In Depth Providence Neighborhood Profiles - a historic primer.
The East Side, Probably the most sought after area of the city for new home buyers is actually several smaller Providence Neighborhoods grouped together, east of Downtown – Blackstone, Hope (Summit), Mt Hope, College Hill, Wayland and Fox Point. See those neighborhood profiles below.
The edgier West End is home to The Providence Armory, huge historic homes, fantastic restaurants and cool shops and cafe’s.
Elmwood is also home to many great historic homes and a wealth of Providence history – neighboring Roger Williams Park; 430 acres of city parkland. Similar to Washington Parknestled to east side of Roger Williams Park and bordered by the Providence River.
Additional satellite communities that have great property value, walkability and quality of life are Oak Hill, Rumford, Elmhurst, and Edgewood.
The Blackstone neighborhood is located in the northeast corner of Providence’s East Side. Most of its development occurred during the early and mid 20th century. The houses, mostly medium to large single-family dwellings, were architecturally and functionally similar to those built in College Hill during the 18th and 19th centuries. Blackstone is one of only a few neighborhoods in the city where considerable development occurred during the 20th century.
Blackstone sits within a shallow part of the north-south valley between the eastern ridge of the Moshassuck River Valley and the western bank of the Seekonk River. Because of the uninviting geography and marshy land, the area did not inspire early colonial settlement. The earliest road, Cat Swamp Lane (1684), followed high ground and is the original path of today’s Olney Street; Cole, Morris, and Rochambeau Avenues; and Sessions Street. Several farms were established during the 18th century. These included Reverend Arthur Browne’s glebe (an area belonging to a church parish or parsonage) on Sessions Street, Richard Browne’s farm at the eastern end of Rochambeau Avenue, and Moses Brown’s Cole Farm Court near the intersection of Wayland and Humboldt Avenue. Today, at the intersection of Eames Street and Morris Avenue, four of the farms still remain.
During the middle years of the 19th century, Blackstone began to develop as a middle and upper income residential neighborhood, though the area’s isolation from the rest of the city precluded substantial growth. Before the 1880s, residents traveled between the Blackstone area and the rest of Providence, either by carriage or public horse car along a circuitous route from Downtown through Fox Point to Butler Avenue. In 1884, a second line along Waterman and Angell Streets was completed, which allowed a more direct route downtown.
The most significant improvement that stimulated residential development in Blackstone was the collaboration between the proprietors of Swan Point Cemetery and the city of Providence to construct a landscaped boulevard, 200 feet wide, connecting the Waterman and Angell Street corridor on the south with Hope Street on the north at the Pawtucket city line. By 1894, Blackstone Boulevard was completed and landscaped. Today, it remains one of the city’s greatest examples of planning and landscape architecture.
Between 1890 and 1923, land values along the boulevard tripled and the Blackstone area began to fill in with single-family homes that were architecturally distinctive. During this period, Blackstone became one of the most desirable and fashionable addresses in the city.
The scenic beauty created by the bluffs overlooking the Seekonk River was inviting and conducive to institutional establishment. Butler Hospital, one of the nation’s oldest psychiatric institutions, was built in 1847 on the Richard Browne Farm at the end of Rochambeau Avenue. Its gothic structure was landscaped in a rural setting as part of a plan to remove patients from the stresses of the everyday world.
Swan Point Cemetery was established adjacent to the hospital grounds in 1847 as part of the nation’s rural cemetery movement of the 1830s and 1840s. The grave of H.P. Lovecraft, the horror and science fiction writer, is located there with an epitaph reading “I Am Providence.” Together, the cemetery, the hospital, and Blackstone Boulevard provide substantial open space in the northeastern corner of the city.
By the 20th century, institutional growth became more neighborhood oriented. Some of the notable religious institutions include the Central Baptist Church on Lloyd Avenue, Temple Emanuel on Taft Avenue, and St. Sebastian’s Roman Catholic Church on Cole Avenue. Today, the Blackstone neighborhood remains primarily residential and is one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.
The community we know today as College Hill was the site of the first permanent colonial settlement in Rhode Island. The area currently contains one of the Providence’s most extensive and distinguished collections of historic architecture. Located on a steep hill generated from the east bank of the Providence River, the area has always been primarily residential in nature. In fact, Benefit Street, Providence’s own “Mile of History,” was established in 1756 and became home to many wealthy Providence businessmen. The neighborhood boundaries include Fox Point to the south at Williams Street, Wayland and Blackstone to the east at Arlington Avenue and at Governor Street, Downtown to the west at North and South Main Street, and Mount Hope to the north at Olney Street.
Institutional growth has since flourished in the eastern and western sections of College Hill. Both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design continue to make important contributions to the architectural fabric and commercial success of this area. This is especially true near the western edge of the neighborhood along the river and along North and South Main streets. This area, while having been in use for hundreds of years, has recently been revived as a vital commercial corridor. The foot of College Hill provides an important commercial and residential transition point where the neighborhood meets downtown Providence.
Major thoroughfares in the neighborhood include Thayer Street, the retail strip for much of the student population, North and South Main Streets, which is actually one street running parallel to the Providence River, and Waterman and Angell Streets running perpendicular to North and South Main and providing many East Side residents with access to the rest of the city.
From its founding by Roger Williams in 1636 to the late 18th century, nearly all the settled area of Providence occupied land on College Hill. By the time of the American Revolution, the narrow stretch of land at the river’s eastern shore by the foot of the hill was already densely populated with wharves, warehouses, shops, public buildings, and residential houses. Constructed in 1770, the University Hall of Brown University stood alone at the intersection of College and Prospect streets-the top of College Hill. Other key public buildings which still remain in the neighborhood today include the Old State House (1762), the Brick School House (1767), the Market House (1773), and the First Baptist Meeting House (1775).
