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.
For most current information visit www.provplan.org