Growing up on Fruit Hill

"Growing Up on Fruit Hill in the Thirties and Forties: A Bit of Nostalgia" is a guest blog essay by Bob Black.  Bob grew up in Providence and lived on Fruit Hill from 1930-1948.

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The nineteen thirties and forties were not the best of times, but for Fruit Hill kids it was simply grand.  Our neighborhood of middle-class families had lots of youngsters whose stay-at-home mothers kept their children busy because "idle hands are the devil's workshop."  that meant being sent outdoors to play with the approximately thirty other kids with names like Billie, Herbie, Bobbie, Frankie, Tommy, Richie, Ernie, Maureen, Patty, Henry, Sara and five or so loose dogs in the immediate neighborhood, specifically Wellesley and Sylvia Avenues, Hope Street and Belvidere Boulevard.  

On a sunny day we'd all be outdoors, now what to do?  There were no park districts or recreation departments to decide for us, so we got out our toys.  You name it someone had it: Pedal Cars, baseball bats, balls, bikes and trikes, jacks, chalk for Hop Scotch, Pogo Sticks, Soap Box Cars, roller skates, chestnuts attached to a shoe string, and sling shots.  And of course the girls had their dolls.  Our playgrounds were sidewalks, streets, back yards, and a very special place called the Old Res, a thirty acre wide open space. 

Old Res was the location of a twenty-five million gallon reservoir abandoned by the City of Providence in 1928 just in time for our generation.  It was the gem of the neighborhood, and we used it every season of the year. 

In spring, kite flyers were everywhere.  Most kites were diamond-shaped and cost less than fifty cents.  No need to worry about electic wires or trees.  But to prevent my kite from going into a tail spin, I attached a rag tail made from the rag bag of worn out sheets and towels my mother kept in the basement. 

In summer, we played baseball on the flat land without the worry of breaking some cranky homeowner's window.  Teams were selected by captains.  The captains were older boys who picked nine players, and the rest of the kids sat on the side lines hoping to play some day. 

In the fall, you guessed it, the gang played football after school and on weekends, sometimes in our Sunday clothes.  If we arrived home with our best clothes tattered or torn my brother Bill and I were subjected to a swift whack.  

Winter was a special time.  The reservoir had a 657 by 489 foot rectangular shaped concrete bottom basin and an embankment that covered about seven acres.  The embankment, about twenty-four feet high, was ideal for sledding aboard our Flexible Flyers and four-passenger toboggans.  My friend Frankie and I would apply paraffin wax to the runners of our sleds and bottoms of the toboggans to reduce friction, and allow our selds to go a greater distance at a faster speed.  The thrill was exhilarating! 

On the floor of the basin we played pickup hockey.  If you didn't have skates, you could be the goalie.  Most of our age group of seven to thirteen years had weak ankles so we wobbled a lot and got ankle fatigue easily.  The games ended when our energy ran out.  The girls, wearing their white skates with bells on them, would figure skate by repeating the figure eight over and over again. 

While growing up on Fruit Hill more than seventy years ago, I went home when the street lights came on.  The street lights came on for me just now, so here's to pleasant memories of a special time gone by.  

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Kate Wells

As the Rhode Island Collection librarian at Providence Public Library, Kate Wells helps bring Rhode Island history to light by increasing access to the collection and providing research assistance to patrons. In the “Rhode Island Red” blog, Kate showcases interesting materials from the collection, provides research tip & techniques, and highlights local history. Feel free to contact her if you have any Rhode Island related questions; she is always happy to help. Email:


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