After the American Revolution, the residential areas of Providence expanded. Merchants, artisans and professionals began to move farther up the hillside along Benefit, Congdon, George, Thomas, Power, Williams, John, Arnold and Transit Streets. College Hill became a popular location for elaborate mansions of the area’s wealthiest merchants. The earliest of these is John Brown’s House (1786), described by President John Quincy Adams as “the most magnificent and elegant private mansion that I have ever seen on this continent.” Other notable homes include those of Joseph Nightingale (1792) and Sullivan Dorr (1809).
By the first half of the 19th century, College Hill still showed continued growth but at a slower rate than the “Weybosset Side,” which is what the downtown area and the west side of the city were called. During the 1820s, the Weybosset Side surpassed College Hill in population. The College Hill area, however, saw significant institutional growth during this period. Several churches, the Providence Athenaeum, which is a private library (1839), the Rhode Island Historical Society Cabinet (1844), Friends School (1819) and Dexter Asylum (1822) were all established during this period.
Although concentrated in a few areas, commercial growth was significant. North Main Street became the center for jewelry and other metal trades. During the 1790s, Seril and Nehemiah Dodge developed a precious metal-plating process on Thomas Street. By 1830, thirty manufacturers operated shops along North Main Street, including the Gorham Manufacturing Company. There were also a number of base-metal operations such as Congdon and Carpenter (1791) on Steeple Street and Brown and Sharpe (1833) on South Main Street.
One of the more interesting buildings in the city still stands at 118 North Main Street. This late Georgian structure has an exterior door on the second floor of the street facade. That would seem curious to casual observers until it is divulged that like the Hudson Street Market in the West End, this building was raised and a commercial store front placed underneath, replacing the ground floor.
During and after the Civil War, land in the northern and eastern sections of College Hill was being developed. At the same time, Brown University was also gradually expanding. By that time, the area closer to downtown had already been settled along with Prospect and Hope Streets. The Hope Reservoir was created in 1875 (the present site of Hope High School) as part of the city’s water supply system. The reservoir provided a view that invited houses to be built around its perimeter.
During the 1880s and 1890s, impressive homes were constructed south of Dexter Asylum on Stimson Avenue, Diman Place and along Cooke Street. By the turn of the century, College Hill was an area mostly occupied by middle and upper income housing, making it one of the city’s most culturally homogenous neighborhoods. Although foreign immigration flooded other neighborhoods, College Hill remained predominantly white, with the exception of a small black community on Meeting and Benefit Streets.
During the 20th century, College Hill struggled to accommodate the institutional growth of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Brown University’s expansion increased after World War II, entering residential areas. In the early 1950s, nearly 100 houses were moved or demolished for the construction of two residential quadrangles. The Rhode Island School of Design, which by 1892 occupied Waterman Street, also expanded to cover three more large blocks and scattered individual buildings.
College Hill also experienced a decline and rediscovery of historic houses along Benefit Street during the 1950s and 1960s. These houses were occupied mostly by Providence’s early minority population and were often subdivided into tenements. These units were dilapidated and without adequate facilities and were targets for demolition under one of the city’s proposed urban renewal projects.
Due largely to the efforts of Antoinette Downing and the Providence Preservation Society, these plans were altered and the area became one of the first urban renewal projects in the country to encompass rehabilitation as opposed to demolition and redevelopment. Unfortunately, some displacement of the local minority community did occur in this area during the rejuvenation of these structures. Today, nearly all of the buildings on or near historic Benefit Street have been renovated and the area is home to one of the finest cohesive collections of restored 17th and 18th century architecture in the United States. Perhaps the most important aspect of the historical nature of the area is that the fabric of the area is virtually intact and remains in place, largely as it was hundreds of years ago. In fact, many houses still have cast iron boot scrapers on their front steps.
Located in the northeast section of Providence, the Hope neighborhood is roughly bounded by the border between Providence and Pawtucket to the North, Hope Street to the East, Rochambeau Avenue to the South, and North Main Street and Interstate 95 and the North Burial Ground to the West. Although principally a residential neighborhood, Hope has two commercial corridors, Hope Street and North Main Street. The area that now comprises Hope was first settled in the seventeenth century by farmers and tavern keepers who followed the Pawtucket Road (now North Main Street) out from the center of Providence. These settlers and their descendants established a strong, rural community that survived well into the nineteenth century. Unlike many of Providence’s neighborhoods, Hope experienced little industrial or urban development in the years following the Civil War.
Although North Main Street grew as a commercial thoroughfare during the 1860s, it was not until streetcar service came to the Hope neighborhood area in 1875 that suburban residential development began. In a slow but accelerating process, farms were sold and sub-divided into plots for single family homes. In the 1920s, some of these new homes were bought by Russian Jews who migrated to the Northern section of Providence and established a substantial Jewish community there in the years before World War II. Now, one of the largest shopping centers in the city exists off of North Main Street on the site of one of Providence’s two former drive-in theaters and the former sites of the “Cycledrome” where the once National Football league champions, the Providence Steam Rollers, played in the early 20th century.
Since the 1940s, a large section of the Hope neighborhood has been occupied by the Miriam Hospital. In 1945, Miriam moved from the West End to a two acre site along Summit Avenue. The Hospital has since expanded four times, adding wings in 1952, 1967, and 1978, and a major new medical building opened in 1989. Miriam Hospital now occupies two city blocks from Fifth to Seventh Streets. The strong presence of Miriam Hospital has not, however, weakened this neighborhood’s identity.
Although officially designated by the city as the Hope neighborhood, many residents refer to the area as the Summit neighborhood. An active community organization, the Summit Neighborhood Association, publishes a quarterly newsletter, encourages resident participation in neighborhood affairs, and works to improve neighborhood conditions. Today, this strong community commitment helps make Hope one of Providence’s most stable and independent residential neighborhoods.
