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Cyrus Butler (1767-1849)

Best known for his substantial financial contribution to the founding of Butler Hospital, Cyrus Butler was born on May 9, 1767 in Providence, RI. He was one of five sons of Samuel Butler and Mary Athearn.

Samuel, Sr. had started out his career as a shoemaker on Martha’s Vineyard, but had moved to Providence as a young man in 1750 and eventually became a ship owner and merchant. By the time he died in 1814, both of his sons were comfortably wealthy.

Cyrus amassed a huge fortune in global shipping, trading, banking, and real estate; in 1827, he was identified as Providence’s wealthiest man. He owned the Westminster Street land on which the Providence Arcade would be built. The Arcade (“Butler’s Folly”) was constructed in 1828 as the first big commercial enterprise on the west side of the Providence River.

Butler had a reputation for not being particularly charitable, but he was persuaded to support two Providence institutions. He was one of the founders of the Providence Athenaeum (originally housed in Butler’s Arcade). The other major institution he supported was originally known as the Rhode Island Hospital for the Insane. Butler succumbed to the blandishments of activist Dorothea Lynde Dix when she approached him for a major gift. He agreed to give $40,000 if subscriptions totaling that amount could be sold to the public. This campaign proved successful, and the resulting asylum, whose first building was completed in 1847, was renamed Butler Hospital.

Catherine Beyer Hurst, MBA, Writer and Community Historian


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