Locations >> Buildings by Neighborhood >> Downtown: The Shephards Building


The Shepard building occupies the entire block between Westminster, Clemence, Washington, and Union Streets. Its exterior incorporates facades of several previously existing buildings; before the store grew to fill the entire block, at least three free standing structures occupied the space. The current structure is 5- and 6-story building with a varying façade of brick, stone, terra cotta, and stucco masonry with cast iron supporting members. The facades at the corners of Westminster and Union and Washington and Union feature 2-story arched entrances. Westminster and Washington Street frontage contain tripartite-transom display windows on the two lower stories. An entablature above the second story with less ornate articulation above the modillion cornice is on the Washington façade. The remaining partially intact original elements of the interior include tin ceilings and hard wood and terrazzo floors. A historic, notable element of the Shepard Building is the late 19th century cast-iron clock, which still stands in front of the building on Westminster Street.


The Shepard Company Department Store was founded in downtown Providence in 1880. When is opened, it only occupied two floors of one small building at the corner of Westminster and Clemence Streets. The first adjacent building was acquired in 1896. Its quick expansion led it to become the largest department store in New England by 1903. By this time, it occupied the entire block; the physical growth of the building was affected by new construction and the acquisition of adjacent structures, which were added to form what stands today. Shepard's was a “full service” department store and was for almost 100 years a Providence shopping institution. A Providence Journal article from 1909 boasts that Shepard's had a restaurant which seated 4100, a laundry, refrigerating and ice-making plant, fur storage room, and a complete printing plant. It was one of only two department stores in Providences to occupy a whole city block. Unfortunately, the store went bankrupt in 1974. Over the years other retailers occupied portions of the building, but none reached the success which Shepard's had once experienced. The building currently houses offices and the University of Rhode Island's continuing education department. Although its function has changed, its mostly unchanged façade evokes memories of the glory days of Providence's downtown retail center.


Sanderson, Edward F., and Wm. McKenzie Woodward. Providence, a citywide survey of historic resources . Providence: Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1986. 108-111.

"Shepard's site a long part of RI history." Providence Journal 10 May 1974, sec. A: 14.

"Story of growth in 25 years." Providence Journal 2 Apr. 1905: 23.

"Story of growth in 29 years." Providence Journal 3 Apr. 1909: 11.