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Created through the efforts of the Proprietors of Swan Point Cemetery, “The Boulevard,” as it is commonly called, introduced an early element of the City Beautiful movement to Providence. Swan Point’s location at the city’s northeast corner, highly remote for its first half century, encouraged the development of this handsome approach, in one sense a virtual extension of the cemetery’s design precepts into the city itself. No doubt the presence of architect Alfred Stone on the Swan Point Proprietors’ Board of Directors (and cemetery president from 1896 to 1908) played an important role in the organization’s decision to pursue the boulevard’s creation. In 1886, the cemetery engaged Horace W.S. Cleveland (1814-1900; [Butler Hospital and Roger Williams Park]), the Chicago-based landscape architect, to design this winding and gently undulating two-and-a-quarter-mile-long boulevard with lushly planted esplanade. Work did not begin until 1892, and the drives were completed two years later. Cleveland died before the project’s end, and Olmstead Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts, completed the planting. As originally realized, the strategically placed trees and shrubbery were complemented by vast planting beds of annuals and perennials. A trolley line ran along the middle of the esplanade to the trolley shelter (1904; Stone, Carpenter & Willson, architects) opposite the entrance of the cemetery until 1947. As outdoor activities in the form of walking and running increased in the 1970s, the City of Providence responded to the new use of the boulevard for recreational purposes by formalizing a jogging path along the former trolley alignment. Blackstone Boulevard draws strollers, walkers, and runners from a wide area; it is one of the most heavily used public spaces in the city, and, consequently, one of the best places for even solidarity rambles from early in the morning to late at night. The boulevard is an exceptionally fine urban green space, but the substantial houses that line it are somewhat less satisfying, especially in the city with such consistently high quality of design. Notable exceptions to the boulevard’s generally middling architecture include Clark & Spaulding’s Tudor Revival house for Prescott and Mary Clarke (1895-96) at 203 Blackstone Boulevard; the Beresford-Nicholson House (1910-12, 1919) at 288 Blackstone Boulevard designed by Clarke, Howe & Homer and remodeled by Jackson, Robertson & Adams for a principal in the Nicholson File Company about the same time that Olmsted Brothers landscaped the extensive grounds; and Clarke & Howe’s Alfred M. Coats House (1926) at 175 Upton Avenue, a splendid, rambling reinterpretation of early seventeenth-century English country houses. Curiously, most of the best houses adjacent to the boulevard quietly ignore it by orienting themselves away from the street.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

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© 2023 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.