildings really represent the higher education in Rhode Island. All of the history is embodied in the historic campus around the quad.”

URI has maintained the original architecture of its main buildings since the establishment of the University in 1892. Locally prominent architects built all the structures listed on the National Registry, including URI’s oldest building, the Oliver Watson Farmhouse, which was established in 1796.

Dooley recognizes the importance of preserving the history of the University while still allowing the University to remain functional for its students, which is why buildings such as Lippit Hall and Ranger Hall have been transformed internally while maintaining its original external appearance.

“That’s the way we have always wanted to preserve the look of the quad while at the same time ensuring that we can continue to use the buildings for the next 50 years,” Dooley said. “Preserve the look, but refresh the building and make them functional.”

While the exterior of the buildings has been preserved, the interior has needed updates to remain functional over the last 125 years. This special attention to preserving history on URI’s campus is, in Dooley’s opinion, an important aspect of the University’s character.

“I think that is a very nice statement of the university’s values and priorities that we want to preserve the past while preparing for the future,” Dooley said. “I hope we can always maintain the character of the University of Rhode Island as an institution that is very student-oriented.”

According to Dooley, preserving the historic nature of the University while making necessary renovations, allows students to continue to prosper at the University while giving recognition to the University’s last 125 years of historic contributions to higher education.