What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Opposite the East End of the Great Bridge.”
American cities and towns did not have standardized street numbers before the American Revolution. Some of the largest cities began assigning street numbers in the late 1780s and 1790s, but prior to that residents and visitors relied on combinations of shop signs, landmarks, and directions of varying lengths to specify the locations of homes and businesses.
Consider how some advertisers directed prospective customers to their shops in advertisements that ran in the January 23, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette. Joseph fuller made and sold tools “At his Shop in Broad-street, on the West Side of the Great Bridge, next Door to Samuel Nightingale, Esq.” Thomas Stoddard and Benjamin Clap established a smithy “on the East Side of the Great Bridge, opposite Dr, Sterling’s.” Daniel Spencer, a cabinet- and chairmaker, had a workshop “Opposite the East End of the Great Bridge, in Providence.” Not all advertisers listed their locations in relation to the Great Bridge, but enough did so to demonstrate that it was a major landmark in the city.
The Great Bridge connected the portions of Providence located on opposite sides of the basin created by the confluence of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers. A map of the “BAY of NARRAGANSET in the Province of NEW-ENGLAND,” published in London in 1777, shows the larger part of the city on the eastern side of the basin, the smaller part on the western side, and a bridge connecting the two. According to an account of the Providence Great-Bridge Lottery of 1790, the bridge measured twelve feet wide when constructed in 1711 and eighteen feet wide following alterations in 1744. Following the lottery, the bridge was widened to fifty-six feet in the early 1790s. Although it was not as “great” in terms of width in 1773 as it would become by the end of the century, the Great Bridge served as an important landmark that artisans and other entrepreneurs noted when directing prospective customers to their businesses.