Summit Historic District
The Summit Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
The Summit Historic District contains 155 homes, 1 monument, and Jewish temple in a compact five-block area in the Hope neighborhood in northeast Providence. Bounded by Summit Avenue on the east, Rochambeau Avenue on the south, Camp Street on the west, and Memorial Road and Creston Way on the north, the district also includes parts of Colonial, Dexterdale, and Edgehill Roads. Situated on the western upper slope of a fairly steep hill east of the Moshassuck River, the district lies between two principal roadways Hope Street, at the crest of the hill one block east of Summit Avenue, and North Main Street, downhill one block west of Camp Street. Improvements in public transportation on Hope and North Main Streets greatly facilitated development of the Summit Historic District as a residential neighborhood between 1874 and 1950.
The Summit Historic District's development pattern is consistent with that of a historic suburb: "a homogeneous residential area built near the edge of the existing city from which residents commute daily to jobs in the center city." In 1874, when the City of Providence annexed all the land north of Rochambeau Avenue and east of North Main Street, this area was mostly farmland on the fringes of the developed city, three miles from the heart of Downtown. At that time, horse-drawn streetcars introduced in 1864, replaced with electric trolleys in the 1880s traversed North Main Street and the Pawtucket Turnpike as far north as the Pawtucket city line. By 1908, electric trolley service was also available along the entire length of Hope Street, to the Pawtucket line. These improvements, along with public utilities electricity, water, sewer and telephone lines gradually introduced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries made the Summit Historic District desirable for residential construction, and it was formally platted for development with house lots in 1916. The district's simple rectilinear street grid is fairly typical of a "streetcar suburb" even though the district lies within the city boundaries and was built up at a time when the automobile was becoming increasingly prevalent in Providence.
Most houses in the district were built between 1916 and 1936. House lots were sold to prospective home-builders in a standard increment of about 4,500 to 5,500 square feet, although lots on the north side of Rochambeau Avenue tended to be a bit bigger at 6,000 to 7,500 sq. ft. Twelve of the original homeowners on Colonial, Dexterdale, and Edgehill Roads merged two or more smaller lots together to create lots of 8,500 to 10,000 sq. ft. While single family houses are by far the norm, the district also includes numerous two-family houses and triple deckers, indicating that some rental units were mixed in with the owner-occupied homes.
In keeping with the suburban ideal of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, each house stood separately from its neighbor surrounded by open, green space: a setting intended to create a sense of peace, refuge, good health, clean living, and closeness to nature. Typically, the single-family and two-family houses observe a setback of about 20 feet from the street, lending visual consistency to the streetscapes. The few triple deckers, a more urban house type, stand a bit closer to the street. Concrete sidewalks about 3 feet wide separate the private front yards from the public streets; a narrow unpaved strip containing street trees, grass and occasional small plantings runs between sidewalk and curb. Nearly every house has a landscaped front yard with trees, shrubs, paved walkways, and planting beds; most of these yards are at street level, but a few have retaining walls of stone, concrete, or large timbers to compensate for the sloping grade of the hillside. For the most part, front yards are not enclosed although chain link fencing is popular on Camp Street. Every house has a paved driveway occupying one of the side yards; some of the two-family houses have driveways in both side yards. Most back yards are grass lawn, but contain a one-car or two-car garage predominantly built in the 1920s-1940s at the back end of the driveway. Other outbuildings, such as garden sheds, may also be found in some back yards, some of which are enclosed with either wood or chain link fencing. Both homes and landscaping appear well cared for by individual homeowners.
Of the 155 homes in the district, 136 were constructed between 1909 and 1951. The earliest house in the district dates to the Civil War Ezekiel Emerson House, 142 Rochambeau Avenue, 1860-1865; then, between 1875 and 1908, about a dozen more homes went up on Rochambeau and Summit Avenues. The cross streets Colonial, Dexterdale, Edgehill, Memorial Roads and Creston Way were all initially laid out in 1911; the southern half of the district was first platted for residential development in 1916, and the northern half, between 1923 and 1927. A huge boom in new construction followed: 25 houses were built between 1911-1918, 35 between 1919-1926, 50 between 1927-1937, and 26 between 1938-1951. Since 1951, only three new buildings have been constructed: houses at 25 Summit Avenue and 44 Edgehill Road, and Temple Beth Shalom at 120 Rochambeau Avenue. The house originally located on the site of the temple was moved one lot east to 124-26 Rochambeau Avenue to make room for its successor.
