The Landmark You've Always Wondered About Is (Finally) Open For Tours

If you’ve gone to Roger Williams Park through the Elmwood Avenue entrance, you’ve probably passed the Betsey Williams Cottage. It’s the little red 1-½ story, gambrel-roofed building near the Roger Williams statue.


Maybe you’ve tried to look in the windows and make out the shadows behind the curtains inside. Maybe - like me - you’ve hunted for pictures of the interior back when it was open to the public. The link leads to my Pinterest board, where I’ve saved four images from postcards of the Cottage’s interior back in the turn of the 20th century.

Maybe you’ve wondered, “Who was Betsey, why does she have a cottage named after her, and what’s it doing in a public park?” Good questions.

Betsey was the great-x3-granddaughter of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams. That’s him, in bronze, near the cottage.


She was the last descendant of Roger Williams to inherit his land. It had been the family farm, and was the last of the original land granted to Roger Williams in 1638 by Canonicus, chief of the Narragansett tribe.

The cottage is actually the family farmhouse, built in 1773  by Nathaniel Williams for his son James, Betsey’s father. Betsey (6/29/1790-11/27/1871) and her sister Rhoda (6/20/1787-3/25/1864) were born and raised there. The sisters wove cloth in the cottage to supplement the farm’s income. It and the Williams family burial ground (including Betsey's and Rhoda’s graves) are still maintained within the park. (Wikipedia)

Upon her death in 1871, Betsey bequeathed the cottage and 102 acres of surrounding farmland to the city of Providence, which became the foundation of Roger Williams Park. Her will stipulated that the land be maintained for public use, and carry the name of Roger Williams.

Recently the cottage was open for tours, thanks to the Roger Williams Park Conservancy. It was so fascinating to walk through the main floor of the house, read the history from the wall signs. The place is like a Tardis… bigger on the inside.

One room, which may have been the living/parlor/all-purpose room, was used as the feedback room. Post-it notes and pens let you make your own suggestions for what you’d like to see as the future of the park, and the use of the Cottage. The walls of the room were papered with bright paper and bright ideas. Me? I’d love to see it used as historic museum for the park, including the pre-European history of the land.

The Vox Hunters hunters performed, including historic Rhode Island music, which I didn’t know was a thing. Pretty cool.

There seemed to be a good turnout for the tour. I hope they do more of them in the future. Plans aren’t finalized, but they are in the works, so stay tuned!

More About I {heart} Rhody

Erika has been writing I {heart} Rhody since 2010. A newcomer to Rhode Island, she started documenting her travels and adventures around the OS, and fell in love with the art, cultures and history of the state. IHR regularly features interviews with Rhode Island artists and makers.