The Elmhurst neighborhood, located in Providence's northwest quadrant, is bounded by the neighborhoods of Wanskuck to the east and northeast, Smith Hill to the east, Valley to the south, Mount Pleasant to the west and northwest, and the town of North Providence to the north. The major street boundaries that delineate Elmhurst include Admiral Street to the northeast, Smith Street and Academy Avenue to the west, and Chalkstone Avenue to the south. Elmhurst, like Mount Pleasant, was one of the last areas of the city to be developed. Most of the houses are medium sized, single-family homes located on well landscaped lots and tree lined streets. Although some houses were built in the 19th century, most were built in the 20th century.
Originally, the large tracts of common land were farmed throughout much of the 18th century with little development occurring. By the 1730s however, two roads had been established with the purpose of delivering produce from these outlying farms to the center of the city. These roads included the northern section which ran along present day Douglas Avenue and Eaton Street and the southern section which ran along what is now part of Chalkstone Avenue. Early in the 19th century, several additional roads were constructed.
In 1815, major landowners, including Philip Allen, founded the Powder Mill Turnpike Corporation. This privately owned turnpike followed Smith Street from its intersection with Eaton Street through the villages of Centredale in North Providence, Graniteville in Johnston, Greenville in Smithfield and reaching the village of Harmony in the town of Glocester, Rhode Island. (Of the three tollhouses along this route, the only one remaining stands at 1076 Smith Street). By 1835, River, Douglas, and Chalkstone Avenues and Smith, Sharon, and Admiral Streets had been established as rural lanes to connect various farms.
Elmhurst, with its open and scenic wooded rolling hills, attracted the settlement of numerous country retreats during the mid 19th century. William Grosvenor's Gothic Revival Villa called "Elmhurst" gave the area its name in 1849 and was the first retreat to be constructed in the area. Thomas Davis' 30 acre estate remained at the corner of Chalkstone Avenue and Raymond Street until 1947 when it was replaced by the Veterans Hospital.
Settlement remained sparse in Elmhurst until the end of the 19th century. During the early 1870s, plats of house lots were laid out but the national economic panic of 1873 dramatically slowed down development plans. A couple of houses appeared along the major streets before the late 1880s, but substantial residential development occurred only after the economy picked up and public transportation improved.
By 1882, streetcars traversed Chalkstone Avenue, extending out to Smith Street and North Providence by the 1890s. In 1909, the city acquired a continuous strip of land on either side of a stream that flows from Academy Avenue to Promenade Street and constructed a residential boulevard, Pleasant Valley Parkway. Housing development increased during the years that followed the completion of the Parkway. The Parkway was handsome and somewhat similar to Blackstone Boulevard in design but did not attract residents of the same level of wealth. In addition, a neighborhood commercial strip formed along Chalkstone Avenue between River and Mount Pleasant Avenues.
By the early 20th century, the Elmhurst area was predominantly middle and upper middle class. The ethnic composition of the area began to become more diverse after 1900. Second and third-generation Irish residents began to move into the area to escape from more crowded neighborhoods like Smith Hill and Upper and Lower South Providence. By the mid 20th century, second and third-generation Italians, many of whom moved from Federal Hill, comprised a significant portion of Elmhurst's ethnic composition.
The quiet and spacious qualities of the Elmhurst neighborhood, in conjunction with the availability of large tracts of land in the form of 19th century estates, attracted various social and educational institutions. This area met the needs of the institutional boom that swept the city during the early part of the 20th century. Several hospitals were established. Charles V. Chapin Hospital was built by the city in 1911 for communicable disease patients on a 25 acre tract taken from the George H. Corliss estate on Eaton Street, east of Huxley Avenue on land that is now part of Providence College.
In 1926, the Providence Lying-In Hospital (now Women and Infants Hospital) and the Homeopathic Hospital of Rhode Island (now Roger Williams Hospital) were constructed on either side of Pleasant Valley Parkway. Educational institutions also found the grounds inviting. Providence College, founded by the Dominican Order in 1917, was constructed on a large tract adjacent to the Bradley Estate. Providence College is a strong presence in the nearby community. Not only do many students live in the surrounding rental units but the College offers use of their gymnasium facilities and night courses to both local citywide Providence residents.
LaSalle Academy, first established downtown at LaSalle Square in 1871, moved in 1925 into a new building on a 43 acre site at the corner of Smith Street and Academy Avenue. This private Catholic Academy has since become very popular with area residents as well as attracting many students from outside Providence. The school has also established a strong relationship with nearby Providence College.
Elmhurst experienced continued suburban development after World War II as one of the few areas in Providence with yet undeveloped land. The small and mid-sized houses built on the landscaped lots in the northwestern part of Elmhurst followed the tradition of the earlier 20th century dwellings.
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