The district was built for and remains occupied by primarily middle class residents. Characteristically, the housing stock consists of 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 story, single-family, wood frame structures with gable or hip roofs, sheathed in clapboards, shingles, brick veneer or stucco some houses have since been covered with aluminum or vinyl siding. The forms of the houses reflect a suburban aesthetic promoting designs of modest size, simple and efficient layout, multipurpose rooms, and minimal embellishment. The district exhibits a mix of house types such as four-square, bungalow, double-and triple-decker and architectural fashions from the traditional late Victorian and revival styles Colonial, Dutch, Tudor to the then-innovative Craftsman style. Most houses have associated garages built separately at the rear of the lot in materials and designs similar to the primary structures. Of the 156 homes, 142 contribute to the historical and architectural significance of the district.
A well-preserved and cohesive example of a pre-World War II, middle-class, residential suburb on the East Side of Providence, the Summit Historic District has a significant concentration of architecturally consistent domestic buildings, most constructed between 1916 and 1951, that collectively demonstrate the "streetcar" and "early automobile" phases of suburban development in Providence. (See Streetcar Suburbs and Automobile Suburbs) The district is also important as an example of a residential subdivision largely created by the same family that had owned and farmed this land for nearly two centuries. Its 156 structures are primarily 1- to 2-story, single-family, wood frame and masonry homes in a mix of Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Bungalow styles, typical of early 20th century architectural design. The district's rectilinear street plan and small house lots indicate that it was originally planned for development at a time when travel by public streetcar was still the norm, but many homes have period garages behind them, demonstrating the rapidly rising popularity of the automobile in the 1920s and 1930s. Since the end of World War II, the district has retained all but one of its original buildings, and has seen very little new construction. Furthermore, although individual buildings have experienced some alterations, the overall architectural and visual character of the district remains largely intact, and it is still populated predominantly by middle-class residents. The Summit Avenue Historic District thus retains a high level of historic and architectural integrity.
The District reflects the confluence of several historical trends in Providence, and the United States as a whole, dating back to the mid 19th century. As the main focus of the American economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing in the early and mid 1800s, cities like Providence underwent a radical transformation. Factories were constructed, and expanded; new businesses were established and grew; railroads were built, eventually connecting to a transcontinental transportation network; and population increased dramatically as people arrived to seek the many economic opportunities available in cities. Those opportunities included not only factory jobs and other forms of manual labor, but also a new category of "white-collar" positions in business and trade: the managers, clerks, secretaries, bookkeepers, salespeople, bank tellers, and others who sat behind a desk or stood behind a counter every day. These white-collar workers as well as educators, civil servants, small business owners, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals evolved into a new socio-economic group popularly called the middle class. The middle class was typically well educated, had opportunities for social and professional advancement, and enjoyed an income level that afforded a comfortable lifestyle.
Suburban development on Providence's East Side mirrored national trends. In the eight decades between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War II, Providence became a metropolitan area. The city's textile, jewelry and silver, and metal products industries dominated American manufacturing, and overall industrial production made Rhode Island one of the wealthiest states per capita in America at the turn of the 20th century. The population jumped 460% between 1865 and 1945, with most of that growth occurring before 1910; in 1900 Providence was the 20th largest city in the country. This boom caused living conditions in many older neighborhoods to deteriorate, and created a tremendous demand for new housing. To provide more space for new development, the city annexed land from the surrounding towns of Cranston, Johnston and North Providence, more than tripling its land area between 1860 and 1900. Meanwhile, public utilities water and sewer lines, electricity and telephones were all introduced between 1870 and 1890, giving rise to an expectation that new homes would feature these modern conveniences, and making those new homes all the more attractive to middle-class renters and buyers. Public transportation systems facilitated the commute to downtown: horse-drawn streetcars began traversing principal streets in 1864, and by 1893 a network of electric street railways crisscrossed the city supplanted by buses and trackless trolleys in the 1920s and 1930s. The first practical automobiles intended for continuous operation appeared in Providence in 1896-1897; by 1930, cars had become ubiquitous. All of these trends prompted both wealthy and middle-class residents to relocate outside the city center between 1875 and 1945, transforming former agricultural lands on the edges of Providence into suburban neighborhoods. The Summit Historic District embodies this transformation.