Mt Hope/Hope Village
The Mount Hope neighborhood is located in the northeast quadrant of the city of Providence, and is roughly bordered by Olney Street to the south, Hope Street to the east, Rochambeau Avenue to the north, and the New York-New Hampshire railroad to the west. Mostly a residential neighborhood, Mount Hope includes both working class and middle class sections. In addition to its residential areas, the neighborhood contains the North Burial Ground, a view of the Moshassuck Valley from many streets, a busy commercial district along North Main Street, and an industrial and commercial area to the immediate west of North Main Street.
As with many areas of Providence, Mount Hope was first settled in the 17th century, yet did not experience any significant development until much later. The first arrivals to the neighborhood were farmers and tavern keepers who situated themselves along Pawtucket Road (North Main Street). Unfortunately, few houses still exist from this era. The Jeremiah Dexter Farmhouse (1754), still stands at the corner of North Main Street and Rochambeau Avenue, is the only structure still standing.
More settlers came to the neighborhood in the first part of the 19th century, locating primarily in the southern area of Mount Hope on Olney Street, Bacon Street (no longer in existence), Jenkins Street, Pleasant Street, Abbott Street, and North Main Street. African-Americans, deeply ingrained in the history of the neighborhood, were the predominant residents of this new settlement. Racial tension, however, was a powerful force, and in 1831 a serious race riot erupted on Olney Street.
Even with the growth of this southern Mount Hope settlement, the neighborhood was still largely a suburban and rural area until well into the second part of the 19th century. Characteristic of neighborhood development in other areas of Providence, industrial activity and the improvement of transportation services to the area were the two major forces in the growth of Mount Hope.
The establishment of industry along the Moshassuck River corridor attracted large numbers of mostly unskilled laborers to the neighborhood. Developers constructed many small single-family homes, in addition to triple-deckers and other multifamily houses, to accommodate the growing numbers of workers in Mount Hope. Streetcar service came to Mount Hope along North Main Street (1875) and Camp Street (1886), leading to the rapid expansion of middle-income housing along the rail lines. Largely due to the subdivision of large private land holdings, residential expansion occurred throughout the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Furthermore, around the turn of the century, the Gilbane Company, now a major Providence-based construction company, established one of Providence’s first areas of tract housing on Catalpa Street.
Mount Hope continued to undergo physical and demographic changes throughout much of the 20th century. In the early part of this century, North Main Street was the site of rapid commercial expansion. Moreover, urban renewal had an enormous impact on the physical structure of the neighborhood. The Lippitt Hill Redevelopment Project, spanning from the 1950s to the 1970s, resulted in the demolition of a large portion of dilapidated low-income housing in the southern portion of Mount Hope.
This project displaced large numbers of residents, particularly African-Americans, to other parts of Mount Hope and Providence. These homes were replaced by the University Heights shopping center and apartment complex, the Olney Street Baptist Church, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School.
Demographically, Mount Hope emerged by mid-century as an ethnically diverse, mixed-income neighborhood. African-Americans, Irish-Americans (whose ancestors first immigrated as workers to the Moshassuck industrial area) and Russian Jews are the major ethnic groups in the neighborhood’s history.
Mount Hope remains equally diverse. However, the neighborhood is divided along Camp Street where the area to the south of the line is experiencing some recent deterioration to its housing stock and the area to the north has seen more substantial rehabilitation. Mount Hope maintains a stable supply of lower and middle-income housing. Furthermore, with commercial developments, schools, medical institutions, and churches either within its boundaries or in close proximity, the neighborhood is well endowed with a variety of resources for its residents.
Wayland is a residential neighborhood located on the Providence’s East Side. Most of its development took place during the early and mid- 20th century. The houses are architecturally and functionally similar to those constructed on College Hill during the 18th and 19th centuries. Wayland also contains the city’s most significant concentration of elegant apartment buildings, which were all built shortly after 1900, and also is home to the Red Bridge, the first bridge over the Seekonk River linking Providence with East Providence. Wayland is home to Blackstone Park, one of the larger parks on the East Side, and which will be linked with the surrounding area through the development of a bicycle path along the Seekonk River.
Originally, the Wayland area was not geographically inviting for colonial settlement. Given its proximity to the Seekonk River, much of the land was marshy and not suitable for development. During the middle years of the 19th century, Wayland began to develop as a middle and upper-income residential neighborhood. In 1856, the Cold Spring Plat extended from the Blackstone neighborhood to include the area south of Angell Street. Although several cottages were built after the platting, the area’s remoteness discouraged growth. The land south of Upton Avenue had been completely platted by the end of the Civil War but few houses were built before the 1890s. Development was concentrated eastward from College Hill in the Waterman-Angell corridor and to a lesser degree, along Olney Street and Morris Avenue. Before the 1880s, residents commuted between the Wayland area and downtown Providence either by carriage or public horse car along a circuitous route from downtown through Fox Point to Butler Avenue. In 1884 a second line along Waterman and Angell Streets was completed.
In the early 1900s, the Wayland area became the site for the construction of numerous apartment buildings. The earliest of these buildings was constructed during the first decade of the 20th century along Medway Street. By 1940, there were apartment buildings on Waterman and Angell streets, and Lloyd, and Wayland Avenues. Some of these buildings, including the Excelsior Apartments, remain architecturally magnificent.
One of the most significant features of Wayland since World War II has been the continued development of commercial activity in Wayland Square. Encompassing parts of Medway Street, Waterman Street, Angell Street, Wayland Square has been a Providence commercial center since the early 20th century. In the 1970s and 1980s, more retail shops opened in the Square. Development had encouraged Wayland Square merchants to form an association. In 1990, the merchant association began working with the city Department of Planning & Development to improve commercial activity. The planned improvements included more parking space, landscaped sidewalks, and additional street lighting. Today, Wayland continues to be a commercial district with thriving retail shops.
