URI’s Quadrangle: Grounded in 125 Years of Memories

URI Quadrangle
The University of Rhode Island Quad

It’s only fitting that the University launched its 125th anniversary on the Quad, kicking off off a yearlong celebration of the University’s founding in 1892.

The historic Quadrangle, a grassy expanse primarily surrounded by stately granite buildings and ringed by leafy Japanese Zelkova trees and park benches was designed by the renowned Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architectural Firm, founded by Frederick L. Olmsted Sr.

Depending on the time of year, URI’s Quadrangle is home for orientations, flying Frisbees, water rocket launches, snowball fights, commencements, and sun bathing. It’s where confused freshmen wander with maps in hand and confident seniors receive their diplomas. It’s where infants often attempt their first steps and where grandparents slowly search for familiar names on some of the 3,500 inscribed bricks that comprise the Centennial Walk.

Davis Hall
Davis Hall illuminated for the 125th Anniversary Light up the Quad kickoff event on Jan. 25, 2017.
Photo: Nora Lewis

It’s where puppies have always ruled as co-ed magnets and where nowadays they are purposefully unleashed before exams to help lower student anxiety.

It’s where students spread blankets to watch movies on a big screen, where student organizations and clubs set up tables to recruit new members, and where vendors often attract their youthful customers with rock climbing walls, bounce houses, and booming music.

It’s where success has always been celebrated. When the school was named the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1892, enthusiastic students overloaded a cannon nicknamed “Old Ben Butler.” The cannon’s fragmented condition rests on the southwest corner of the quad.

It’s where students studying military science in Lippitt Hall started drilling in 1897,  beginning URI’s military tradition that continues today in the University’s ROTC Program.

Sikorsky Aircraft
Aircraft circa 1932

It’s where Igor Sikorsky, famed aviation pioneer, displayed two of his planes in the 1930s when he and his engineering students designed aircraft and helicopter prototypes.

It’s where the ringing bells in Davis Hall signaled the official end of World War II. And where 80 Quonset huts were set up in 1946 to accommodate the bulging number of returning veterans enrolling in college on the GI Bill. In 1967, an electronic carillon was installed to chime out the hours from Davis Hall’s tower with a variety of musical tunes. During URI’s Centennial Celebration in 1992, the bells chimed the theme from the Godfather movie to a much-amused gathering. That celebration included a visit by the then Today Show’s weatherman Willard Scott whose forecast of the day’s weather was broadcast live to millions of viewers.

It’s where every year seniors, dressed in caps and gowns, led by the 50th Reunion Class, process during Commencement ceremonies, cheered on by their families and friends. And it’s where thousands of students became the first in their families to earn a college degree.

It’s where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, comedian Bob Hope, Civil Rights leader Coretta Scott King, author Kurt Vonnegut, and composer Aaron Copland, among others, received their honorary degrees.

Centennial Walk
Centennial Walk, 1993

It’s also been a place for campus protest. When President Lyndon Johnson received a Doctor of Laws honorary degree in 1966, he was greeted with protests against the Vietnam War. Those protests escalated during the next half dozen years against the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings.

In 1971, a group of students took over the Administration Building, (now Carlotti) protesting the lack of diversity and the recent decision to cut funding for the Talent Development Program. The protest was ultimately successful in securing funding for Talent Development Program for subsequent years.

The Quad is also the site where the community rallies for peace and speaks out against injustice and bigotry, where in 2016, more than 300 community members celebrated a day of peace on campus by creating a human peace sign.

And it’s also the site where the community rolls up its sleeves to help others. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we found Alex Reeb, a civil engineering and German major, running a table saw alongside other volunteers building windows and door frames for a Habitat for Humanity International House-in-a-Box, which was shipped to Jackson, Miss. and assembled, giving a needy family something to call home again.

URI’s Quadrangle provides familiar ground for students to walk across 125 years of history and feel at home, and a comfortable place for alumni to return home.