From the founding of Providence in 1636 until the late 19th century, the land north of today's Rochambeau Avenue and east of what is now North Main Street was considered "the country." Rising up to the east of North Main Street was a steep hill, cresting at what is now Hope Street; further east of the crest was a large area of wetlands known as the Great Swamp. Both of these topographical features inhibited residential development in what is now the northeast corner of Providence, and despite being only a couple of miles removed from the center of town, the area remained sparsely settled and relatively inaccessible for some 250 years. As late as 1874, only four public roads traversed this area: the Pawtucket Turnpike North Main Street, East Avenue, Hope Street and the Neck Road to Pawtucket now a private road in Swan Point Cemetery, all running north/south, and North Street (Rochambeau Avenue) running East/West. The primary use for the land was agriculture, with a few houses scattered here and there for the resident farmers.
Jeremiah Dexter 1730-1807, a farmer, built himself a house in 1754 about a mile and a half north of the town center at Market Square. The house stood at the corner of two 17th century roads: the Common Road to Pawtucket and Hearnton's Lane now North Main Street and Rochambeau Avenue, respectively. Dexter's sizable farm of some 80 acres reached uphill from that intersection as far north as today's Fifth Street and as far east as what is now Hope Street. Near the end of the Revolutionary War, after the Battle of Yorktown in 1782, French troops under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau camped at the Dexter farm while en route to Boston for the voyage home. The names Camp Street 1782 and Rochambeau Avenue 1894 commemorate this event, as does the Rochambeau Encampment Marker 1907 in a small public park at the intersection of Summit Avenue and Brewster Street.
In 1765, a large tract of land was set off from Providence and incorporated as the Town of North Providence; the border was adjusted two years later so that Hearnton's Lane renamed North Street in 1856 marked the boundary between the two towns. The Dexter farm remained part of North Providence for more than a century.
Jeremiah Dexter died in 1807, survived by his wife and eight children. He left the farm equally divided among his three sons, Jeremiah, Stephen, and Edward. In 1817, Jeremiah Dexter, Jr, sold his sister Anna for $800 his full one-third share of their father's farm; Anna, who never married, had a life tenancy in one half of the Dexter farmhouse, which she shared with her brother Edward. Anna eventually inherited the shares of her brothers Stephen and Edward. Edward's will devised his interest to Anna for life and afterwards to the children of their sister Freelove Dexter Emerson, allocating two undivided thirds to niece Anna Emerson, and one undivided third to nephews Edward and Ezekiel Emerson Jr. In 1860 Anna's nephew Ezekiel Emerson, Jr. purchased a lot on North Street from his aunt, where he built his home 142 Rochambeau Avenue, ca. 1860-1865, the earliest house in the Summit Historic District. Upon Anna Dexter's death in 1874, her entire estate then passed to the children of her sister Freelove Anna Emerson Morris, Edward Dexter Emerson, and Ezekiel Emerson, Jr.
