College Hill: Providence, Rhode Island


College Hill brings the past into the present. Its history reaches back to 1636 as the site of Rhode Island's first permanent Colonial settlement. Cobblestoned Benefit Street, known as the Mile of History, is lined with 18th, 19th, and 20th century municipal structures, churches, and gracious homes. Two educational institutions — Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) — have contributed to the neighborhood's vitality and character together with residents and organizations, including the Providence Preservation Society (PPS).

Designated Area

Bounded by Olney Street and Alumni Avenue to the north, Arlington Avenue and Governor Street to the east, John Street to the south, and North and South Main Streets to the west.

Benefit Street, lined with municipal structures, churches, and homes from three centuries, is a major corridor in College Hill. Photo Daniel Case, through a Creative Commons license.

Planning Excellence

During the 1950s, many Benefit Street homes — dilapidated and subdivided into tenements — became targets for demolition. In response, the Providence Preservation Society convinced the city and federal governments to fund a demonstration project envisioning an urban renewal process with revitalization at its core. The group's 1959 report became a national landmark and model for preservation as a means of community renewal. Within a year, the city established a local historic district on College Hill.

Walking along Thayer Street near Brown University today one will find an engaging mix of shops, eateries, and a cinema. Adaptive reuse has given new life to historic houses as museums. Brown Street Park, recently renovated, is a showcase for sustainability. The Roger Williams National Memorial pays tribute to a champion of religious freedom. The nearby Riverwalk links the neighborhood's west side with Waterplace Park in downtown, which is easily accessible by bus, trolley, car, bike, or foot.

As seen from the Rhode Island State House to the west, College Hill's steeples rise above parks, homes, and campus buildings. To the left stands the First Baptist Meeting House (1775) at 75 N. Main St., and to the right is the First Unitarian Church (1816) at 301 Benefit St. Photo Jason Martin, City of Providence Department of Planning and Development.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Architecture, ambiance

  • A celebration of architectural splendor from the 18th century forward, the neighborhood boasts residences and institutional structures situated along tree-lined streets flanked by sidewalks
  • Elegant homes include the Georgian-style John Brown House (1786) and Governor Henry Lippitt House (1865), a Renaissance Revival. Both are National Historic Landmarks and museums
  • College Hill has numerous churches — some of them landmarks — built in the Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic, Greek Revival, and Renaissance architectural styles
  • Cultural institutions abound. Part of a picturesque procession of historic buildings, Fleur De Lys Studio (1885) is inspired by half-timbered stucco houses of Chester, England. The Greek-Revival Providence Athenaeum (1838) is one of the nation's oldest libraries
  • National Register lists six Brown University buildings; its Center for the Creative Arts (2011) adds a touch of contemporary glamour; Rhode Island School of Design's Chace Center (2008) "pays its respects to its historic College Hill neighbors while remaining proudly and recognizably contemporary." (The Providence Journal)

Planning and Preservation

  • Providence Preservation Society published its study, College Hill: A Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal, in 1959; it contains an inventory of properties and develops historic-area zoning ordinance and methods for rating historic architecture and integrating historic areas into redevelopment plans. Updated in 1967, it becomes national model
  • College Hill becomes local historic district (1960), which spurs renovations and leads to 75 houses being restored by 1966; neighborhood added to the National Register (1970) and expanded in 1990
  • City's 1964 master plan incorporates recommendations from demonstration study. Subsequent plans recognize the importance of preserving historic neighborhoods
  • Stimson Avenue local historic district established (1981); an enclave of 32 houses, largely unaltered, features Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architecture from the late 19th century
  • Providence Metropolitan Transit Enhancement Study (2009) recommends a "Meds to Eds" streetcar concept linking College Hill with the Hospital and Jewelry districts

Town and gown

  • Two private schools in neighborhood in addition to Brown and RISD — Moses Brown School (1784) and The Wheeler School (1789); also the public Hope High School (1898)
  • Roughly a quarter of residents are college students, who support the local economy and add vibrancy to commercial corridors; more than 60 percent of housing multifamily
  • Since establishment of institutional zones (1986), colleges make public master plans, detailing property conditions, planned projects, and buildings to be sold or demolished. Brown's 2010 plan emphasizes expansion elsewhere and adaptive reuse of buildings in the neighborhood
  • Established  in 1984 to address issues related to the expansion of educational institutions, the College Hill Neighborhood Association participates in the Brown University Working Group, which meets quarterly to find constructive, creative solutions to community concerns

Located along Angell Street, the Samuel Eddy House (1797-8) and William Holroyd House (1798) are characteristic of the neighborhood. Photo Jason Martin, City of Providence Department of Planning and Development.


  • Historic properties include national landmarks Old State House (1762), Brick Schoolhouse (1769) and First Baptist Meetinghouse (1775); other noteworthy sites are Benjamin Cushing House (1737), oldest house on College Hill, and Marine Corps Arsenal (1840)
  • Cultural resources in neighborhood include museums, galleries, art club, Barker Playhouse, Avon Theater, and the Providence Athenaeum, an independent membership library
  • Brown Street Park's renovation (2008), funded by residents, used recycled materials in the children's playground; a community vegetable and flower garden added in 2010
  • Riverwalk (1994) is scenic pathway connecting College Hill to downtown's Waterplace Park — the site of WaterFire, an award-winning sculpture with more than 80 bonfires
  • Roger Williams National Memorial features Antram-Gray House (1730), memorials to the first person of Jewish faith to be elected to public office from Providence. Neighborhood's Prospect Terrace Park, a pocket park, includes Roger Williams monument