08/12/2010 01:00 AM EDT
By Elspeth Lodge
Journal Staff Writer
The Providence Journal / Ruben W. Perez
As Barbra Zdrgvesky makes her way down College Hill, she pieces together a historical timeline from Providence’s inception to the present for her tour group.
An administrator at Brown University (she’s executive assistant to the school’s provost), Zdrgvesky points to a series of landmarks — some familiar, like the iconic First Baptist Church in America, and others less so. In both cases, the point is the same: to teach people a little bit about the history of Providence before they wander downtown to enjoy a night of light and music at one of the city’s summertime “WaterFire” lightings.
Welcome to “Before the Fires are Lit,” a series of pre-“WaterFire” tours sponsored by the Rhode Island Historical Society. The next tour is before this Saturday’s “WaterFire”. The goal: to offer participants a whirlwind history of Providence, before gathering at Waterplace Park and along the Riverwalk to witness the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and of numerous sponsors; fire tenders glide down the river on boats maintaining 100 flickering bonfires that create Barnaby Evan’s famous art installation, “WaterFire Providence.”
“The tour is not a circular tour,” says Dalila Goulart, program coordinator for the Rhode Island Historical society staff. The walk begins at the John Brown House and ends with just enough time for people to grab a bite of dinner before “WaterFire.” Zdrgvesky, like most of the guides, leads her tour unscripted.
She begins with all of the other guides at the John Brown House Museum at 52 Power St. (where tickets are sold) and talks a bit about the Brown family and the founder of Providence, Roger Williams. She chats with tour members and answers questions as she leads her tour group down Benefit Street, and stops at the grave of Roger Tillinghast, to relate the history of the layout of Providence, and its relation to the Providence River and its bridges. The tour ends as the sun sets at Waterplace Park, where people from all walks of life gather to witness “WaterFire.”
“WaterFire” is free, but “Before the Fires are Lit” is $10. It is recommended that people reserve tickets (401-331-8575 x45), which are sold at the John Brown House Museum, before the 60-minute walking tour that leaves at 5:30. There is free parking in the museum lot.
Zdrgvesky has been a tour guide for five years now and recommends people get dinner reservations months in advance (“You are lucky!” she said jokingly to one tour member who managed to get reservations just two weeks before the fire). But if you can’t get a table, Zdrgvesky said not to worry. “There are plenty of food vendors around,” she said.
Goulart says there are about 25 tour guides, most of them are retired school teachers. It will vary how many guides they use during the night of a “WaterFire,” since they try to keep the tour groups relatively small. She sites it as one of the more popular tours of the historical society.