The same year that Anna Dexter died in 1874, Providence annexed a large portion of North Providence, including the entire Dexter farm, as the city's 10th Ward. At that time, all of the land area between North Street now Rochambeau Avenue, the Pawtucket Turnpike now North Main Street, the Pawtucket city line and the Seekonk River was still mostly occupied by farms and land-based businesses such as nurseries. Anticipating a demand for new house lots in this area, some landowners almost immediately began to convert their open lands into residential subdivisions; others waited decades, meanwhile continuing their agricultural pursuits. Between 1875 and 1930, various property owners recorded nearly a dozen different plats north of Rochambeau Avenue and east of North Main Street, ranging in size from a handful to hundreds of lots. Plat boundaries typically followed traditional property lines, giving many plats an irregular shape. Most plats featured a regular grid of streets, but where two plats came together, the streets sometimes met at awkward angles and formed odd-sized lots: a characteristic still cleanly discernible in current maps of the area. House lots were typically rectangular and contained between 4,000 and 5,000 sq. ft. Some plats also included deed restrictions governing the placement and type of new housing that could be built on individual lots.
The actual construction of streets and buildings in these various plats took seventy-five years to complete. Factors affecting the pace of development included not only the availability but also the condition of the land, the existence of city services and transportation facilities, and the ebb and flow of the real estate market. Individual subdividers had to acquire and survey large parcels of land, and then develop a plan with house lots and streets. Over time, some still-vacant early plats were redrawn to adjust lot sizes and street layouts. Once a plat was recorded, swampy areas had to be drained and hilly areas graded to prepare land for new construction; new roads had to be built, streetcar lines extended, and utility lines installed. Finally, prospective homeowners had to buy lots and contract with builders to construct houses. Most of these activities occurred well before the City of Providence adopted citywide zoning regulations in 1923, and so new development in this northeast corner of Providence proceeded as the product of many uncoordinated decisions. As a result, the area developed neither quickly nor as a single community.
In 1874, Anna a.k.a. Ann Emerson Morris, Edward D. Emerson, and Ezekiel Emerson, Jr., inherited the Dexter Farm from their aunt Anna Dexter. As directed by Anna Dexter's will, respecting the wishes of then late brother Edward Dexter, Anna Morris inherited two-thirds of the estate, while the brothers jointly received one-third. In 1875 Ezekiel Emerson, Jr, quit-claimed to his sister Anna Emerson his interest to a parcel of 33 acres at the corner of North and North Main Streets, including the Dexter farmhouse and his own home on North Street. Anna Emerson 1830-1909 had married her cousin and neighbor, John Morris 1828-1906, whose own farm lay about a quarter mile east of the Dexter property. The 1875 City Directory indicates that John Morris, Edward D. Emerson and Ezekiel Emerson all made their livings as farmers. All three also lived on their aunt's farm: Anna and John Morris lived in her grandfather's house, while Edward Emerson had a house on the Pawtucket Turnpike near its intersection with North Main and Cemetery Streets, and Ezekiel Emerson's home which he no longer owned, but still occupied stood on North Street east of Camp Street.
The 1875 atlas of Providence shows the Dexter Farm divided into six parcels. Two vacant parcels totaling approximately 38 acres bounded by North Street on the south and East Street on the east belonged to Ezekiel Emerson. Edward D. Emerson owned two parcels totaling approximately 9 acres east of the Pawtucket Turnpike, including his own house since demolished. Anna Morris's land lay south of Edward's property and west of Ezekiel's: an L-shaped parcel of about 33 acres bounded on the west by North Main Street and the Pawtucket Turnpike, and on the south by North Street, including the Dexter farmhouse as well as another house Ezekiel's on the north side of North Street, just east of Camp Street. The sixth parcel was a lot of about 21,000 square feet with a house on it since demolished, belonging to a Caroline Brown, located on North Street between Anna Morris's and Ezekiel Emerson's property. The west boundary of Caroline Brown's and Ezekiel Emerson's lots would later become the western line of Summit Avenue.
In 1864, the Providence to Pawtucket horse-car line began operating on Pawtucket Turnpike. The Edward D. Emerson Plat of 1876, on the east side of the pike later renamed North Main Street, included one new street called Stanton Avenue today's Stenton Road and Creston Way, with twenty-four house lots lining its north side. Although a few houses were John Morris's great-great grandmother, Susannah Dexter Browne, was the sister of Anna Emerson's grandfather Jeremiah Dexter, thus John and Anna were second cousins twice removed. John and Anna Morris's marriage brought into joint ownership not only part of the former Dexter farm but also additional farmlands located on the south side of Rochambeau Avenue between Morris and Cole Avenues, which were likewise later developed as a residential suburb by the Morris heirs including Elmgrove Gardens.
