Blackstone Parks Conservancy

The Boulevard

The parks are increasingly indebted to new volunteers. Sarah Gleason, a Providence resident for 44 years, is hunting in various archives for information about the history of both Blackstone parks. This month, Sarah, who enjoys researching and writing about local history, shares discoveries gleaned from the Swan Point Cemetery archive.

In their 1887 report, the directors of Swan Point Cemetery proposed closing the Swan Point Road in order to obtain “the seclusion which is so desirable for grounds dedicated to the last resting-place of the dead.” Swan Point Road was then the main road between Providence and Pawtucket. The directors suggested replacing it with another public thoroughfare to the west that would cut through the Perry farm.

Wooing the city for a parkway, the directors predicted that the people of Providence would one day be able to point “with pardonable pride” to “our fine boulevard, with its shaded drives, its cable road, and its winding paths” that “can be forever enjoyed by all classes of our citizens.” One could say they were just pitching an idea, but they were prescient. Today many thousands of people from all over the city and nearby come to the Boulevard to walk or run, or to enjoy the summer concerts.

After some disputes about how much the project would cost—the City claimed it would require four times as much as the Swan Point Corporation estimated–it was approved by the city council and work began in 1893 with provision for electric streetcars in mind.

Much remains to be learned about the design of the park completed by the noted landscape architect H.W. S. Cleveland in 1898, but we do know that he anticipated that the topography of the northern part would be the “most attractive portion of the avenue.” Biographers Nadenicek, Tishler, and Neckar claim that Cleveland believed that landscape architects should respect the landscape in which they worked. “He advocated a starkly simple “and natural style of design” and disdained “superfluous decoration.”

You’ll be hearing more of Sarah’s discoveries in future issues. Next month we’ll feature a Providence native who recalls, “Blackstone Park in the 1950’s was a perfect getaway for a ten-year-old with a bicycle….”


Blackstone Park Conservation District

Working with the Appalachian Mountain Club and other volunteer groups, the Conservancy has strived for more than a decade to slow the water that runs in torrents off the heavily used center section during a storm. But we’ve barely been able to keep up, especially in recent months, when more ferocious storms lashed the Park. During one downpour this summer, nearly three inches fell in one hour.

Now, thanks to a BPC board member, engineer Jon Ford, and a recent graduate of URI’s landscape architecture program, Patrick Kelly, reinforcements are in sight. Under Jon’s guidance, Patrick is analyzing the sloping trails and assembling a battery of state-of-the-art methods to help slow and reduce the runoff. The goal is to enable rain to penetrate the soil close to where it falls instead of running into the Seekonk River, as much of it now does, and taking soil with it.


BPC Comings and Goings

Rick Richards, a recent retiree from the RIDOE with experience working with small children, was unanimously elected to the BPC Board in September. He chairs the new Education Committee, which is already thriving under his leadership.  An active rower out of the Narragansett Boat Club, Rick is a champion of the river as well as the parks. He is brimming with ideas for engaging children and young people in the parks and waterfront through environmental education.

BPC President Emeritus Anna Browder withdrew from the Board and the Park committee this spring after many years of tireless service to the Blackstone Parks. She was particularly active in restoring York Pond and in steering the Conservancy toward a focus on invasive plant species.  Anna says she wants to concentrate on two important new sites of native plants. One sits at the corner of River Road and Irving Avenue. The other, on Angell Street near Parkside, is a significant experiment in forest restoration sponsored by the Rhode Island Natural History Society. Both plantings will help guide our search for ways to combat invasive plant species and bring native plants back to the parks.

Jane Peterson