Silver Lake is situated in the western part of Providence, bordered by the West End to the east, Olneyville to the northeast, Hartford to the north, the town of Johnston to the west, and the city of Cranston to the south. One of the most recently developed neighborhoods in Providence, Silver Lake underwent rapid urbanization beginning around the turn of the century and continuing for approximately three decades.
Silver Lake was a rural area with sparse agricultural development throughout the 18th century and much of the 19th century. In 1710, the Plainfield Road was laid from Silver Lake to Plainfield, Connecticut. Soon thereafter, in 1720, the area's first settlers established King Farm. By the end of the century, several more families established farms in the area, primarily along the highway. While the Silver Lake settlement was part of Providence, its remote location allowed for very little involvement with the city. In fact, by the mid-1700s, a large portion of Silver Lake residents sought to secede from Providence. In 1759, the town of Johnston annexed Silver Lake, thus reinforcing its rural character for well into the next century. In fact, there is a now defunct dairy farm structure still standing on Lowell Avenue near Pocasset Avenue.
Industrial growth along the Woonasquatucket River Valley propelled the first wave of suburban residential development in Silver Lake. With the establishment of industry in the river valley during the mid-19th century, the residential area of Olneyville began to expand into the area's northeast section. This continuing addition of streets and houses gradually changed Silver Lake from a rural area into a suburban neighborhood. Developers attempted further residential construction during this same period, yet many of their proposed projects for suburbanization never proceeded beyond the planning stage. Perhaps this lack of coordination accounts for the fairly unorganized street pattern existing now.
While expansion from Olneyville and new development projects altered Silver Lake, improved transportation ultimately proved to be the driving force behind Silver Lake's suburbanization and eventual urbanization. The Plainfield Street trolley was completed in 1882, and additional trolley lines were soon developed along Union and Hartford Avenues. With this expansion of services, the entire area of Silver Lake underwent extensive residential development.
In 1898, this newly suburban area was finally re-acquired by the city of Providence from Johnston. In 1919, Providence expanded the size of its recent acquisition by annexing a section of Johnston's Neutaconkanut Hill. At this time, Providence's new neighborhood, formerly known as "the Annex," came to be called Silver Lake. Neutaconkanut Hill Park provides much needed open space for the western part of the city and includes hiking trails, basketball courts and baseball fields.
Development in Silver Lake began in the late 1800s, the heaviest building years were from the turn of the century to the Great Depression. During this period of growth, two distinct communities began to emerge in Silver Lake. One area, located in the northern part of Silver Lake in close proximity to the Olneyville and Hartford neighborhoods, became a lower middle class community. The other area, in the southern portion of Silver Lake near Cranston, developed as a community of single-family, middle-income homes.
Silver Lake has undergone few physical changes since the early part of this century. As with residential construction, Silver Lake's institutional growth, including churches, schools, and fire stations, was also confined to the early decades of the 20th century. Many area residents utilize the Silver Lake/Annex Community Center on Plainfield Street. St. Bartholomew's Church on Laurel Hill Avenue is also very important to the neighborhood.
According to the 2000 census, 10,943 persons resided in Silver Lake, an increase from the 9,141residents who called Silver Lake home in 1990. Between 1990 and 2000 the percentage of minorities in Silver Lake rose from 11 percent to 57.6 percent. 42 percent of Silver Lake's residents are Hispanic; 42% are White; 3.7 percent are Asian; and 8 percent are African-American. In 2000, more than half (58%) of the residents of age 25 or older were high school graduates.
Slightly more than one in four (28%) employed residents in Silver Lake worked in the manufacturing sector in 2000. Education, health, and social services (18%) and retail trade (10%) were the next two largest sources of employment for Silver Lake residents in 2000. The unemployment rate in Silver lake in 2000 was 22.5% higher than the citywide average (12% version 9.3%).
Median family income in Silver Lake was $27,981, about thirteen percent lower than the citywide median family income. Almost a third of all persons in Silver Lake had an income below the poverty level in 1999, according to the census, and 28 percent of all families were living in poverty, double the number from 1990. Silver Lake's youngest residents were twice as likely to be living in poverty in 2000 than in 1990. The poverty rate for children in 2000 is 43.1%, more than double the number from 1990; for persons 65 years and over, the poverty rate in 2000 is 23%, a slight decrease from 1990.
Housing tenure in Silver Lake has changed slightly over the past decade. The proportion of owner-occupied housing units declined from 36.6 percent to 35 percent between 1990 and 2000. About a fifth of all housing units in Silver Lake is a single-family unit, and most other structures house two to four families. 8 percent of all housing units in Silver Lake are located in buildings with five or more housing units, reflecting the more suburban character of much of the neighborhood.
Though this neighborhood has few buildings that would qualify as historically significant, the housing stock in Silver Lake is among the oldest in the city. More than three out of four housing units were built more than 40 years ago, and half were built more than 60 years ago. The median residential sales price in Silver Lake in 2004 was $216,500, just under the city median sales price of $220,000. Median rents are about 3 percent higher in Silver Lake than the citywide median. Nearly a third of all residents in Silver Lake moved to their present housing unit within the past five years according to the 2000 census, while another third moved in more than 10 years ago.
Sources: Silver Lake: 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).