Ezekiel Emerson, meanwhile, had sold all of his 38-plus acre holdings by 1882. Ten years later, most of this property was owned by a William Richmond, who in 1892 recorded a plat bounded by Summit Avenue and Brewster Street on the west, East Avenue on the east, North Street on the south, and Fourth Street on the north. Caroline Brown's house on North Street was demolished for the Summit Avenue right of way, which extended northwesterly from North Street past Brewster Street, and then continued northward through the adjacent Randall Estate plat. The triangular block bounded by Summit Avenue, Brewster Street and Fourth Street was partially platted much later, by a Rose Lasker in 1926.
On the south side of Rochambeau Avenue, which was not part of the original Dexter farm, the triangular block bounded by Rochambeau, Dana Street and Ivy Street was recorded as part of the Rochambeau Heights Plat in 1903. This development was likely facilitated by the presence of electric streetcars on Camp Street as far north as Rochambeau Avenue; Dana Street also intersected with Camp Street.
Despite all the development occurring around them, Anna and John Morris held the remainder of the original Dexter farm as open space for the rest of their lives John died in 1906, Anna in 1909. At some point they even increased their holdings with a tract of more than 126,000 sq. ft. acquired from Anna's brother Edward Emerson. By 1909, all the land north, east and south of the Morris and Emerson property had already been platted, and housing construction was underway in those neighboring plats. It is not clear what stopped the Morrises and Emersons from following suit: access to public transportation was available nearby on North Main Street by 1864, Camp Street by 1895 and Hope Street by 1908, so perhaps the slow introduction of city services had an impact: sewer lines were installed along Rochambeau Avenue from North Main eastward past Summit Avenue by 1895, but city water was not available on Rochambeau or Summit Avenues until 1908. Or perhaps the Morrises and Emersons simply preferred to hold onto their farming way of life as long as they could. Whatever the reason, in 1909 the two families together owned more than 1.7 million square feet of un-platted land, with only six houses all occupied by family members standing on it. That situation would soon change.
Anna and John Morris' five daughters Phebe E. Morris, Annie D. Peplen, Mary M. Almy, Edith A. Nevin, and Emma A. Swift eventually inherited their property. Two years after their mother's death, in 1911, the Anna Morris Heirs deeded to the City of Providence rights of way for five new cross streets on the west side of Summit Avenue: Colonial, Dextendale, Edgehill, Memorial and D'Estaing Roads. The plat map attached to the deed shows each of the new roads all 40 feet wide except for Edgehill Road, which was 50 feet wide—laid out to a point about 150 feet west of Summit Avenue. Seven individual lots six on Summit Avenue, one on the south side of Colonial Road had already been sold off to other owners, who are named on the plat map. The lots were roughly 5,000 square feet each although one lot on Summit was about triple that size.
Five years later, in 1916, the Anna Morris Heirs recorded a plat showing Rochambeau Avenue, Colonial Road and Dexterdale Avenue, between Summit Avenue and Camp Street. The plat simply shows the layout of the new streets in a rectilinear pattern; both Colonial and Dexterdale Roads are 40 feet wide, and Camp Street is 50 feet wide. Note that Camp Street had previously ended at the south side of Rochambeau; this plat extended Camp Street two blocks northward. The plat excludes the north side of Dexterdale Road and the west side of Camp Street. It also does not indicate any individual house lots, which is unusual in comparison to other adjacent plats e.g. the Richmond Plat, but city atlases of 1918, 1926 and 1937 show these blocks gradually subdivided into house lots in a manner similar to neighboring plats.
