The College Hill 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. College Hill is one of only a few neighborhoods in the city where considerable development occurred during the 20th century.
College Hill 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, College Hill 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 College Hill 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 College Hill 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, College Hill 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 College Hill area began to fill in with single-family homes that were architecturally distinctive. During this period, College Hill 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 College Hill 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 College Hill neighborhood remains primarily residential and is one of the city's most affluent neighborhoods.
According to the 2000 census, 7,358 persons resided in College Hill, an increase of about 1.5 percent from 1990 when 7,250 residents lived in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is predominantly white; 2.1 percent of the population is Hispanic, 1.5 percent African American, and 3.8 percent Asian. In 2000, nearly all residents (91%) age 25 or older were high school graduates and almost half of all residents (41%) had a graduate or professional degree. One in six of the employed residents in the College Hill neighborhood were employed in the professional services sector. The unemployment rate in 2000 was 6 percent, substantially higher than the 2.4 percent rate from 1990, but still below the citywide figure of 9.3 percent.
The median family income in College Hill in 1989 was $121,521, nearly four times the city's median family income of $32,058. 5 percent of the population in College Hill was living below poverty in 2000; the poverty rates for families and children were each below 2 percent.
One in three housing units were occupied by their owners in 2000, and a quarter of all housing units in College Hill are single-family, detached homes. Almost 9 out of 10 housing units were constructed more than 40 years ago. In 2004 the median residential sales price in College Hill was $404,000, almost double the citywide median sales price of $220,000. Median rents were 21 percent higher than the citywide rate. According to the 2000 Census, half of all College Hill homeowners moved into their present housing unit more than five years ago.
Sources: College Hill: Neighborhood Analysis, Department of Planning and Urban Development (City of Providence, 1977) and Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources, edited by William McKenzie Woodward and Edward F. Sanderson (Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1986).