Located east of downtown Providence, Fox Point is a tightly clustered residential neighborhood that remains home to a large portion of Providence’s Portuguese population. Fox Point’s boundaries are the Providence and Seekonk rivers to the east, west, and south; Interstate 195 to the south; and the College Hill neighborhood, to the north. Fox Point, once the major seaport for the city, is now primarily a lower and middle income neighborhood of two and three family homes. George M. Cohan Memorial Boulevard, located along Route 195, is named after the famous Broadway composer, who was born in 1878 at the present site of the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club on Wickenden Street.
Fox Point is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Providence. Settlers began arriving in the early part of the 17th century, soon after Roger Williams and his followers first approached the area via the Seekonk River. Originally used for its farmland, the first settlers located themselves in the lands east of Hope Street. Its agricultural focus, however, was short-lived. With the construction of Providence’s first port at Transit Street in 1680, the area became a center for maritime activities. The waterfront region known as India Point derived its name from the “Indiamen” trading ships traveling between Fox Point and the West Indies.
Over the next 100 years, settlers worked almost exclusively on Fox Point’s valuable waterfront. By 1800, 58 wharves spanned the waterfront from Fox Point to Smith Street. Yet, even with heavy maritime activity, the area was not a distinct neighborhood within Providence until the late 1700s and early 1800s. Residential development in Fox Point, particularly in the area between Hope and Benefit streets, increased rapidly following the completion of existing street patterns.
The growth of transportation facilities, coupled with its accessible harbor, made Fox Point appealing to newly developing industry in Providence. The Boston and Providence railroad located its first station at the Fox Point waterfront in 1835. Another line, running from Providence to Stonington, Connecticut, completed its station in the western part of Fox Point only two years later. This relatively sophisticated transportation network for land and water brought various factories to the neighborhood. Among these, the Fuller Iron Works built on Pike Street in 1840 and the Providence Tool Company which was completed on Wickenden Street in 1844, were two major developments.
With its burgeoning industry and prosperous harbor, Fox Point attracted large numbers of immigrants eager to meet the demand for skilled and unskilled labor. A small group of Irish immigrants settled in Fox Point around the turn of the 19th century and established Rhode Island’s first Roman Catholic church in 1813. Yet it was not until the late 1820s and 1830s that Irish came in large numbers, primarily to work as laborers on the Blackstone Canal project (1825-1828) and the Providence railroad (1831-1835). By 1865, more than half of the population of Fox Point was foreign-born, the great majority being Irish immigrants concentrated in the waterfront section known as “Corky Hill.”
This community became an integral part of the Fox Point neighborhood culture. St. Joseph’s, the area’s second Roman Catholic church, was a product of the area’s rapidly increasing Irish Roman Catholic population. A city slum clearance project (1876-1880), however, uprooted many Irish families on “Corky Hill.” The bluff that overlooked the harbor was razed and the earth used to expand the size of the neighborhood by filling in part of the Seekonk River. In fact, the point where Roger Williams first set foot in Providence is on the west side of Gano Street between Williams and Power Streets, now some 100 or more feet from the water. Most of the Irish population relocated to multifamily tenement housing on the newly created Gano Street and in the surrounding area.
In the second half of the 19th century, many Portuguese, Cape Verdeans and Azoreans immigrated to Fox Point in search of factory and waterfront jobs. By the end of the 19th century, almost 2,000 Portuguese immigrants had settled in the neighborhood, often crowded into low-income rental units. Predominantly Catholic, this immigrant community eventually erected its own church, Our Lady of the Rosary (1885). Portuguese immigration to Fox Point and other areas of Providence and southeastern Massachusetts was heavy throughout the first part of the 20th century until 1924, when immigration laws halted the flow almost completely.
Immigration statutes relaxed again in 1965, and Portuguese immigration to the area resumed once more. The Portuguese community today remains a large part of the Fox Point neighborhood. Even after the recent heavy influx of the urban middle class and student renters from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, more than 32% of Fox Point residents claim Portuguese ancestry.
Fox Point’s physical structure has undergone significant change since the beginning of this century. The waterfront area is no longer in use as a harbor and now exists as a recreational area called India Point Park. Moreover, the construction of Interstate 195 resulted in slum clearance and the demolition of much of what was the southern section of Fox Point. Recent changes to South Main Street, as a result of urban renewal and historic preservation efforts, make this area largely a distinct entity from the core of the Fox Point neighborhood. Nevertheless, the neighborhood retains much of its history, in particular the influence of its immigrant populations, and must be recognized for its important place in Providence’s history.
Downtown Providence is located at the confluence of the Moshassuck and Woonasquatucket Rivers and is made up of approximately 150 acres. The neighborhood is surrounded by College Hill, Smith Hill, Federal Hill and Upper South Providence, and also faces the head of Narragansett Bay. Characterized by a concentration of mid-rise buildings, downtown Providence has a small area of light industry and sizable financial and retail districts.
Formerly known as “Weybosset Neck” or the “Weybosset Side” or more recently during the mid-twentieth century as “Downcity,” downtown Providence remained largely unsettled until the mid-eighteenth century. The Rev. Joseph Snow, Jr. and his followers, religious dissenters from the First Congregational Society, established downtown’s first settlement in 1746 and marked the beginning of approximately 25 years of development where Westminster Street exists today.
By the turn of the 19th century, downtown Providence, along with commercial ventures at the foot of College Hill, was becoming a regional center of commerce and industry. With the British capture and partial destruction of Newport during the Revolutionary War, Providence’s harbor was soon the central Rhode Island port. Industrial development in Providence required more advanced commercial and financial services, and by the early 19th century, the downtown area near Turk’s Head had become the site of concentrated financial services.
The Turk’s Head Building still stands at the confluence of Westminster and Weybosset Streets. The Exchange Bank, Union Bank and Washington Insurance Company were major institutions established during this period. Just west of Turk’s Head Place, settlers set about establishing a residential enclave of grand homes in the 1820s. While all but three of these homes have given way to a retail district, several of the churches, including Grace Church, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, and Beneficent Congregational Church, still exist today.
