College Hill, Providence, Rhode Island

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Providence neighborhoods with College Hill in red

College Hill is a neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island, and one of six neighborhoods comprising the East Side of Providence and part of College Hill Historic District. It is roughly bounded by North Main Street to the west, Power Street to the south, Governor Street and Arlington Avenue to the east and Olney Street to the north. The name refers to the two major educational institutions established in the neighborhood: Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. Prior to their development, the area was known as Prospect Hill. College Hill is also home to Thayer Street, a shopping strip frequented by students in the Providence area.

College Hill is the most affluent neighborhood in Providence, with a median family income of nearly three times that of the city as a whole.

College Hill has been designated as one of the Great Places in America[1] by the American Planning Association in 2011. College Hill became an example of preservation planning in 1959. An urban renewal and revitalization project was demonstrated by the Providence Preservation Society in 1959. The report titled College Hill: A Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal contained an inventory of properties and developed a historic area zoning ordinance and methods for integrating historic areas into future redevelopment. This report led to the neighborhood becoming a historic district and the project was noted as a national landmark and example for preservation as a means of community renewal. This preservation and reuse has allowed for the historic houses to become museums. Adaptive reuse has given new life to historic houses as museums. Sustainability is exemplified in the recently renovated Brown Street Park. The neighborhood is also connected to the downtown by the Riverwalk and many modes of transportation including bus, trolley, car, bike or walking.


Around the time of the founding of the colony of Providence Plantations the farm of Rev. Chad Brown occupied the hill. Settled around North Main Street in 1636, nearly all of Providence was originally on College Hill. By the time of the American Revolution, the foot of the hill was densely populated with wharves, warehouses, shops, public buildings, and residential houses. In 1770, the college that became Brown University was moved to the old Brown farm and over the next century would gradually expand. In the nineteenth century, precious metals and jewellery trading drove much business on North Main Street, and RISD was established in 1877. By the 1900s, Brown had begun expanding more aggressively, demolishing nearly 100 houses in the 1950s for a residential quadrangle area.

In the post-war years, Providence went into a decline. Many of the neighborhood's more historic centers were in disrepair and were slated for demolition as part of urban renewal projects. The Providence Preservation Society[2] intervened and the area is now home to one of the country's largest restored collections of 18th and 19th century Victorians and colonials.

Architecture and preservation[edit]

College Hill boasts architectural styles from the 18th century forward, including residences and institutional structures located along tree-lined streets with sidewalks. Some of the elegant homes include the Georgian-style John Brown House built in 1786 and the Renaissance Revival Governor Henry Lippitt House built in 1865. Both are National Historic Landmarks and museums. College Hill also has numerous churches built in the Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic, Greek Revival, and Renaissance architectural styles. The Fleur De Lys Studio is also part of the collection of historic buildings in College Hill. This cultural institution is inspired by the half-timbered stucco houses of Chester, England. The Providence Athenaeum built in 1838 is one of the nation’s oldest libraries and is an example of Greek-Revival architecture.[1]

Benefit Street in College Hill was once home to many wealthy business men. During the 1950s experienced a decline and then a rediscovery of historic houses along Benefit Street. These houses were occupied mostly by Providence's early minority population and were often subdivided into tenements. These units were dilapidated and without adequate facilities and were targets for demolition under one of the city's proposed urban renewal projects. Due to the Providence Preservation Society these plans were changed and the area became one of the first urban renewal projects in the country to encompass rehabilitation as opposed to demolition and redevelopment. Today nearly all of the buildings on or near historic Benefit Street have been renovated and the area is home to one of the finest cohesive collections of restored 17th- and 18th-century architecture in the United States.[3]


College Hill is divided along Angell Street between Ward One to the south and Ward Two to the north.[4][5]

As of the 2006 elections, Ward One is represented in the Providence City Council by Seth Yurdin and Ward Two by Cliff Wood. Both are Democrats.

The Providence skyline from College Hill

Major public buildings include the Providence County Courthouse and the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General. Both are located on North Main Street, at the bottom of College Hill. The Rhode Island Supreme Court is located along Benefit Street.


75.6% of College Hill residents are white while 13.6% are Asian, both well-above the city-wide averages of 54.5% and 6.2% respectively. African-Americans and Hispanics each comprise about 5% of the population.[6]

Median family income on College Hill is $121,521, well above the city-wide average. About 5% of households live below the poverty line. Fewer than 1% of households receive any public assistance.[6]

Universities and schools[edit]

College Hill is home to Brown University, and most of Rhode Island School of Design's buildings are adjacent to Brown, along the western slope of College Hill.

The Moses Brown School, on Lloyd Avenue and the Wheeler School, on Hope Street, are notable private schools on College Hill.

Hope High School is located at the corner of Hope and Olney Streets, is one of Providence's major public high schools.[7]

Shopping and restaurants[edit]

Numerous cafes, restaurants, and shops are located along Thayer Street, adjoining Brown University at Soldier's Arch. Both streets are home to numerous small and independent shops, though Thayer Street has a few chain stores. Brown University's bookstore is located on Thayer.[8] Thayer Street's Avon Cinema, dating back to the early twentieth century, is a noted College Hill landmark.[9]


  • Prospect Terrace Park is a park located on top of College Hill that allows for a scenic view of downtown Providence and the city and county beyond.
  • Riverwalk, located along the Providence River, is where part of Waterfire is held.
  • Roger Williams National Memorial on North Main Street.
  • Veterans' Memorial Park and Market Square between South Main Street and Canal Street.
Benefit Street, the heart of College Hill


The base of College Hill is the oldest area of the city. The College Hill Historic District includes much of the area and has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark District by the Department of the Interior. The Providence Preservation Society[10] and the Rhode Island Historical Society have preserved numerous historic buildings in the College Hill area. Landmarks include:


Coordinates: 41°50′N 71°24′W / 41.83°N 71.4°W / 41.83; -71.4