Rhode Island 101
A book telling everything you need to know about the Ocean State
Did you know that that the Roger Williams statue located at Roger Williams University in Bristol actually features the face of Ted Williams, that more than 72 percent of all Rhode Island newborns are delivered at Providence’s Women & Infants Hospital, or that the most severe winter weather event in Rhode Island history may have been the “Great Snow of 1717”? RI Roads contributor Tim Lehnert does, and he shared this and a wealth of insider information on Rhode Island in his book Rhode Island 101.
Rhode Island 101 is the first of a series of state books. “Rhode Island was our first US title,” said MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc President John MacIntyre. “We did it first because we know that Rhode Islanders have a real sense of pride in their state. This is a book written by a Rhode Islander for Rhode Islanders.”
Tim technically isn’t a Rhode Islander. He had to learn about Rhode Island the hard way after being raised in Montreal. “It’s difficult to compare in some ways – Montreal is a big city with a metro area population of around 3.5 million and Rhode Island has a population of about one million. However, certain things are similar – both are old places (in North American terms) with some great architecture. Also, both have been the scene of much industry and innovation, and both have rich histories as immigrant destinations. You even see some last names in common. From the 1860s to the 1920s many people left the Quebec countryside for Montreal, but others departed for New England mill towns (Woonsocket, Pawtucket and West Warwick among them). You still see many typical Quebecois names like Roy, Levesque, Fortin, Gagnon, and Tremblay around Rhode Island.”
Tim moved to Rhode Island by way of Los Angeles, choosing the Ocean State to be closer to his wife’s New England relatives. “Rhode Island is a good fit because it’s more affordable than Boston, but there’s enough stuff to do culturally and otherwise to keep you busy.”
Finding himself in a new place seeped in history and culture, he set to work learning about his new home. Unlike a Rhode Islander who might, someday, get around to visiting Block Island or exploring the Swan Point Cemetary, he took it upon himself to explore every corner of the state. And he wrote about his explorations for Rhode Island Roads and many other publications.
“There were all kinds of things I discovered that surprised me. A general point was the incredible scale of industry in the northern part of the state. I didn’t really grasp the extent to which the Providence area and the Blackstone Valley were huge centers not just for textile and jewelry production, but also metal products, tools, and rubber goods. For fun facts, it was cool to learn that Providence had an NFL team in the 1920s named the Steamroller which played in a bicycle arena called the Cyclodome. It was located on North Main Street and was the scene of the first night game in NFL history. There was also a pro basketball team in Providence in the 1940s, also called the Steamroller, that folded after three losing seasons. An even more surprising historical nugget was that Scituate was under consideration to be UN headquarters after WWII. Scituate was the home of Suddard House, which was a major site for monitoring the Axis powers’ radio communications. That war-era cachet, along with its pleasant natural setting and proximity to New York and Boston, made it a major contender. The UN delegation was received by Governor Pastore, toured the site and several members were quite favorable to the Scituate bid. Ultimately, New York, of course, was the choice, but Scituate was in the mix.”
It took him about a year to write Rhode Island 101.
“One of the fun things about writing the book was getting to work with the local experts I contacted to provide “Take 5” lists. I got all kinds of great stuff ranging from Charlie Hall’s “Five Most Lampoonable Rhode Islanders” to John Ghiorse’s “Five Most Memorable Weather Events” to Providence Journal crime writer Zachary Malinowski’s “Five Notable Rhode Island Mob Hits.” Bruce Sundlun gave me a list of his “Top Five Achievements as Governor”; only problem was that it was about three times as long as I could use given the format of the book. It was a great list with a full cast of characters, dialogue and an actual narrative, as opposed to simple bullet points. It was hard to edit it down for those reasons, but I did so and got it in the book.”
Fellow Cranston scribe, Steve Stycos, wrote major portions of the Politics, Slang and Natural World chapters.
“Ninety percent of our sales are to locals,” says MacIntyre. “They are a tough audience, and we consider it our job to impress them. When you get locals buying a book about a state they ve lived in for generations, you know you ve done something right.”
“When you have Pulitzer Prize nominated writer and author Mark Patinkin calling it a compelling mix of history and humor and the Providence Journal saying the hoariest of historians will be repeatedly startled and amused by the contents of this book, it gives you a feeling you came close to getting it right,” Tim said. “There are some profiles that aren’t very flattering in here, but that was the goal not to sugarcoat anything to tell it like it is.”
So if you want to explore the Ocean State from the comfort of your easy chair and love discovering things like that Edgar Allan Poe lived in Providence in the late 1840s while courting local poet, essayist and universal suffrage advocate Sarah Whitman, then you will enjoy thumbing through Rhode Island 101. And if that’s not enough, Tim’s already started a file of material for Rhode Island 202.
For more information on Rhode Island 101, see http://www.101bookseries.com/101_book_series/rhode_island_101.html