There are a million reasons to love the Summit neighborhood. It’s an incredibly walkable neighborhood, with gorgeous green spaces and varied architecture. Our neighbors take full advantage of the many opportunities to enjoy life and spend time together, whether they find themselves shopping on Hope Street or walking through the farmer’s market at Lippitt Park.
The Summit area at the northern end of Providence’s East Side is an historic early 20th century neighborhood, one of the first so recognized by the US National Park Service. Most of the buildings here were built between 1920 and 1950. By 1956, the neighborhoods between North Main Street and Hope were built out so that any future development would necessarily displace existing uses. Here are some very detailed insurance maps showing most buildings in Summit and in neighboring Mt. Hope as of 1956, prior to three developments: University Heights, Route 95 and Miriam Hospital expansion. (Sanborn Map Co., courtesy of RI Historical Society).
The Summit neighborhood north of Rochambeau was one of Providence’s “Street Car suburbs.” Until the 1920s, when street cars made it possible for the working and middle class to commute to workplaces in and around downtown, the area was mostly farmland. You can still see the Dexter family’s homestead, the Jeremiah Dexter house, now the headquarters of Preserve Rhode Island, at the corner of Rochambeau and North Main.
Other Providence neighborhoods are valued for grand public buildings and imposing Federalist or Victorian homes. Our area is loved for the way most of the buildings and streets contibute to a cohesive look, feel and experience of an urban middle-class neighborhood of the early to middle twentieth century. The streets from Rochambeau north to Pawtucket were laid out on small lots, generally 50′ X 100′ and filled up with houses between 1900 and 1950. The Summit Avenue School at Summit and Fifth Streets, provided primary school within walking distance for young families. Across Fifth Street on Summit was the Jewish Orphanage. In 1953, the orphanage building became the new home of Miriam Hospital, relocated from Parade Street
Builders obviously used patterns and common designs to build many of the very similar bungalows and two-apartment houses here, but they used detailing to create many variations on the few common themes. That fabric and the fact that homeowners had largely preserved the original look of their houses was the main reason that certain blocks in our neighborhood were among the first 20th century neighborhoods to be recognized as National Historic Districts by the U.S. Parks Department.
As the middle of the area filled up with houses, the two commercial streets, North Main to the west, and Hope to the east, developed in very different ways. North Main hosted many of Providence’s first car dealerships and auto-related businesses from the 1920s. As a part of U.S. Route 1, North Main was one of Rhode Island’s busiest auto routes as well as one of its most-traveled public transit corridors.
The Rhode Island Auditorium (aka The Arena) at Third Street became a major sports and entertainment venue as home of the Rhode Island Reds Hockey Team. The Arena also hosted concerts, with Jimi Hendrix, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers among the artists who performed there.
In the 1920s, our neighborhood hosted the Providence Steam Roller, a National Football League team which won the NFL championship in 1928. They played in the infield of the Providence Cyclodrome, a bicycle racing track located at the bottom of the hill west of North Main where the now-abandoned Shaws grocery store stands today.
Hope Street, by contrast, developed as a neighborhood commercial center relying on local residents for much of its business. The branch library, the firehouse and the Hope Street Theater (now replaced by CVS Drugstore) anchored the ends of the four-block commercial area. Today, this shopping district thrives as it attracts shoppers both from the neighborhood, as well as visitors from across Rhode Island. It is a lovely place to dine at a sidewalk table or to find unique gifts.