Blackstone Boulevard consists of a 1.6 mile long, 100-foot wide median bordered by two roadways which each contain a bicycle lane and a traffic lane. The Boulevard is one of the landmarks of Providence and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This beautiful park is heavily used, attracting walkers and runners from all over the city and surrounding communities. Bicyclists and motorists also enjoy its trees, shrubs and grass. The Boulevard features many large, mature trees, and numerous bushes and smaller plants. Benches line the wide central path, and there is one substantial structure, a rustic stone shelter built over 100 years ago as a trolley stop.
The Boulevard Today
The Trees. In partnership with the Parks Department, and thanks to donations from the community and to grants, the Conservancy has planted nearly 300 trees and shrubs on the Boulevard in a reforestation project begun in 2003. Many of these are nearing the end of their 5-year maintenance period, during which BPC has provided water, pruning and mulch, and these trees are becoming truly established “residents” of the Boulevard. If you look closely, you can see that many of the new trees are sponsored by an individual or family and honor a loved one. Our focus is now the health and maintenance of the beautiful old trees. We undertook a major pruning project in 2011 and removed dead or dying trees. The Conservancy has prepared a guide to trees of the Boulevard.
Closer to the ground. The path running down the median has been improved in places with stone dust, although it is still subject to heavy wear and tear. Along the median path walkers and runners can pause to sit on donated benches, of which the Conservancy has installed more than two dozen. A garden has been installed and maintained by volunteers since 2004 at the south end of the Boulevard. Volunteers, with help from the Parks Department, keep invasive and weedy plants in check along the length of this park.
The Witherby statue area has been gradually improved in the last few years, thanks to financial help from the Witherby family, donations to our general fund, grants, and of course our wonderful volunteers. The statue was professionally cleaned and extensive pruning was done around it. The landscaping has been improved. Spring bulbs (600!), summer-flowering perennials, and a small ornamental tree have been added to the site.
The Trolley Shelter has been given new life as a community gathering place. Major structural repairs were made in 2009 with support from Swan Point Cemetery, local grants and community contributions. A lovely garden was installed in 2010, with support from Butler Hospital. A very popular summer concert series underwritten by Whole Foods Market (2009) and Butler Hospital (2010), has provided a wide range of wonderful and free music on summer evenings.
The Future. Immediate goals for the Boulevard include: installing electricity and lighting at the trolley shelter, finishing the major pruning, continuing the summer concert series. Other proposed projects include restoring the “little shelter” (a covered bench midway along the Boulevard), creating and installing a garden at north end, installing a water fountain, and additional refurbishment/protection of the statue.
Blackstone Boulevard was constructed in 1894 to provide better access to Swan Point Cemetery. In 1886 Horace Cleveland was hired to plan the layout of Blackstone Boulevard. Later planting of the center median strip was completed according to plans suggested by the Olmsted Brothers, John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957). More than two dozen trees remain from this original planting.
The Butler Avenue trolley line was extended over Blackstone Boulevard to the cemetery in 1903. In 1904-’05 a fieldstone shelter, designed by the prominent architectural firm of Stone, Carpenter & Willson, was erected opposite the cemetery entrance. With the increasing use of the automobile, trolley service to Blackstone Boulevard ended in 1948. The walking path down the center was built on the remnants of the old trolley bed.
You may have wondered about the statue of a young woman on the boulevard, near the intersection with Clarendon Avenue. The bronze sculpture, A Memorial to Young Womanhood (or The Spirit of Youth), memorializes the spirit of youth and Constance Witherby, a girl who died of heart failure just before her sixteenth birthday while climbing in the Swiss Alps. While a student at Lincoln School, she began to write poetry, which was published after her death as a collection entitled Sunshine & Stardust. She is the author of the phrase engraved on the statue.
The statue was dedicated in 1930, and was originally in Constance Witherby Park, which is a small park across from the Salvation Army on Waterman Street that was given to the city by Constance Witherby's parents. After the statue was vandalized toward the end of the 20th century it was repaired by the city and moved to its present location on the boulevard. Her surviving brother, Frederich Rowland Hazard Witherby, approached the Blackstone Park Improvement Association for help in landscaping it, and paid for trees, shrubs, and the two granite benches at the site. Volunteers watered the following summer to insure the survival of the plantings, dragging a hose across the boulevard from a neighboring house.
The sculptor was Gail Sherman Corbett (1871 – 1952) from Syracuse, New York with ties to Rhode Island. She was a descendent of Philip Sherman of Dedham, Essex, England, who came in 1633 to Roxbury, Massachusetts, and afterwards, with eighteen others, founded the town of Portsmouth and the Colony of Rhode Island. She was a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of the most important American sculptors of the nineteenth century.
Poems By Constance Witherby
|The Birds are Singing|
The birds are singing,
Granny, I made this poem.
I wish I could see a mermaid fair,
Spring fever has caught me,
I am not ill.
Warm summer evenings with music in the air.... For the past decade the Conservancy has partnered with local organizations and businesses to create a series of free outdoor concerts on the Boulevard. The trolley shelter on the Boulevard has been transformed into a successful community gathering place, with extensive structural restoration in 2009 and a new garden in 2010. Most of the concerts have been held on weekday evenings, taking advantage of cooler temperatures and long summer days. Diverse musical genres have entertained a wide range of listeners from babies to retirees, and part of the fun has been mixing with other concert-goers, be they families enjoying a picnic, couples on a date, or joggers pausing in their workout. Some people just listen or dance, others bring snacks and still others take advantage of the enterprising food vendors who appear along the roads. Behind the scenes, the Parks Department helps set up the site, police details slow car traffic, and volunteers set up chairs and assist the musicians. It all comes together for a unique celebration of summer in the city.
Summer 2023 Program
June 15 Classical High Jazz and Rock Band
July 6 Miss Wensday
July 20 Latin Jazz with Wendy Klein and Robertico Arias
August 10 Nickel Jukebox