West Side Of Providence

Beyond Interstate 95 lies Providence’s West Side. A concrete bridge over a river of traffic takes you into the city of immigrants and strivers, of industrialists in Broadway mansions and mill workers in cramped triple-deckers.

Colonial Providence, huddled along the Providence River, was built on shipping and the slave trade. By the early nineteenth century, textile mills had changed the economy, the result of Eli Whitney’s gin and Samuel Slater’s industrial espionage. The new manufacturing city spread across the low-lying flats of the Weybosset side and climbed the hills south of the Woonasquatucket River.

The mills needed labor and recruiters looked abroad. First, the Irish from the mill towns of Ulster who flooded in after 1845 to escape the famine. By 1865, a third of Providence’s fifty-five thousand residents were Irish born; many settled at the east end of Atwells Avenue and further west around the mills of Olneyville.

After 1880, a sweeping current of immigration from Southern Europe poured into Providence on Fabre Line ships from Naples. The Italian arrivals worked in the mills and jewelry manufactories of the “Beehive of Industry.” The turn of the century saw massive global migrations, and many nationalities contributed to the life of the polyglot city. Germans, Swedes, Portuguese, Polish, and French Canadians. Jews escaping the pogroms of Russia and Armenians fleeing massacre. Many found a home on the city’s West Side.

By 1915, two-thirds of Providence’s 250,000 were immigrants or the children of immigrants. Income inequality was glaring, and never more visible than on the West Side where the Broadway mansions of the elite fronted the factories and tenements of the back streets. The West Side’s radicals and reformers spoke their mind and fought for change.

In 1921, the flow of immigrants was stanched by restrictive quota laws targeting Southern Europeans. Not until 1965 did the quota system change, bringing new arrivals to diversify a city struggling with the loss of industry.

Today, the West Side is a dynamic community, home to native-born and immigrant, coming from every corner of our country and our planet to build a better life in Providence: Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Guatemala; the Hmong, Cambodians and Vietnamese; Africans from Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria.

Walk the West Side and see the city of the Irish famine and French Canadian mill workers, the city of the Italian diaspora and Armenian refuge, and the new city being built in one of the most diverse communities in America.

Garibaldi Park and the Welcome Gateway

In the spring of 1975, women with sledgehammers marched on what was then called Franklin Park to attack a dilapidated bathhouse. Built in 1911 to serve the crowded Italian immigrant community, the bathhouse had outlived its usefulness. The women…

Burrington Anthony House

In 1842, this Federal-style house was the headquarters of a political revolution. The owner Burrington Anthony was a supporter of Thomas Wilson Dorr and his effort to expand voting rights. At that time, only white men of property could vote,…

Coin-O-Matic

A darker side of Federal Hill’s history was made from this unassuming storefront. The Coin-O-Matic was the headquarters of the Patriarca crime family, one of the most ruthless and powerful criminal organizations in the United States. Raymond L.S.…

Federal Hill Riots and The Frank P. Ventrone Block

The Federal Hill Riots of 1914, often called the “Macaroni Riots,” epitomize the struggle of immigrant communities in Rhode Island. As World War I was breaking out, food prices spiked. Laborers gathered on street corners to listen to…

DePasquale Square

If Garibaldi Park and the Gateway Arch are the welcoming arms of Federal Hill, DePasquale Square is its beating heart. The quatrefoil fountain and wide plaza were built as part of the Federal Hill revitalization effort. Back in the day, however, this…

Federal Hill House

While some radicals fought against a system that they saw as rigged, other radical acts came from the world of privilege. Alida Sprague Whitmarsh was born into a wealthy family but devoted herself to helping the poor working women of Providence. In…

Holy Ghost Church

In 1885, there were fewer than 500 Italian-born in Providence; within a generation, over twenty-thousand. In Italy in 1889, Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini’s society sent missionaries to Providence and formed the Holy Ghost parish to serve the…

Columbus Theater

At its opening in 1926, the Columbus Theater was touted as “a testimonial to the Italian people.” The late Beaux-Arts theater was built, designed and decorated by Italians: owner Domenic Annotti, architect Oresto DiSaia, and muralist George…

Barnaby Castle

This extravagant pile was designed in two phases (1875 and 1888) by renowned Providence architects Stone, Carpenter & Willson, but tradition states that the emphatic personality of its owner determined the eclectic mix of shapes and styles.…

Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church

Completed in 1892 to serve the wealthy Episcopalians of Broadway, and home for ten years to the African-American Church of the Savior, this Alpheus C. Morse-designed Romanesque Revival church has been Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church since…

Bell Street Chapel

Providence’s exquisite jewel box of a French neo-classical temple, the Bell Street Chapel, was built in 1875 for art dealer and engraver James Eddy after a design by storied Providence architect William R. Walker. Eddy dedicated his church “to…

Kendrick-Prentice Tirocchi House

This extravagantly embellished house is still called the Wedding Cake House in spite of its current desperate search for rehabilitation. The first owner John Kendrick was an inventor whose American Supply Company dominated the global market in loom…

St. Mary’s Catholic Church

St. Mary's is a Gothic Revival monument to the Irish history of Providence. As textile mills changed the industrial landscape of the city in the early 19th century, Irish from Ulster came to work in those mills, many just down the hill in Olneyville.…

West Broadway Neighborhood Association

Repurposing older structures is a tenet of historic preservation. Here the West Broadway Neighborhood Association practices what it preaches. Since 1983, the WBNA has been one of the strongest and most active neighborhood associations in the city.…

Ebenezer Knight Dexter and The Dexter Training Ground

This nine-acre park was a gift from one of the greatest philanthropists in Providence’s history, a man whose charitable giving still has an impact on city life. Ebenezer Knight Dexter (1773-1824) descended from land-rich colonial Rhode Islanders.…

Providence Armory

The yellow-brick, copper-crenellated Providence Armory, one of the most monumental structures in the city, anchors this historic neighborhood of wood-frame buildings and tree-lined streets. Owned by the State of Rhode Island and partially occupied…

Ebenezer Baptist Church

The congregation of Ebenezer Baptist Church was born from the first independent African-American church in Providence. In 1819, black congregants withdrew from the First Baptist Church and built the African Union Meeting and Schoolhouse. In 1884, an…

Grant Mill

Grant Mill offers a window into Providence’s industrial past and an example of how the city’s industrial buildings have been repurposed for a changing economy. An earlier textile mill was replaced around World War I by this four-story brick…

Thomas S. and Vincent Luongo Memorial Square

Luongo Memorial Square was named in honor of Thomas S. and Vincent Luongo, World War I veterans who lived nearby. Before the name change in 1938, this was Decatur Square and is today a rare space in the city that evokes 19th century city life. The…

Canonicus Square

Canonicus was the Narragansett sachem who offered refuge to Roger Williams and his party in 1636, but before this place was named that in a fit of Colonial Revival fervor, it was popularly called Hoyle Square. In 1953, Rhody Photo News said the…

All Saints Memorial Church

Providence was once a city of churches. All Saints' Memorial Church is one of the last of the religious communities that grew on “Christian Hill” in the 19th century. Within a stone’s throw were the Stewart Street Baptist Church, the High…

Interstate 95

After World War II, Providence's fortunes were shifting. Textile jobs had moved south. Industry was leaving. Jewelry manufacturing went offshore. Between 1950 and 1980, the population of the city declined by a third. These western neighborhoods were…
This tour was produced in partnership with the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau (PWCVB) and supported by a generous grant from the Providence Tourism Council.