Like many parts of Providence, the athletic fields beside Hope High School are built on fill, but unlike buildings along the old waterfront or over marshy ponds, these fields are built over a former man-made reservoir that served an important role in the city's water system.
When European colonists first began settling in Providence, their primary source of drinking water was wells dug deep in private yards, but the city's booming population in the 19th century began to both tax and pollute the city's well water supply. A report from the 1853 Committee on the Proposed Water Works maintained that a new water source was necessary as "into the sand, underlying the city, are deposited quantities of excrementitious matter, which, were it not susceptible of demonstration, would appear almost incredible. With our present population there is deposited on this sand about one hundred tons of excrementitious matter every twenty-four hours."
This argument was presumably compelling, for a municipal water system was introduced in 1872. It drew water from the Pawtuxet River and delivered it as-is into businesses and homes. (A sand-based filtration system was introduced in 1906.) In order to distribute water to neighborhoods at higher elevations, the system employed a series of holding reservoirs and high-powered pumping stations.
The pumping house at the Hope Reservoir, built in 1873, had two Corliss pumping engines, marble floors, walnut woodwork, and a dramatic tower with a cupola. The adjoining reservoir held 76,000,000 gallons of water on 15.6 acres of land; at 162.5 feet above sea level, it was well-positioned to deliver water to residents at higher elevations.
During Providence's rapid population growth in the early 20th century, water supply from the Pawtuxet River became inadequate, with water being drawn from backup storage tanks and other supplies during droughts. In the mid-1920s, construction began on the Scituate Reservoir, a massive reservoir that is still in use today.
The Hope Reservoir sat unused for some years; city officials decided in 1928 to use it for a school, with much-needed athletic fields, and drained it the next year, but the site remained vacant. (A 1931 news article described wayward East Side youth clambering down the reservoir's steep walls to skate and play hockey on the smooth ice at the bottom.) In 1936, Hope High School was finally constructed; its playing fields stretch across the former reservoir's footprint.