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Downtown Providence Walking Tour
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The Turk’s Head Building is an interesting structure built at the intersection of Westminster and Weybosset Streets in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The v-shaped skyscraper consists of 16 stories and stands 215 feet tall. It was originally designed and built in the early twentieth century (1913). The structure’s front entrance is ornamented with a sculpture of a Turkish man’s head. Currently, the building is used primarily for office and retail space.

Postcard featuring the Turk's Head Building (Courtesy of Historic New England)

Postcard featuring the Turk's Head Building (Courtesy of Historic New England)

Close-up of the Turk's Head which adorns the front entrance.

Close-up of the Turk's Head which adorns the front entrance.

The Turk’s Head Building in downtown Providence is situated on land that was owned by a shopkeeper named Jacob Whitman in the mid-eighteenth century.  Whitman built his shop on the corner, and over the front entrance he placed a wooden effigy of an Ottoman warrior.  The bust served as a sign advertising his business – Whitman’s shop was the one “at the sign of the Turk’s Head.” The warrior is said to be the inspiration behind the Turkish head placed upon the front of the new skyscraper.  Hence, the new building featuring the head of a Turkish man (possibly a warrior or a trader) became known as the “Turk’s Head Building.”

There are several stories about the Turk’s Head found in the various histories of Providence.  The original statue may have been a figurehead from the front of a Turkish trading vessel, which came into Whitman’s possession after guiding the ship through many trips between the shores of America and the Far East.  It scared the neighborhood children, whether it stood in Whitman’s yard or on the front of his store.  He did operate as a Blacksmith so it certainly may have been used to attract visitors to his shop.  In 1815, a hurricane hit the area and blew the figurehead away. The Merchants’ National Bank of Providence wrote that the bust was recovered by some members of the family after the hurricane, and then was shipped to other relatives in Alabama.  There, it was stolen by a small group of inebriated men and sent to the state’s governor. The bust was eventually returned to the Whitman family.  Unfortunately, they stored it in a warehouse which, along with all its contents, burned in a fire years later. Therefore, the Turk’s Head that adorns the front of the building today is merely a representation of the original figure.

The Turk’s Head theme continues inside the building.  There is a figurehead laid into the lobby floor, and a tile portrait hanging outside one of the retail units. The floor piece looks like it is a copy of a coin that was minted in Italy in 1842.  The coin was created in honor of the Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, who governed the Byzantine Empire centuries earlier.  Mehmed II’s forces defeated Vlad III of Wallachia (also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad Tepes). Vlad III was a sadistic ruler who impaled his enemies, including some of Mehmed II’s men, on stakes throughout his kingdom. 

Over the years, a variety of businesses have occupied the sixteen floors of the Turk’s Head Building, including the first female attorney in Rhode Island (Ada Lewis Sawyer), law firms, insurance agencies, investment firms, and a bank.  The building has been owned by 76 Westminster Street, LLC since 2008.  The City of Providence places a value of over $14 million on the real estate.

Downtown: Turk's Head Building. Accessed August 26, 2017.

Sights ~ The Turk's Head Building ~ Providence. I {heart} Rhody. November 08, 2012. Accessed August 26, 2017.

76 Westminster Street. Vision Government Solutions: Providence Ri. Accessed August 26, 2017.

Rhode Island Historical Society. Publications of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Volume 5. Google Books. Accessed August 30, 2017. Published 1897.

The Merchants' National Bank of Providence. Old Providence: A Collection of Facts and Traditions Relating to Various Buildings and Sites of Historic Interest in Providence. Google Books. Accessed August 30, 2017.'s+head&source=bl.... Published in 1918.