History of Olneyville

Settlement in Olneyville began at Olneyville Square in the early 18th century. The area began as a center of trade with a nearby Narragansett village. Larger settlement began in 1785 after Christopher Olney, for whom Olneyville is named, founded a grist mill and a paper mill on a wide part of the Woonasquatucket River. Olney was a captain during the Revolutionary War and owned a 95 acre farm in the area. By the end of the American Revolutionary War, a forge and foundry and other small industries operated in Olneyville.

Through the mid-19th century, Olneyville developed as a railroad junction and mill district. This attracted many Polish immigrants. However, the mill industries declined after World War II causing economic decline. The construction of the Route 6 connector in the 1950s exacerbated these problems. In the two decades that followed Olneyville witnessed a substantial drop in its population.

On May 15, 1900, Olneyville was the site of one of the few occasions of “raining fish”, when a late afternoon thunderstorm brought perch and bullspouts falling from the skies.

About Olneyville

Location: Olneyville is a neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island bordered by Atwells Avenue to the north, U.S. Route 6 to the south and Rhode Island Route 10 to the east. The Woonasquatucket River runs through the southern portion of the neighborhood. The area is roughly triangular.

Size: About ½ square mile

Residents: 5,559 (US Census 2010)

Racial and Ethnic Breakdown: 61% Hispanic; 16% White; 13% Black or African American; 4% Asian; 6% Other (US Census 2010)

Median Household Income: $30,901 (US Census 2010)

Families below the Poverty Level: 36.9 % (US Census 2010)

Unemployment Rate: 13% of the Olneyville population reports being unemployed (US Census 2010)


Q. What is Health Equity?
A. Health equity means everyone has an equal chance to use resources that will help them live a long, healthy life. It focuses on differences in population health that are related to unequal economic and social conditions in specific locations.

Q. What are Health Disparities?
A. Health disparities are differences in health outcomes and their causes among groups of people. Reducing health disparities is a major goal of public health.
Health Equity Zones (HEZs) are geographic areas working collaboratively with community partners to achieve health equity by eliminating health disparities using place-based (where-you-live) strategies to promote healthy communities.

Q. What is the role of the “Back Bone Agency?”
A. As the Back Bone Agency” ONE Neighborhood Builders facilitates the Olneyville HEZ by coordinating meetings, serving as the liaison for the RI Department of Health and partners, and ensuring that the goals and vision of the OV HEZ are met.

Q. What is placed based?
There has been a long recognized connection between health and place. The OV HEZ understands that that maintaining good health is easier when people are surrounded by healthy choices in their schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. We also recognize that building healthy surroundings for people is not something that can be led by one individual or organization alone. It is a collaborative effort that must involve the whole community.

Q. How can I or my agency get involved with the Olneyville Health Equity Zone?
A. To become involved with the OV HEZ, please contact Karelin Marcia, Community Health Integrator at, or at 401-351-8719 ext 115.