Between 1923 and 1927 the original Morris Heirs Plat was extended three times to the north, to include Edgehill, Memorial and D'Estaing Roads between Summit Avenue and Camp Street. D'Estaing Road, previously called Stanton Avenue in the Edward Emerson Plat, is now called Creston Way. Colonial, Dexterdale and Edgehill Roads were also extended from Camp Street west to North Main Street in a separate plat dated 1926.
In 1916, the Anna Morris Heirs Plat had two houses standing in it, both on the north side of Rochambeau Avenue and both predating the creation of the plat: 142 Rochambeau Ezekiel Emerson House, built ca 1860-1865 and 120-22 Rochambeau Emma Swift's house, built 1903 and moved to number 124-126 about 1947. Elsewhere in the district, thirteen houses had been built by 1916: six on the south side of Rochambeau Avenue Rochambeau Heights Plat of 1903 and seven on the east side of Summit Avenue William Richmond Plat of 1892. Among these thirteen houses are four triple deckers 131-133, 135-137, 139-141, and 194-196 Rochambeau. Triple deckers although unusual in the district, were a very common type of housing built in Providence at the turn of the century as the pressure of immigration created a strong demand for rental housing. Also within the historic district, the Rochambeau Encampment Monument had been erected in 1907 at the corner of Summit Avenue and Brewster Street, in a block yet to be platted onto see any new housing.
The 1918 city atlas shows Dexterdale Road, Colonial Road and Camp Street built according to the 1916 plat, and the initial extensions of Edgehill Road, Memorial Road and D'Estaing Road west of Summit Avenue in accord with the 1911 plat. City water lines were partially installed on Colonial and Dexterdale Roads, connecting to existing lines on Summit Avenue. Within the Morris Heirs Plat, six houses had been constructed on the west side of Summit Avenue, two on Colonial Road, two on Dexterdale Road, and three on the north side of Rochambeau Avenue. Outside the plat, three additional houses had been built on the north side of Dexterdale and five more on the west side of Summit, while seven other vacant lots on Dexterdale and Edgehill had been partitioned off and sold. The atlas indicates that "Emma Swift etal" owned the remaining land on the former Morris farm. Elsewhere in the historic district, two new houses had also been constructed on the east side of Summit Avenue, two on Brewster Street, and one on each corner of Rochambeau Avenue and Ivy Street. Several of these houses had outbuildings at the rear that likely were built as automobile garages. All told, by 1918 there were thirty-eight homes in the district, twenty-five of them built within the previous ten years.
The next-two decades were the boom years for construction within the historic district: thirty-five new houses were built between 1918 and 1926, and another fifty between 1927 and 1937. In 1923 the Anna Morris Heirs recorded a plat of Memorial Road showing the street extending from Summit Avenue west to the intersection of Camp Street which itself was extended north from Dexterdale Road to Memorial Road. A plat for Edgehill Road was not found in city records, but the 1926 city atlas shows both Edgehill and Memorial Roads extended west from Summit Avenue to Camp Street, as well as Colonial and Dextendale Roads continuing west from Camp Street to North Main Street. The 1926 atlas also shows D'Estaing Road extended southwest from Summit Avenue to form a Y-shaped intersection with Memorial Road, although a formal plat of D'Estaing Road was not recorded until 1927. As of that year, house lots were laid out on all blocks within the historic district. Although the lot sizes are not consistent throughout, it appears that the Morris Heirs offered a standard 4,500-5,500 square foot lot for sale, and that some buyers merged two on more lots together. Most of the new construction after 1918 occurred on Colonial Road and Summit Avenue, which were almost entirely filled in by 1926. Citywide, building permits in Providence were issued in annually increasing numbers between 1921 and 1925. Two additional new houses appeared on Dexterdale Road, four on Edgehill Road, and four on Memorial Road, but the bulk of the new lots on Edgehill, Memorial and D'Estaing Roads still remained vacant as of 1926, perhaps because city water service had not yet been fully extended along these streets.