The period from 1828 to 1928 included dramatic changes in the nature of downtown. Transportation improved dramatically during this time, particularly with the creation of an inter-city rail system. Six railroads converged at downtown’s Union Station (1848), increasing the area’s importance as a regional economic and transportation hub. Furthermore, by the late 1800s, the Union Railroad Company had established rail service from downtown to outlying sections of the city, including Olneyville, Elmwood, and South Providence. Expanding streetcar service caused increased residential construction and the development of a more substantial industrial infrastructure.
Commercial and retail growth, however, continued to occur downtown. By 1860, downtown Providence was a regional banking center with nearly 40 banks and $15 million in capital. The Industrial National Bank (1928) and the Hospital Trust (1919) buildings were two of the many buildings constructed toward the latter part of this period of heavy development. The nation’s first enclosed retail mall, the Arcade (1828), was the key development in an active retail district that also eventually included three 19th century department stores which are now gone: the Boston Store, Shepard’s and the Outlet Company.
The commercial and retail viability of downtown served as an impetus for the growth of civic, arts and entertainment institutions. The establishment of theaters, churches, hotels, and restaurants occurred rapidly during this century-long era of activity, and included the now demolished Narragansett Hotel (1828), the Biltmore Hotel (1922), and theaters like the Providence Opera House (1871) and Loew’s State Theater, known today as the Providence Performing Arts Center. The development of the Providence Public Library in 1900 also served to make downtown the center of civic activity.
After some stagnation, the 1950s saw numerous urban renewal schemes. The Weybosset Hill Redevelopment Project involved the clearance and redevelopment of a blighted area on the western rim of downtown. Further demolition occurred near Turk’s Head in order to create more parking. In general, these urban renewal efforts were planned poorly and did little to bolster the image and prosperity of downtown. With the construction of interstates 95 and 195, and Route 10, there was an even greater flight of business, particularly retail, out of downtown. Not until the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the construction of the Providence Civic Center (1972) and the Hospital Trust Tower (1973) did downtown experience a resurgence in growth.
The West End is Providence’s largest neighborhood and is located in the southwestern quadrant of the city. A landlocked neighborhood, it is surrounded by the neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Olneyville, Federal Hill, Upper South Providence, Elmwood, and Reservoir. Historically, the section of the West End delineated by Union and Elmwood Avenues, and Ford and Cromwell Streets was considered part of Elmwood. Furthermore, residents recognized the region west of Dexter Street as West Elmwood. Today, the borders of the West End are Westminster Street to the north, Elmwood Avenue to the east, Huntington Avenue to the south, and the railroad to the west.
The first settlement of the general area of the West End occurred shortly after the King Philip’s War (1675-76), mostly around the northern sections of Mashapaug Pond. The first, and largest, farm in the region was established by John Sayles during the late 17th century and was located to the northeast of the Pond, extending into the area which is now Elmwood Avenue and Broad Street. Settlement followed the construction of more roads in the area, most notably Greenwich Road, which traversed the neighborhood as Elmwood Avenue does today.
The area’s first village developed in the northernmost section of the West End. In 1739, Obidiah Brown established Hoyle Tavern at the intersections of Westminster and Cranston Streets, and soon thereafter early settlers built eight houses in close proximity to the tavern. Now, that site is occupied by a large branch of Citizen’s Bank.
Westminster Street was the major route between downtown Providence and Olneyville Square and was settled at a more rapid pace than was Cranston Street. For the most part, however, the West End throughout the 18th century was an area of farms and wealthy country estates. Asa Messer, then the president of Brown University, Captain Samuel Snow, and John Mawney were some of the more prominent Providence citizens with estates in the West End. Two of these three men have since had their names bestowed on area streets while Snow Street runs between Washington and Weybosset Streets in the downtown section of the city.
In the 19th century, the West End began to develop industrially and residentially. By mid-century the area was host to several factories, including the New England Butt Company’s factory on Perkins Street, and the Winsor & Brown gun factory on Central Street. Much of the industrial development during this period occurred around the now-filled Long Pond. Several developments in this industrial section of the West End, including the Providence Gas Company remain in operation today.
Residential development took place primarily in the second half of the 19th century, following the growth of industry and transportation services in the area. The Elmwood Omnibus Company began operation of horse-drawn coaches in 1855, with service on Elmwood Avenue and Broad Street running hourly in the morning and each half-hour in the afternoon. Then in 1865, the Union Railroad Company ran its first streetcars along Westminster Street between downtown and Olneyville; additional lines quickly opened for Cranston Street and Elmwood Avenue. With these services, residential construction occurred throughout much of the West End in the late 1800s.
Construction patterns led to the emergence of distinct communities in the West End neighborhood. North of Cranston Street, around Dexter and Parade streets, they developed a predominantly middle-class, Yankee area of one and two-family homes. This area also included the Dexter Training Grounds (formerly a private estate donated to the city in 1824, it became part of the city’s park system in 1893), the Cranston Street Armory, and the Cranston Street Baptist Church, all of which still exist today.
Another distinct community of the West End took shape south of Cranston Street. By the mid 1800s, increasingly large numbers of Irish, French-Canadians, African-Americans inhabited this southern part of the West End. Much of the residential construction was in the form of triple-deckers and other multifamily houses to accommodate the growing numbers of lower-income residents.
As was the case with many of the various ethnic sections of Providence, each ethnic group established a church to meet the needs of their community. Black residents of the West End established the Mount Zion Methodist Church in 1861, the Irish built the Church of the Assumption in 1871, and French-Canadians formed their parish by 1878 (their church, St. Charles Borromeo, was not completed until 1915).
