Run of the Mills

Explore Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution history with an urban hike through Woonsocket.

You don't have to head for the hills to enjoy the fall weather and foliage. Explore Woonsocket’s past as a center for America's Industrial Revolution with a three-mile trek through the urban landscape.
 

1. Park in the Market Square lot at the end of Main Street. Here you're surrounded by a half-dozen mills, all converted to housing, restaurants and shops. Along Main, the Lyman-Arnold Trench once carried the water that powered textile machinery.

2. Learn about the life of nineteenth- and twentieth-century immigrants at the Museum of Work and Culture (42 South Main Street). Housed in a former mill, it includes recreations of a factory floor with an antique loom, a French-Canadian farmer's house, a Catholic school and more.

3. Meander up Sayles Street to the Sayles Street Bridge. Cross the Blackstone River and you're in Constitution Hill, home to mill workers and tradesmen in the 1800s. Greek Revival cottages, three-deckers and old Victorians have been restored by the housing nonprofit NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. Cross South Main and head down the hill. Detour down Front Street to see the Globe Mill tenements at the Lincoln Street corner.

4. Cross the South Main Bridge and ascend Arnold Street. James Arnold, grandson of an original settler, built the imposing home with pillars at 109 Arnold Street. He sold his water rights to Woonsocket Falls and the city's early industrialists. Next, head down Cato Street, another well-preserved mill-era enclave. At James Street, cut over to Railroad Street. A few steps up the hill is a warehouse (1855) built with curved walls to accommodate a long-gone railroad spur.

5. Back on Main Street, you're surrounded by the retail center the mill economy created. Look north to see the city's Civil War monument and the marquee of the Stadium Theatre (1926). The granite Beaux-Arts-style building is the old post office, now the YMCA. Heading north, you'll pass the Victorian-era train depot (1882), built for the Providence and Worcester line. The Italianate structure at the Court Street intersection is city hall (1856), which once housed shops and a school for mill workers. Lincoln spoke here during an 1860 campaign stop.

6. Cross the Court Street Bridge. Look below to see the granite Bernon Mills (1820s). A chimneystack and smaller red brick buildings remain. Follow the river across the grounds of Woonsocket Middle School and across the street you’ll see the former site of the French Worsted Mill, recently razed. Use the foot bridge to cross to Cumberland Street.

7. At 84 Cumberland Street is St. Ann's (1914−18) a large church with twin spires. In the 1940s, Italian painter Guido Nincheri decorated the walls and ceiling with the largest display of frescoes in the United States, which calls to mind Rome's Sistine Chapel. He used mill worker parishioners as models for 475 saints. In 2000, the Diocese of Providence sold the building to the nonprofit St. Ann's Cultural Center, with the goal of preserving the distinctive artwork.

Catch RIPTA bus 87 at the corner of Cumberland and Social streets to return to Market Square.