After a decline during the first years of the Depression 1929-1931, building permits issued in Providence soared to an all-time high in 1936 and 1938. Clearly the Summit Historic District was the focus of some of this construction activity: by the time the 1937 city atlas was published, Rochambeau Avenue, Colonial Road, Dexterdale Road, Edgehill Road except for three lots, and Summit Avenue except for three lots were entirely built out. Memorial Road, Creston Way formerly D'Estaing Road, renamed 1936 and Camp Street within the district were largely built out by the end of World War II. Almost all of the house lots had garages standing on them by this time; many garages were designed with materials and features copied from the main house.
Although no census data is available specifically for the Summit Historic District, data about its larger neighborhood provides some clues about the people who lived here at that time. In the 1950 census of Providence, Census Tract #33 encompassed the area from Rochambeau Avenue north to the Pawtucket city line, and from the North Burial Ground and Cemetery Street east to about Elmgrove Avenue and Blackstone Boulevard. Somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of this census tract's population was foreign-born in 1950, with the largest ethnic groups being Russian nearly 6%, Irish 2%, and English 2%; fewer than 1% of residents were non-white. This indicates that the neighborhood was not a magnet for new immigrants, but rather occupied by native or long-time Providence residents who moved here from other parts of the city. About 55% of homes were owner occupied, and 43% renter occupied; only 2% were vacant, indicating the neighborhood's stability and its desirability as a place to live.
While 6% is itself a small number, it is interesting and significant that Providence's largest concentration of Russian immigrants, many of them Jewish, lived in the vicinity of Summit Avenue in 1950. That fact helps to explain the presence in the neighborhood of three major Jewish institutions, all established here in the mid-20th-century: Miriam Hospital, relocated from the West End to Summit Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets in the late 1940s; Temple Mishkon Tfiloh on Summit Avenue between Overhill Road and Eighth Street, built 1962; and Temple Beth Shalom at the northeast corner of Rochambeau Avenue and Camp Street, built 1947-1964. Temple Beth Shalom stands within the historic district. Since 1950, the built fabric of the historic district has remained remarkably intact. Only two houses have been built since: 25 Summit Avenue and 44 Edgehill Road, both erected on previously undeveloped lots.
Although its houses were predominantly constructed during the period when the automobile was becoming increasingly popular in Providence evidenced by the prevalence of side-yard driveways and free-standing back-yard garages, the Summit Historic District was originally planned as a typical "streetcar suburb," with its 4,500 to 5,000 square-foot lots arranged in a rectilinear grid pattern of relatively narrow streets. The district reflects the broad patterns of history in Providence from 1875 to 1945, as substantial increases in population resulted in the construction of suburban neighborhoods and transportation networks built around the urban core. The district is two blocks west of Hope Street, which has had public transportation since the early 1900s, but it developed somewhat later than the blocks immediately adjacent to Hope Street, perhaps due to public utilities being gradually extended throughout the district in the 1910s, '20s and '30s. The houses reflect the variety of building types and architectural styles popular in the early 20th century, and exhibit a significant degree of integrity today, some seven or eight decades later,
While the Summit Historic District consists primarily of the Anna Morris Heirs Plat of 1916, as expanded northward between 1923 and 1927, it also includes the east side of Summit Avenue Richmond Plat, 1892, the west side of Camp Street Morris Heirs Plat extension, 1926, and the south side of Rochambeau Avenue Rochambeau Heights Plat, 1903. While the various plat boundaries are easily discernible in historic maps, they are not readily evident in the streetscapes today: e.g., houses on one side of Summit Avenue look very much like houses across the street, despite the fact that the two sides were platted by different developers some 25 years apart. Therefore, while the significance of the Summit Historic District is based on its historical development primarily as a single residential plat, the district boundaries are drawn to include both sides of boundary streets, to maintain the integrity of those streetscapes and recognize the visual qualities shared among adjacent plats.
Today the Summit Historic District still retains integrity of location, design, selling, materials, feeling and association as an early streetcar suburb in Providence.
† Kathryn J. Cavanaugh, preservation consultant and Mary Kate Harrington, director of preservation services, Providence Preservation Society, Summit Historic District, Providence County, RI, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.