Neighborhood Highlight: Silver Lake

Dec 8, 2020 | 0 comments

Located on the western side of Providence, Silver Lake is home to strong cultural identities in both Italian and Hispanic backgrounds. Silver Lake is a hub for Central American restaurants, bars and markets and is also the site of the annual Feast of Saint Bartholomew; a 3 day celebration in August. The 73 acre Neutaconkanut Park provides residents with public access to nature trails, skate parks, swimming pools and baseball fields.

A Brief History of Silver Lake- Courtesy of the Providence City Archives

In 1710, the Silver Lake/Harford neighborhood — bordered by Johnston and Cranston to the west – came to fruition after constructing the Plainfield Road, which allowed traffic and trade to move freely between Plainfield, Connecticut, and Providence. The neighborhood was demographically rural and populated by a community of farmers, many of whom did not feel Providence, with its growing urban sprawl, represented their agricultural interests. In 1759, with the establishment of the Town of Johnston, Silver Lake was swiftly annexed by the rural town.

Silver Lake earned its namesake from a picturesque body of water that once bordered Murry, Sybil, Mercy, and Plainfield Streets – at the foot of Neutaconkanut Hill, and at one time was a source of recreation. A particular spectacle of note occurred in 1859 when many spectators came to see tightrope walkers take a high-wire stroll over the lake as pictured below:

(courtesy of the Providence City Archives)

By the mid-20th century, the lake was eventually dredged and filled over time to accommodate neighborhood development.

By 1898, Providence annexed back portions of the neighborhood. In 1882, the community’s identity drastically changed from rural to urban with the Plainfield Street Trolley line’s extension. The electric trolley made it possible for factory workers to move to and throw Providence. Soon, farmland turned into triple-decker house lots. European immigrants, specifically Italians, accounted for much of the Silver Lakes’ new demographic. By 1919 Silver Lake became fully incorporated into the City of Providence.

By the end of the nineteenth century, nearly three hundred Italians settled in the areas of Laurel and Neutakonkanut Hill. With them came the establishment of St. Bartholomew’s Church in 1907 on Moorefield Street. A shrine of the church remains in the form of a bell tower named Scalabrini Piazza dedicated to the memory of Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini, responsible for the establishment of “Saint Raphael Association,” dedicated to the care of Italian migrants. 1969 marked the construction of a new church on Laurel Hill Ave. to accommodate the growing number of the neighborhood’s practitioners.

During the decade of the 1990s, 43 percent of Silver Lake comprised of Italian Americans. By the year 2000, beginning a decade prior, Hispanics established a vibrant community in Silver Lake, comprising roughly 42 percent of current day Ward 7’s population. That number has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. The neighborhood also includes a growing Haitian community.