Between 1860 and 1880, Providence’s population doubled in size. With this flood of newcomers seeking employment in rapidly expanding industrial and manufacturing sectors came the high demand for housing. Areas to the the west and northwest of the city center were bought and opened up for development, close to employment bases like Brown and Sharpe, Nicholson File Company, and American Locomotive Works.
On October 1, 1883, the Providence Journal wrote on the proliferation of construction of new homes in the Smith Hill area: “The 10th Ward continues to grow more rapidly than any other ward in the city…for both the amount invested and the number of buildings erected.” It was around this time that a major developer and investor Andrew Dickhaut completed several groups of small, “cookie-cutter” cottages as rental investment properties in Smith Hill on Fillmore, Bath, Lydia, and Duke Streets. Upon their building, the cottages on each of these streets represented an important alternative to multi-family housing common to their time period -- the cottages were small, but private, single family homes. Today, the homes on Bath Street make up the largest surviving group of small workers’ dwellings in Providence.
The Dickhaut Cottages that line the east side of Bath Street off of Orms Street occupied approximately half of a long block, about 1.25 acres. Typical of such late nineteenth-century residential development, these houses are built close together on narrow lots, and are at the sidewalk line. The houses built by Dickhaut and his heirs fall into two categories. The ones on Bath Street, all made of wood, are “Type A” clapboard-sheathed with a three bay façade, hooded entrance, side hall plan, and a pair of windows in the gable end. “Type B,” built in 1891 on Duke Street, had more elaborate features like decorative shingle panels and turned-spindle porches.
According to the 1892 Directory of Providence, when the houses were organized by street address, several tenants appear to be employed at local mills and factories as machinists and laborers. Early occupants represent a typical immigrant neighborhood for the time: Irish, Armenian, Scandinavian, and Jewish. We can deduce that these original occupants were successful enough to rent single family homes within a rapidly growing neighborhood, rather than sharing closer accommodations with others -- either other families or their own extended ones. These houses were modest and usually built with only the basic amenities. While the early tenants did not own the properties in which they dwelled, which was a clear sign of upward mobility, these occupants were able to afford a small bit of rented land with a modicum of privacy.