Federal Hill Timeline

A brief history of Federal Hill

Before 1636 The area now known as Federal Hill is populated by the Narragansett and Wampanoag Native American tribes.

1636 Roger Williams founds the colony of Rhode Island and the town of Providence on land acquired from Narragansett natives.

1711 Nathaniel Brown opens the first shipyard on the west side of the Providence River, creating new trade opportunities.

1788 Amos Maine Atwells forms a syndicate with several other businessmen to improve and develop the west side of Providence, including Federal Hill.

1809 A four-rod road is laid from Aborn Street to the North Providence border. This key highway in the Hill’s network of turnpikes later becomes Atwells Avenue.

1842 Atwells Avenue lawyer Thomas Dorr leads an uprising against the state’s restrictive voting laws. Suffrage is eventually extended to virtually all free white males.

1850s “Federal-style” homes begin to dominate the streets of the Hill, and the area is increasingly referred to as “Federal Hill.”

The Federal Hill House is founded and helps thousands of immigrants find jobs and homes. It still operates today as a social services agency.

1897 Rhode Island’s first soda company opens on Federal Hill. The neighborhood, dominated by working class immigrants, becomes an important source of factory labor.

1905 Providence’s Italian population increases to 18,000 as Italian immigrants continue to replace the Irish as the main ethnic group on Federal Hill.

1909 In Providence, Italian men outnumber Italian women 60.8 percent to 39.2 percent. Many men return briefly to Italy to find brides.

1911 A witness describes a patrolman’s killer as “Italian.” Though there’s no evidence, Hill resident Bruno Bertucci becomes a suspect. A Bertucci/police shootout sours relations between the police and Hill residents for years.

1914 The Macaroni Riots break out on the Hill due to a sudden food price jump. After two days, the prices are repealed.
1930 Providence’s Italian population peaks at 50,000, 20 percent of the city’s residents. 

WWII  The FBI deems 2,147 Italian-Americans in Rhode Island  “potential and active hostile individuals” and writes of one Providence man: “Subject’s persistent…boasting of the greatness of the Italian people…while employed in a shoeshining shop constitutes downright subversive activity.”

1945 John O. Pastore, raised by immigrants on Federal Hill, becomes the first Italian-American governor of Rhode Island. In 1950, he becomes the state’s first Italian-American U.S. Senator.

1950 Residents begin to migrate away from Federal Hill due to declining commercial activity, heavy
mixing of residential and industrial buildings, and lack of recreational space. Over the next ten years, the population of Federal Hill decreases by one-third.

1954 Organized crime boss Philip Buccola flees New England for Sicily, leaving Raymond Patriarca in control. Patriarca becomes a notoriously ruthless mob overlord and is ultimately arrested twenty-eight times.

1966 Willie Marfeo is shot dead at a Federal Hill restaurant. Patriarca is sent to jail for his involvement; in 1969, he receives another ten years for two more murders, including Marfeo’s brother, Rudolph.

1982 Raymond “Slick” Vecchio is shot at Vincent’s restaurant on Atwells by two masked men. Police suspect mobster strongman Kevin Hanrahan, who himself is shot outside of the Arch restaurant, also on Atwells, in 1992.

Director Michael Corrente’s Federal Hill is released and wins awards at two international film festivals. Filmed on location, the movie depicts five Italian-Americans coming of age in the neighborhood.

2000s Italians continue to move out as other ethnicities move in. Since 1990, the Hispanic population has doubled and now represents 32 percent of the area’s residents; African-Americans represent 15 percent, compared to  5 percent in 1990.

2007 Almost 8,000 people live on the Hill. The old buildings remain, but the families in them are new:  half of the area’s  school children speak a language other than English. After a two-year hiatus, Federal Hill will again host its annual Columbus Day parade.