For much of the 20th century, particularly after the 1930s, the West End has been a slowly decaying inner-city neighborhood. Middle class residents moved out of the neighborhood in large numbers, leaving the area with limited resources. The neighborhood is adjacent to the Huntington Industrial Park, created as one of the city’s two industrial districts in the 1970s. When the Gorham Manufacturing Company left the neighborhood, Olneyville lost importance as a freight rail hub, and Route 10 was constructed, many residents of the southern part of the neighborhood were left unemployed and both physically and psychologically disconnected from other parts of the city.
Moreover, in recent years some new residents have become increasingly active in their efforts to restore and renovate the neighborhood’s housing supply, particularly the area’s historic homes. Currently, the West End includes two National Register Historic Districts: Broadway/Armory, shared with Federal Hill, and the Bridgham and Arch Street area.
Washington Park/Roger Williams
Washington Park is blessed with natural and location advantages. Roger Williams Park, one of the finest urban parks in the Northeast, is an extended backyard for most Washington Park residents. The lakes forests, gardens, and amusements draw thousands of visitors, but the Park’s spaciousness sustains a sense of privacy and peacefulness within its 430 acres.
The growing Port of Providence, nearby yacht clubs, and the sea air of Narragansett Bay are other advantages, as is bordering Edgewood, one of Cranston’s older exclusive sections. Before the industrial growth of the 20th century, the area was known for its summer homes and a popular horse track.
Washington Park itself is not easily appreciated at a glance. The spacious homes that face Roger Williams Park give way to blocks of well-kept bungalows and capes, especially favored by young families with one or two small children. A little further on, two- and three-family homes are split between absentee landlords and owner-occupants. Community sentiment is pressing certain landlords, who do not maintain their properties up to standard, to invest or sell out to owners who will. Across Broad Street toward Narragansett Boulevard, larger Victorian homes dominate wider streets. Lots are often bigger, with an occasional carriage house or other outbuilding. Many of those who work in port-related industries occupy the well-maintained homes near the bay.
Commercial activity stretches out along the main corridors, Broad Street and Narragansett Boulevard. Broad and Eddy Streets meet at Washington Park Square, an attractive commercial center with a great deal of unrealized potential. Washington Park Square could offer a good opportunity to start a small business with long-term potential.
Small, single family homes between Broad Street and Roger Williams are reasonably priced. Exceptional homes in the area attract higher offers. Washington Park is traditionally an area of high real estate turnover, as young couples seek larger homes to match growing families. Buyers and sellers balance evenly.
The Elmhurst neighborhood, located in Providence’s northwest quadrant, is bounded by the neighborhoods of Wanskuck to the east and northeast, Smith Hill to the east, Valley to the south, Mount Pleasant to the west and northwest, and the town of North Providence to the north. The major street boundaries that delineate Elmhurst include Admiral Street to the northeast, Smith Street and Academy Avenue to the west, and Chalkstone Avenue to the south. Elmhurst, like Mount Pleasant, was one of the last areas of the city to be developed. Most of the houses are medium sized, single-family homes located on well landscaped lots and tree lined streets. Although some houses were built in the 19th century, most were built in the 20th century.
Originally, the large tracts of common land were farmed throughout much of the 18th century with little development occurring. By the 1730s however, two roads had been established with the purpose of delivering produce from these outlying farms to the center of the city. These roads included the northern section which ran along present day Douglas Avenue and Eaton Street and the southern section which ran along what is now part of Chalkstone Avenue. Early in the 19th century, several additional roads were constructed.
In 1815, major landowners, including Philip Allen, founded the Powder Mill Turnpike Corporation. This privately owned turnpike followed Smith Street from its intersection with Eaton Street through the villages of Centredale in North Providence, Graniteville in Johnston, Greenville in Smithfield and reaching the village of Harmony in the town of Glocester, Rhode Island. (Of the three tollhouses along this route, the only one remaining stands at 1076 Smith Street). By 1835, River, Douglas, and Chalkstone Avenues and Smith, Sharon, and Admiral Streets had been established as rural lanes to connect various farms.
Elmhurst, with its open and scenic wooded rolling hills, attracted the settlement of numerous country retreats during the mid 19th century. William Grosvenor’s Gothic Revival Villa called “Elmhurst” gave the area its name in 1849 and was the first retreat to be constructed in the area. Thomas Davis’ 30 acre estate remained at the corner of Chalkstone Avenue and Raymond Street until 1947 when it was replaced by the Veterans Hospital.
Settlement remained sparse in Elmhurst until the end of the 19th century. During the early 1870s, plats of house lots were laid out but the national economic panic of 1873 dramatically slowed down development plans. A couple of houses appeared along the major streets before the late 1880s, but substantial residential development occurred only after the economy picked up and public transportation improved.
By 1882, streetcars traversed Chalkstone Avenue, extending out to Smith Street and North Providence by the 1890s. In 1909, the city acquired a continuous strip of land on either side of a stream that flows from Academy Avenue to Promenade Street and constructed a residential boulevard, Pleasant Valley Parkway. Housing development increased during the years that followed the completion of the Parkway. The Parkway was handsome and somewhat similar to Blackstone Boulevard in design but did not attract residents of the same level of wealth. In addition, a neighborhood commercial strip formed along Chalkstone Avenue between River and Mount Pleasant Avenues.
By the early 20th century, the Elmhurst area was predominantly middle and upper middle class. The ethnic composition of the area began to become more diverse after 1900. Second and third-generation Irish residents began to move into the area to escape from more crowded neighborhoods like Smith Hill and Upper and Lower South Providence. By the mid 20th century, second and third-generation Italians, many of whom moved from Federal Hill, comprised a significant portion of Elmhurst’s ethnic composition.
The quiet and spacious qualities of the Elmhurst neighborhood, in conjunction with the availability of large tracts of land in the form of 19th century estates, attracted various social and educational institutions. This area met the needs of the institutional boom that swept the city during the early part of the 20th century. Several hospitals were established. Charles V. Chapin Hospital was built by the city in 1911 for communicable disease patients on a 25 acre tract taken from the George H. Corliss estate on Eaton Street, east of Huxley Avenue on land that is now part of Providence College.
