Lovecraft’s teenage years are mostly a mystery. But we know, from the title of a poem, that he probably attended or was a formal member of the Men’s Club of the First Universalist Church, at 250 Washington Street in Providence. This is a gothic revival church building of 1872 by Edwin L. Howland. Doubtless he was allowed into a number of church towers on his antiquarian walks. But one wonders if the youthful experience of a visit to the gothic belfry here, with other lads from the Men’s Club, may have much later played into the descriptions in “The Haunter of the Dark”?
“In openings still further above — where, by chamfering, the dimensions of the tower are reduced — are paired Gothic louvered belfry openings with a roundel. Above these windows a band of stone bosses runs around the base of a steep, slate-covered “extinguisher” spire pierced by four narrow, hooded dormers [windows]…” (description from National Register of Historic Places).
Perhaps not, though, as it seems unlikely the group actually met at the church. The plan of the church interior shows no large meeting rooms. More likely was that Lovecraft’s group met in a nearby hall. The new Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) building seems a prime candidate for this, being an enormous modern building opened on the same street late in 1906 (opening date from National Register of Historic Places). The book Providence: a citywide survey of historic resources notes it replaced…
…smaller, crowded facilities [which meant that] the YWCA Building was begun early in 1905″
In this 1908 postcard you can see how close these two buildings were…
The YWCA with its new facilities and huge amounts of space, plus perhaps the enticement of meeting the girls who used the building, might explain why a Young Men’s Club could have been started there circa 1906. This does not mean Lovecraft joined in that opening year, though. I’m guessing that perhaps there was an age barrier which meant one could only join at age 18 or 21 (circa 1908 and 1911 respectively, for Lovecraft)? My other guess would be that this Club might have been for young men of a more intellectual bent, those who would not frequent the YMCA, the sort of lads who could be trusted to behave as gentleman around a lot of young women?
The Universalist Register (volumes for 1907-1912) names all its few Men’s Clubs as “Young Men’s Club”, so I suspect that this is the proper name for what Lovecraft was a member of — and which he named in the poem he titled: “The Members of the Men’s Club of the First Universalist Church of Providence, R.I., to Its President, About to Leave for Florida on Account of His Health”.
Sadly neither the club nor the Providence YWCA seems to have left much trace in the online record. If anyone cares to investigate, the Providence YWCA archives 1867 — 1980 are held at the Rhode Island Historical Society Manuscripts Division. They also have the First Universalist Church of Providence Records 1905 — 1992.
A 93-page book called The centennial book of the First Universalist Society in Providence, R.I. April 10, 1921 may have a few details of the Men’s Club in its opening “Outline of History” section, but the book is not yet available online.
In 1919 Judge Fred B. Perkins was President of the First Universalist Church of Providence. He was a Brown University graduate and Perkins Hall at Brown is now named after him. I have not been able to discover who was President in the possible Lovecraft years of 1906 — circa 1914.