13 properties from 1885 to 1924
Our 2017 Festival highlighted the Upper Elmwood Historic District, centered by Princeton Avenue. The neighborhood offers stunning architecture from one of Providence’s greatest growth periods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and is both a vibrant and diverse community due to its long history as a portal for immigration.
Upper Elmwood Neighborhood
Situated about a mile from Providence’s central business district, Elmwood has been a neighborhood of constant change, shaped predominately by the city’s period of greatest growth, from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.
Originally an agricultural adjunct of Providence, it became part of Cranston when that city was established in 1754. The vast farmlands served the rapidly growing population of Providence, eventually giving way to modest suburban estates.
In 1850, the area was named “Elmwood,” after a farm acquired by Joseph Cooke several years earlier. During the 1850s, the road grid was laid out and an omnibus [electric trolley route] was created to connect the neighborhood with downtown Providence.
After Elmwood was annexed back to Providence in 1868, the neighborhood saw its busiest period of development. Large, fashionable houses were built for the upper class along Elmwood Avenue and Broad Street. Dense blocks of smaller, Victorian-era housing filled in between the two thoroughfares for the burgeoning middle class.
After the advent of the automobile, changes continued in Elmwood. The electric trolleys were replaced with buses, while tree-lined Elmwood Avenue was widened to accommodate traffic. Many of the vast townhouses were replaced with automobile-oriented businesses.
Suburban flight hit Elmwood hard after the opening of the interstate highways in the 1950s. High crime, neglected properties, and spot demolition plagued the neighborhood until the 1980s, when preservation efforts saved much of the historic housing stock. Upper Elmwood was designated an historic district in 1980.
Today, Elmwood is one of the city’s most culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse neighborhoods. At a time when our country is wrestling with social issues, it is appropriate that this tour highlights the efforts of Elmwood’s residents to restore and unify their community.