In 1926, the Providence Lying-In Hospital (now Women and Infants Hospital) and the Homeopathic Hospital of Rhode Island (now Roger Williams Hospital) were constructed on either side of Pleasant Valley Parkway. Educational institutions also found the grounds inviting. Providence College, founded by the Dominican Order in 1917, was constructed on a large tract adjacent to the Bradley Estate. Providence College is a strong presence in the nearby community. Not only do many students live in the surrounding rental units but the College offers use of their gymnasium facilities and night courses to both local citywide Providence residents.
LaSalle Academy, first established downtown at LaSalle Square in 1871, moved in 1925 into a new building on a 43 acre site at the corner of Smith Street and Academy Avenue. This private Catholic Academy has since become very popular with area residents as well as attracting many students from outside Providence. The school has also established a strong relationship with nearby Providence College.
Elmhurst experienced continued suburban development after World War II as one of the few areas in Providence with yet undeveloped land. The small and mid-sized houses built on the landscaped lots in the northwestern part of Elmhurst followed the tradition of the earlier 20th century dwellings.
Elmwood is located in the southwest quadrant of Providence. It is bounded by the neighborhoods of Upper and Lower South Providence to its east, the West End and Reservoir to the west, and South Elmwood to its south. The Elmwood neighborhood is roughly triangular in shape, with Trinity Square at the intersection of Broad Street and Elmwood Avenue forming its apex at Trinity Square and interstate highway 95 forming its base.
Elmwood did not see extensive development until the 1850s. During most of the early Republican era, Elmwood remained a rural area in which agriculture was the dominant livelihood. This began to change in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as Providence began to slowly expand to the south and west with the development of manufacturing and shipping interests, and with the opening of better land transportation routes with other cities via turnpikes.
One such highway was the New London Turnpike, opened in 1816 which followed the old Middle Road through Elmwood. Its growth was also attributed to a growing market for neighboring Cranston’s agricultural produce, which spurred the establishment of new farms in Elmwood and the West End.
By 1840, the population of Providence had increased to over 23,000 and by 1860 it had passed the 50,000 point. In the 1840s and 1850s, development gradually seeped southwestward along Broad Street. By 1857, Broad Street as far as Pearl Street, and the West End as far south and west as Bridgham Street, were densely populated areas. Most of the remaining farms in the area were subdivided during this period and by 1860 the street pattern as we know it today was largely in place.
The developers were typically Providence business people, merchants, and professional men who dabbled in real estate as a side venture. One area whose platting reflected careful forethought was the part of lower Elmwood between Congress Avenue and Sackett Street. The principal developer, Joseph J. Cooke, a native of Providence, purchased a large farm on the west side of the tract in 1843 and lived there, naming the estate “Elmwood.” By the mid-1850’s the name came to refer to the whole area now known as Elmwood and West Elmwood. From the beginning, Cooke and the other owners sought to create a model suburban neighborhood. They platted unusually wide streets and lined each with shade trees. However, by 1865 only about 60 houses had been built on the tract.
Development of Elmwood and the nearby part of the West End was also aided by the slow but growing establishment of public transportation. The Elmwood Omnibus Company, organized about 1855, operated a line of omnibuses, or horse-drawn coaches, which ran regularly from Market Square in downtown Providence to Broad Street and Elmwood Avenue as far as Potters Avenue. In 1865, the Union Horse Railroad operated horse drawn cars pulled along tracks which replaced the slower moving omnibuses. By 1894, the Union Railroad Company electrified its Broad Street line and replaced all the horse railways with overhead trolley lines.
The impressive growth of Elmwood and the West End was a reflection of the contemporary growth of Providence as a manufacturing and commercial center. A number of manufacturing establishments moved into the area west of Elmwood Avenue. The most prominent were the cotton mills, jewelry manufacturers, and other firms such as the Gorham Manufacturing Company on Adelaide Avenue which made silverware and other articles from precious metals. From the 1850s on, Elmwood was also an expanding middle and upper-middle class residential quarter that stretched along Elmwood and Potters Avenues, and Public, Stanwood, Bucklin, Greenwich, and Madison streets. This area now is part of both Elmwood and the neighborhood of West Elmwood, which is actually part of the West End.
By 1865, upper Elmwood streets such as West Friendship and Dartmouth Streets were lined with the homes of carpenters, painters, roofers, and others engaged in building trades, shop owners, and skilled factory workers. By the late 1870s, estates lined the entire length of the Greenwich Middle Road, renamed Greenwich Street in 1868, from Trinity Square to Columbus Square.
The rapid growth of residential population and the coming of the automobile in the 1910s and 1920s was largely responsible for a new trend in redevelopment. Garages, car salesrooms, and later, service stations became essential businesses that proliferated along Elmwood Avenue during the period just before 1920. However, it was not until the 1930s that the gradual redevelopment made an impact on the aesthetic quality of Elmwood Avenue. In 1938, bus service replaced the trolley, and as a result, Elmwood Avenue was widened substantially and the elm trees that J.J. Cooke had planted were removed, thereby changing the character of the neighborhood forever.
By the early 1950s, the housing stock in much of the area was beginning to age, and by the early 1960s, a significant proportion of the structures in the midsection of Elmwood were passing the age of 50. During this period, many of the large, single-family homes were converted to apartments. In addition, growing traffic congestion and noise on more important roads made the suburban feel of Elmwood only a memory. This slow deterioration and the construction of Interstate 95, which made long distance commuting to work in Providence more feasible, led to the gradual departure of much of the sizable middle-class population.
