The Upper South Providence neighborhood is located on the west side of the Providence River, immediately south of Downtown Providence. It is bounded by Interstates 95 and 195 to the north, the Providence River to the east, Public Street to the south, and Broad Street to the west. While much of the neighborhood is residential, Upper South Providence also includes the Jewelry District near downtown, which was once the site of heavy industry and manufacturing but which is now being touted as part of the new arts and entertainment district of the city.
Again, just as Wanskuck and Charles make up the "North End" for most Providence residents, some feel that Upper South Providence and Lower South Providence together comprise "South Providence" or the "Southside." Upper South Providence is marked by the size and number of institutions located there including Rhode Island Hospital, the Providence Campus of the Community College of Rhode Island, and many other social service organizations. This institutional theme makes this neighborhood separate from Lower South Providence where there is a more strictly residential pattern of development.
The South Providence area was part of Roger Williams' original purchase from the Narragansett Indians in 1636, and the area was predominantly used as pasture land. In 1725, the Pequot Path was established and was later transformed into Pawtuxet cart road, a major connector for Providence with the agricultural and trading center of Pawtuxet Village on the Cranston/Warwick border. In 1754, all of present day South Providence was ceded to form part of the new town of Cranston and did not rejoin Providence again until 1868.
The effects of industrialization and immigration contributed to a tremendous population increase when Providence doubled in the number of residents reaching 104,857 between 1860 and 1880. Upper South Providence was attractive to industry because of the availability of large plats of undeveloped land easily accessible to downtown. That growth of industry spawned residential development.
South Providence became a vital community with rows of substantial new houses built closely together. By 1868, the Irish settlement in Upper South Providence had expanded into Lower South Providence. As the Irish community grew during the late 19th century, so did industry. There were also a substantial number of Jewish residents of the area. Many members of the Jewish community in Upper South Providence have since left for the nearby municipalities of Cranston and Warwick, recently leaving the one remaining Temple on Broad Street vacant.
There were two areas in Upper South Providence where industrial growth dominated, Pine Street and Dogtown. Pine Street runs parallel to Friendship Street southwesterly across Upper South Providence through a residential extension of the West Side Business district. During the first 40 years of the 19th century, the land holdings of the Providence Aqueduct Company, the West Burial Ground, and the Hospital Lands created a barrier that limited development in that area. In 1832, Providence Aqueduct Company subdivided its land between Pine and Broad Streets, thereby making the first residential settlement possible.
Pine and Friendship Streets had been extended to the area from the West Side business district by the early 1840s and the remainder of the street grid west of Friendship Street and north of Dudley Street was established by 1844. Overall, the lack of public transportation limited the expansion of the northern sections of Upper South Providence. Most of the residential settlement during this period was concentrated to the north of Lockwood Street because it was a tolerable one mile walk to Downtown Providence.
The second area of industrial growth was Dogtown, located at the central part of today's Upper South Providence. Most residents of Dogtown were Irish immigrants who were primarily employed in industrial complexes on the Upper South Providence waterfront to the east of the Pawtuxet Turnpike (Eddy Street) and along Prairie Avenue. The availability of large, inexpensive, waterfront sites near downtown, that were once hospital lands, spurred various industries. In addition, the Pawtuxet Turnpike and the Providence-Stonington Railroad tracks, which are still visible in the pavement nearby the property along present day Allens Avenue, provided convenient and efficient routes.
By the 1870s, Upper South Providence was a predominantly rental community of two-family houses. Single family homes existed in fewer numbers and were usually more elaborate and pretentious than the earlier ones of the 1860s. In the late 1880s, there was large scale speculative subdivision. These newly completed homes were easier to finance because they were being sold on a monthly payment plan rather than having to pay a lump sum. In 1879, the first horse car line opened on Broad Street, making the nearby land more valuable as the development of both Upper and Lower South Providence began to take off.
Construction in the 1870s and 1880s was limited to middle and upper-class single-family housing. When the trolley line was electrified in 1892, it meant faster transportation, encouraging middle-class homeowners to move and settle to newly developing areas south of Chester Avenue. By 1900, streetcar lines made it easy to get downcity, industry provided jobs, and there was an adequate supply of affordable housing. There were elegant homes lining Broad Street and Pine Street while there were more modest homes towards the port facility and downtown. Many of these mansions and tenement structures still line the streets of the neighborhood and are often the target of redevelopment efforts.
Immigration, industrialization, and speculative development culminated between 1900 and 1950. The Irish community remained dominant, but by the 1950s many families were entering their second and third generation in the United States and were becoming more prosperous. A significant number started to move into the newer suburbs of Washington Park and Edgewood in Cranston and also to the Elmhurst and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods or Providence. After 1950, the rise in the popularity of the automobile intensified suburbanization. At the same time, street improvements and expansion resulted in the loss of tree-lined streetscapes.
More landscape was lost as small yards and back lots were converted into driveways and garages. As car-owning tenants started to look beyond South Providence, the area experienced a gradual decrease in the middle class and older population. This decline in population meant an increase in the supply of cheap rental housing and consequently contributed to lower land values. This combination promoted absenteeism among landlords, who had little incentive to keep the properties well-maintained for the increasing population of poor tenants.
Similar to what happened in Smith Hill, the construction of Intersection 95 and 195 created both a physical and psychological barrier between Upper South Providence and both downtown Providence and the port facilities. The construction also resulted in the clearance of some neighborhood houses.
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