Great Swamp Making A Comeback

Nice weather for ducks. A pair of mallards could be seen paddling about today in this pop-up pond at the north end of Blackstone Boulevard. Following the second wettest March on record, an old swamp may be reclaiming its rightful place on the fashionable East Side. Initially, the bogginess of the area had created a barrier to development for the early settlers.

The East Side was included among the lands sold by the Narragansett sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi to Roger Williams and a small band of associates. . . It was largely unsuitable for development, however, because of two large expanses of marshy ground: Cat Swamp, bounded by today’s Freeman Parkway and Elmgrove, Everett, and Arlington Avenues; and Great Swamp, bounded roughly by the present Blackstone Boulevard, Rochambeau and Cole Avenues, Sessions Street, and Morris and Lorimer Avenues.

But highways were needed to provide access to farms further north:

The town subsequently decreed that two paths leading through Cat and Great Swamps be made public highways. In 1684 it was voted to “state ye Highway from the head of the lane Called Dexters lane [Olney Street] & so through the great swampe from ye said lane to runn at the place called the first opening.” This Highway at the First Opening–later called
Cat Swamp Lane, then Olney Street–followed a zigzag path corresponding to today’s Morris Avenue, Sessions Street, and Cole Avenue.

In 1685 the council established a Highway at the Second Opening from “Hearntons lane [Rochambeau Avenue] Eastward through the place called the second opening in ye greatswampe & so to ye salt water about ye poynt called Swann poynt.” This is today the eastern end of Rochambeau Avenue.

Let’s change the name of Olney Street back to Cat Swamp Lane.

Source: “Historic and Architectural Resources of the East Side, Providence” Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1989.

We first wrote about Cat Swamp in 2019.

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