Elmwood, unlike Olneyville or Federal Hill, was never filled with tenement housing or a large blue collar population. That population did exist, but not so much that the overall character of the neighborhood was altered. The area near the intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Adelaide Avenue, on Lexington, Lenox, and Atlantic Avenues, and the area towards the Locust Grove cemetery were at one time home to some of the more fashionable addresses in the whole city of Providence. More recently, there has been an attempt by both neighborhood residents and young urban professionals from throughout Providence and all of Rhode Island to move into that part of Elmwood and restore many of these old mansions.
In the early and mid 1970s the process of urban decay became more visible. Spot demolition of structures was common along the older streets. Vacant and abandoned housing caused blight and were particularly concentrated in the upper and middle sections of Elmwood. These blighting influences depressed property values and encouraged disinvestment. The neighborhood has been significantly revitalized, due largely to the work of area organizations.
Although Elmwood experienced significant demographic changes over the last decade, it remains one of the city’s most ethnically, culturally and racially diverse neighborhoods. The ethnic and cultural diversity of the neighborhood is reflected in the commercial uses lining Elmwood Avenue and Broad Street, making these street two of the most interesting and dynamic thoroughfares in the city. These stores, restaurants and small businesses have always provided Elmwood residents, new immigrants and other residents of the Southside of Providence with places to find necessary services, to work, to eat and to shop.
Edgewood – Cranston
Before the Civil War, what today is the densely developed Edgewood neighborhood was mainly a farming village near Narragansett Bay.
The area was part of Roger Williams’ Providence Purchase in 1637, but by 1870, there were only 20 houses and two hotels there, according to the state historical commission.
Accessibility improved in 1879, when a horse-drawn streetcar line was extended from Providence to Pawtuxet Village, and developers began to buy the farmlands.
Other improvements that attracted development included electrified street cars on Broad Street (1892), a municipal water system (1881), and gas and electrical services.
In the late 1870s, a real estate developer, William Hall, bought the Joseph Sweet estate, in the part of Edgewood that includes the Hall Library on Broad Street. Hall’s wife picked the name Edgewood for the new suburb, according to a report from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.
Edgewood has a number of National Register historic districts and buildings, including the Norwood Avenue Historic District, the Edgewood Historic District — Taft Estate Plat, the Pawtuxet Village Historic District, which is in both Cranston and Warwick; the Rosedale Landing condos at 1180 Narragansett Blvd., and the Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet ballroom and gazebo.
Other suburban plats were developed in Edgewood in the late 1800s and early 1900s as it became one of the region’s most fashionable residential areas.
“From the first, Edgewood attracted wealthy businessmen from Providence who were drawn by its convenience to the city, the natural beauty of the bay, and its proximity to Roger Williams Park,” according to a commission survey report on Cranston. “….Typical of people who settled in Edgewood were William S. Cherry of Cherry and Webb, who acquired the Home Society grounds, the present site of the Rosedale Apartments [now condominiums]; George L. Vose, a jewelry manufacturer who built his home at 1895 Broad Street; and George R. Babbitt, president of the American Oil Company of Providence, who resided at 130 Shaw Avenue.”
Today Edgewood’s proximity to the Bay and to Providence remain attractive for new residents. The neighborhood offers a wide variety of housing styles for rent and sale, including condominiums, multifamily and single-family houses. Current listings range in price from $114,900 for a house built in 1920 at 369 Bayview Ave. to $895,000 for waterfront contemporary style house built in 1904 at 62 Seaview Ave. in Pawtuxet Neck. The listings also include recently refurbished condos at the former Rosedale Apartments on Narragansett Boulevard, on a lawn fronting Narragansett Bay.
Ten historic industrial buildings are now the home of 113 loft apartments, a number of offices and two popular eateries, the Avenue N restaurant and a Seven Stars Bakery.
This neighborhood, west of Route 1A, also includes the Wannamoisett Country Club, a 105-acre golf and country club established in 1898.
Rumford Chemical Works, where chemist Eben Horsford formulated and, in 1865, patented Rumford Baking Powder, was established earlier, in 1853. The company’s chief executive, George F. Wilson, had acquired about 1,200 acres in Rumford, including what today is the country club property. Once a leading global producer of baking powder, the Rumford mill closed in 1968.
The 8.3-acre Rumford Chemical site was purchased in 2006 for $3.8 million by PK Rumford LLC, a joint venture between Peregrine Holdings and Kirkbrae Development. State historic rehabilitation tax credits helped to finance the $42-million project.
Colin Kane, of the Peregrine Group, credits the owners of Avenue N and Seven Stars for “activating” Rumford Center and being “the heartbeat of the place.” The Peregrine Group has its offices in Rumford Center, and Kane said the neighborhood is “an open and friendly place” with “the nicest neighbors in the world.”
Historic Rumford is separated from Providence’s East Side by the Seekonk River.
The area was first settled in 1643 by 58 Puritans from Weymouth, Mass., led by the Rev. Samuel Newman. They established the Ring of the Green, an early town common, meeting house and burial ground.
The Ring of the Green was created from 64 square miles purchased from the Indian chief Massassoit. The area included portions of what today are Greenwood and Pawtucket avenues, and Pleasant Street.
But the development of Rumford as a residential suburb did not get into gear until after the Great Depression, according to a report on East Providence by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.
“Prior to the 1930s much of it had remained open, despite the surveying of numerous subdivisions,” the report said. “The gently rolling land, the presence of two country clubs, and the filling out of Providence’s East Side by the 1920s made Rumford appealing for the middle class of both Providence and Pawtucket. Some of the new houses were larger and more costly than most erected in East Providence up until that time. Still, most of these dwellings remained the products of builders rather than architects.”
Today, Wannamoisett has some of the city’s priciest real estate. Much of the housing in the Wannamoisett neighborhood is single-family houses built in the 1930s and 1940s, on lots of about 5,000 to 10,000 square feet.
The Mayors Center for City Services – https://www.providenceri.com/ONS
Neighborhood of the Week – http://www.providencejournal.com/