Development on the summit

“This summit is near the intersection of Hope Street and Doyle Avenue. If in existence in 1835, Hope Street was a rough country road known as East Pawtucket Turnpike. Doyle avenue was not laid out until many years later. On this summit stands Ladd Astronomical Observatory of Brown University erected in 1891.”

– Rhode Island Geodetic Survey, COLLEGE HILL, 1935

USGS 1894
Topographic map of the East Side of Providence as surveyed in 1885 & 1887. The small brown oval near the center is the hill where Ladd Observatory was built. USGS, 1894.

When the construction of Ladd Observatory began in May of 1890 the area was rural with few buildings nearby. At a distance to the east and northeast of the hilltop were low lying areas that were swampland, as indicated by the blue hash marks on the map above. These marshes were later drained and filled to allow for building the residential neighborhoods that are seen there today. A short distance to the south there was a large reservoir, built in 1875. A steam powered pumping station delivered the water through pipes buried beneath the streets. The former reservoir is now the site of Hope High School and the athletic fields behind the building.

Sanborn map 1900
Sanborn fire insurance map showing the buildings in the neighborhood north of Ladd Observatory, 1900. Pink indicates a brick building and yellow is wood. The dashed lines are underground water pipes.

Starting in 1867 a trolley service ran north along Hope Street but only went at far as Olney Street. Doyle Avenue from North Main Street to Hope was laid out in 1865 and the property surrounding it was developed in the 1870s and 1880s. Doyle was extended east of Hope in 1886. The area around Ladd Observatory was rapidly developed in the following years. The trolley route was extended after 1900 to run north on Hope past the Observatory to Pawtucket.

blizzard of 1898
View from the roof showing the neighborhood in 1898. This image consists of three archival photos from the John Hay Library; the panorama was created by Jason Major.

Photographs were taken from our rooftop observing deck after the great blizzard of Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 1898. Several houses can be seen along Morris Ave. which runs through the center of the panorama. Doyle is at right and the small shed at left has a roll-off roof housing a telescope. There are utility poles that carry telegraph and recently installed electric and telephone wires. By 1908 a number of houses had been built around Ladd on the vacant land seen in the photos. The transition from a rural hilltop to an urban residential neighborhood only took about two decades.

1908 plat
Plat map from 1908.

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