In My Footsteps
Trip 114: Woonsocket, Rhode Island
February 24, 2011
Lying directly south of the Massachusetts border the city of Woonsocket is one of the largest in the state of Rhode Island yet maintains a smaller town feel. Now the corporate headquarters of CVS Pharmacy when Woonsocket began it was home to three separate tribes of Native Americans. The Nipmucs, Wampanoags, and Narragansetts were the tribes and when Roger Williams purchased the land in 1661 the town was referred to in a letter as ‘Niswosakit,’ a possible precursor to the Woonsocket name.
|Market Square Pavilion|
A perfect place to start a trip into Woonsocket is at Market Square. It is an actual road between S. Main St. and Bernon St., but I stopped for an unusual structure located at the edge of a parking area. The first center of Woonsocket, Market Square is home to the unique Market Square Pavilion. It is a really cool brick structure on the corner of Market Square and stands where another well known historic building once stood. The pavilion stands where the old George C. Ballou Mill stood from 1846 to the 1960’s. Seeing the downtown area of Woonsocket it is hard to imagine a mill fitting in, that is until you turn to the west and catch the sound of the rushing water.
Located only steps from Market Square is Woonsocket Falls, the largest waterfall on the Blackstone River. Woonsocket Falls was a sort of double-edged sword for residents for a long time in the city. While it provided power for the city’s industrial growth it also frequently flooded. Records show this from as far back as 1807. The most recent flood in 1955 caused the dam to be restructured into the current concrete and steel structure.
The sight and sound of the rushing water can be hypnotic and I found it easy to lose myself in time just staring at the falls as the water flowed underneath the street continuing its trip down the Blackstone. There was some work being done on the dam on this day but I am sure it wasn’t anything too serious.
A great place to park and take a walk is the area around Woonsocket’s City Hall. The City Hall building is an impressive sight; it was originally known as the Harris Block when it was built in 1856. This building was the first public library in the state of Rhode Island with President Abraham Lincoln actually speaking inside of it in 1860. There was a large addition to the building in 1889 and it officially became the City Hall in 1902.
Where I parked, almost directly across the street from City Hall was an amazing colorful mural with the words ‘Keep Woonsocket Beautiful’ painted across it. I have had trouble finding out information about this mural but it ended up being a really pretty surprise when I was there just to shoot City Hall. Also within walking distance of City Hall are two more historic landmarks of Woonsocket.
|Mural in the parking area across from City Hall.|
The Harris Warehouse on Railroad Street looks like something out of a horror film. Built in 1855 it is a three-story gray and white brick building. The woolen mill was built by leading Woonsocket citizen Edward Harris; he also was the man behind the Harris Block which as I mentioned became City Hall. At its peak the Harris Woolen Company had six mills employing over 1,000 people. Only two remain today including the eerily beautiful one on Railroad Street.
On the corner of Main Street and High Street is the Woonsocket Depot, a former railroad station built by the Providence and Worcester Railroad in 1882. Today it is the headquarters of the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor. I liked the clock on top of the building which was a green and brown color reminding me of a chocolate mint for obvious reasons. In addition to the mural across from City Hall there is actually another one on the side of City Hall which is a little obscured by trees.
Finally only a few hundred feet from the former Woonsocket Depot is the Stadium Theatre. It was built in 1926 under the supervision of R.E. Hall who also supervised the construction of the Paramount Theatre in New York City. The Stadium Theatre stopped daily operations in the 1970’s but thanks to the efforts of the ‘Save Our Stadium’ Committee the theatre was purchased in 1998 and restored to its former glory. It still runs today and the Wizard of Oz and Annie were among the shows playing there when I was in town.
Just across the Massachusetts border Woonsocket is a city with a lot to see. Market Square and Woonsocket Falls are just the beginning, a walk around the center of the city will lead you to many historic and beautiful spots that will make the walking seem less of a chore! You will definitely enjoy your time in Woonsocket. Have fun and happy traveling!
My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at SchifferBooks.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com, soon to be in stores everywhere! Follow me on Twitter!
Directions: Market Square: From I-495 N take exit 16 for Woonsocket, turn left onto King St. Continue onto Washington St, then Pulaski Blvd, total of 6.5 mi. Continue onto Rt. 126, continue onto Main St., after .3 mi. Main Street turns slightly right and becomes Market Square. Parking is on right, Woonsocket Falls is within earshot when you park.
City Hall: From I-495 N take exit 16 for Woonsocket, turn left onto King St. Continue onto Washington St, then Pulaski Blvd, total of 6.5 mi. Continue onto Rt. 126, continue onto Main St. total of 1.5 mi. Parking is on left, Harris Warehouse, Woonsocket Depot, and Stadium Theatre are within walking distance back north, you will pass them all on the way to City Hall.