First and Future Health Labs


Providence boasts a number of Firsts in the Nation. We’ll be featuring a few on occasion. Here is our first of the firsts:

In 1888, the first municipal health laboratory in the United States was established in Providence. Charles V. Chapin (1856 –1941) was its first director and the lab was likely located at City Hall. Dr. Chapin was a pioneer in public health and served as Superintendent of Health in Providence from 1884 to 1932. In addition, he established the Providence City Hospital for Communicable Diseases, the first of its kind in the country. The hospital, which opened in 1910, was located on Eaton Street, near what is now Providence College.

Today, the city of Providence’s health laboratory needs are served by the Rhode Island State Health Laboratory (RISHL), operated by the Rhode Island Department of Health. Since 1978, the RISHL has been located at 50 Orms Street, in the aptly named Charles V. Chapin Building. Here, extensive tests are conducted daily on: Air Quality, Arboviral, Beach Water, COVID-19, Dairy, Drinking Water, Forensic Sciences, Shellfish, and many other important healthcare issues.

In 2025, the RISHL will move into a new seven-story building (currently under construction) at 150 Richmond Street in the Jewelry District.  The $165 million project is being paid for, in part, by an $82 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

100,000 deaths caused by Yellow Fever in the U.S. in the 1800s, creating a need for public health disease testing.  Other diseases tested for were Typhoid Fever, Tuberculosis or “consumption” and diptheria.

20,885 public water tests for contaminants regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act and RIDOH conducted by RISHL in 2022.

13,714 blood tests for lead levels, primarily in children, in 2021

2,217 dairy tests for bacteria concentration, etc. performed by RISHL in 2022

2,552 beach tests conducted by RISHL in 2022

45,600 – sq ft current space used by the RISHL at 50 Orms St.

80,000 – sq ft future space for RISHL use at 150 Richmond St. The Richmond St building will be shared with Brown’s life sciences labs and private biotechnology laboratories.


“Selected RI Firsts in Colonial America”

 Providence Directory 1890

The Streets of the City, by Florence Parker Simister, 1969

Nini Stoddard is a proud Providence resident. After living abroad as the child of a US diplomat, she returned to the United States to attend college. She lived in Connecticut and enjoyed working as a librarian, as a director of a regional non-profit, and as a prospect researcher. Nini moved to Providence in 2006 to work at Brown University as a senior prospect researcher. Now retired, she loves local history and volunteering.