The State House Inns and the Rebirth
of Providence, Rhode Island
Innkeeper Monica Hopton
|Frank and Monica Hopton are
representative of a cadre of young Americans who, however indirectly,
have played an important role in the revitalization of American
cities. Monica was born in Germany; Frank in Alaska, but both grew up
in Rhode Island and always considered the smallest state in the nation
home. The late 1980’s, however, found them in neighboring
Massachusetts running a Nantucket guest house.
“My father had been operating inns in Nantucket since
1978 and Frank and I had gotten into the business through him,”
Monica, an attractive and animated strawberry blonde, told us. “But
then we got the urge to return to Rhode Island. Frank thought to start
law school, and we planned to start a family.
years later we were living in Rhode Island doing just that when we had the
opportunity to open a bed and breakfast in an 1889 house my family owned
in Providence. Somehow it seemed right. So Frank gave up law school, we
moved close to Providence, and we renovated the property. That is the
State House Inn, a ten-room B&B with the Shaker design which we love and
which we furnished with spare Shaker pieces and American folk art. Since
then, we’ve owned four B&Bs all in the same neighborhood, sold one and are
now down to three which we group under the heading: the State House Inns
of Providence, Rhode Island.”
A room in the State House Inn, furnished in the
spare Shaker style its owners love - photo credit: State House Inns
|The neighborhood is Smith Hill, and the
B&Bs are literally down the block and around the corner from one
another. The State Capitol Building, which bears close resemblance to
the one in Washington, D.C., is close enough to be glimpsed from more
than one of the B&B bedroom windows. But in a blunder all too typical
of mid-twentieth-century urban planning, the Interstate was built
right through the heart of the city effectively cutting Smith Hill off
from the Capitol and the rest of Providence.
for a long time, the neighborhood felt like a rundown section of town. Yet
somehow the Hoptons saw its potential, appreciated its solid blocks lined
with neat homes, many of considerable architectural integrity. They played
their hunch, and clearly, they’ve come up winners. In today’s very
different climate where preservation is a valued urban goal, Smith Hill
has become a desirable place both to live in and visit.
But none of
this was a given when the State House Inn opened in September 1990.
Directly across the way was a rundown Victorian whose wide side yard was
filled with shoulder-high grass. “Frank would actually go over and cut the
grass simply because we felt the unkempt look would affect our business,”
seven years from the time the State House Inn first opened its doors, the
Hoptons felt confident enough to purchase another Smith Hill property.
came up with the name ‘What Cheer’ for what would be our second B&B, and I
thought it was wonderful,” Monica exclaimed. “That was what Roger Williams
had said to the Indians in the 1630s. In their language, ‘hello’ is
translated into ‘what cheer.’ If you are from Rhode Island, you’ll know
what it means; although if you aren’t, then it doesn’t mean much,” she
ran the salmon colored house for more than six years before selling it to
a woman who is in the process of converting it into condominiums. And
around that time, they bought and renovated the Christopher Dodge Inn, an
exquisite three-story, red-brick federal-style mansionette with opulent
features unique to the area like a grand staircase, eleven-foot ceilings,
marble mantels, ornate plaster moldings and tin ceilings.
Built in 1858
for the Dodge family, it had been a rental property with small apartments
for more than a century when the Hoptons took it over. “Time had taken its
toll,” Monica admitted. But restored to its original grandeur with all
manner of modern accoutrements, the 15-bedroom Christopher Dodge Inn is
one of Providence’s small luxury hotels and a jewel indeed.
||The final piece of the State House Inns
pie is a highly ornamental 1865 Victorian around the corner from the
Christopher Dodge Inn on a street that, before the Interstate was
built, went straight down to the Providence River. “When we first saw
the house, it had been on the market for two years and was in a
terrible state of disrepair,” Monica said. “The family that owns the
foundry across the street, which is currently on its way to becoming a
complex of condos, offices and shops, had acquired the property. They
planned to raze the house and turn the land into a parking lot, but
the house was on Providence Preservation’s Top Ten Endangered List,
and the Historical Society made a big fuss. So they tried to sell it
“We felt it was more than we could handle,” she continued.
“And then, just around that time, my father, who had sold his inn on
Nantucket and had quickly tired of the retirement thing, came to
Providence. He took a look at the house and liked it so much we ended up
in the business, Ken Parker has become an active partner in the State
House Inns enterprise. His specialty is renovations and development. “He’s
good at keeping the contractors moving,” according to Monica.
supervision, the Mowry Nichsolson House, named for its first two owners,
important figures in Providence’s rich manufacturing history, was painted
bright blue and furnished with pieces he bought at a huge furniture
dealership place in South Carolina, pieces that fit with the style Monica
and Frank prefer, simple and comfortable, the kind that, as Monica put it,
“make people feel at home.”
And one does
feel at home in the expansive yet uncluttered Victorian.
The beds are
deep and downy and made up with fine linens; the towels are plush.
Breakfast is a complete meal, with freshly baked muffins, a choice of the
house manager’s creation-of-the-morning or your standard eggs over.
State House Inns
Interstate is nearby, but somehow it doesn’t seem to matter in the
quiet environs of Smith Hill where a walk around the neighborhood
reveals a mixture of styles and periods that make this historic area
so colorful. There are some unexpected transformations like the art
gallery made from the former carriage house of the Christopher Dodge
Inn, and the many restorations among them the house across the way
from the State House Inn whose formerly weedy lot now provides guests
at the inn with the view of a beautiful garden and manicured lawn.
The State House Inns are within walking distance of the
State Capitol, the Providence Place Mall, the Convention Center and
Waterplace Park on the
Providence River. They are but a short drive to Brown University,
Providence College, Rhode Island College, Johnson and Wales
University, and the Rhode Island School of Design. Yet they inhabit a
is tied up with the re-birth of Providence, something the Hoptons looked
towards when they opened their first State House Inn. “We knew the
convention center would be coming up,” Monica said. “There would be the
move to attract the Boston convention market and that would bring us
business. We also thought people who have seen every Marriott in every
city would like the change of a B&B. And that is what’s happened.
week we get commercial travelers, on weekends we get tourists, and we
always get people who come to Providence because of the five colleges in
the city. For graduations, we are straight out booked a year in advance.
There is a continual stream of people picking up and dropping off their
part of an upswing,” she added, “part of the coming back of small cities
in the 1990’s all across America. We built up our business as Providence
was being revived. Since we’ve been here, the Smith Hill neighborhood has
been on the way up. It’s part of the city, yet it’s not high rise.
“And it’s protected,” the ebullient innkeeper concluded.
“You can’t tear any of the houses down.”
11 West Park Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02908