CENTRAL FALLS: A City is born...
The Early Days
The territory of the City prior to the mid 1800's was mostly inhabited by the Nipmuc, Wampanoag and Narragansett Indians. The area was a dense woodland containing an abundance of pine trees.
This area is known for a major battle during King Philip's War where, on March 26, 1676, hundreds of Narragansett Indians ambushed Captain Michael Pierce and his troops. Captain Pierce called for reinforcements to aid in the fighting, by the time they arrived all but nine men were dead. The remaining nine were taken to the "Monastery Grounds" in the Town of Cumberland where they were tortured and killed. This area and incident became known as "Nine Men's Misery."
The Value of the River
The area became peaceful and the Colonist were left to pursue the task of building a community. Early roadways led from farm to farm or from marketplace to marketplace. When the Colonists discovered the power of the Blackstone River new industry was formed. In the mid 1700's Benjamin Smith built a trench to divert the water from the river to provide power for a snuff mill. Captain Stephen Jenks built a trip-hammer and blacksmith shop to manufacture iron. (This area was perhaps the largest producer of firearms for the Revolutionary & Civil Wars).
The Birth of a Name
Sylvanus Brown of Pawtucket erected a dam for Charles Keene who began manufacturing scythes and other tools, part of this same building was occupied by a man named Wheat who manufactured chocolate. This triggered the name of "Chocolateville" or Chocolatemills for the area.
A celebration, at the middle falls, was held in 1824 to dedicate a mill and bridge, built by David and George Jenks. After several speeches were delivered Stephen Jenks, a prominent businessman, arose from his chair and declared that the village should be named "Central Falls" and thus the City received it's official name. The village, at that time, was made up of the trip-hammer shop, the ship-iron workshop and the Stone House which was located on the road to Providence it was a popular stop for travelers and the Chocolate mill.
Believe It or Not
The Village experienced a rapid growth in population due in part to the growth in the textile industry. Immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Canada were drawn by the textile mills. Central Falls became a densely populated industrial community leading to the placement in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as the most densely populated autonomous City in the Country.
The Making of a City
The Village of Central Falls, one of the many quiet villages in the Town of Smithfield during the 18th and most of the 19th century, would soon see many changes. As of 1822, the sleepy village had only four buildings, including the first chocolate mill in the United States, and only sixty residents. Central Street had been laid out but the nearly empty street would remain nameless for many years; Broad Street, for its part, was then called the Valley Pike.
Soon, however, the population would begin to grow, fueled by the arrival of mills such as those of the Thurber, Horton & Wood (1824), Stafford Manufacturing Company (1825) and Pawtucket Hair-Cloth Company (1829). Within two generations, notable mills such as that of the United States Flax Manufacturing Company (1863), the Paper-Box Manufactory (1870), the Central Falls Woollen Mill (1870) and the American Curled-Hair Company (1872) began to require thousands of employees to keep them running. Leather, cloth, lumber, picture frames, candy and much, much more were made in the city, which soon had brassworks, jewelry, tools, printshops and even a newspaper, the “Weekly Visitor.”
Rapid industrial and population growth in the State of Rhode Island resulted in the establishment of new Townships during the latter part of the 19th century. In 1871, the state divided the Town of Smithfield, with its 30+villages, into three new towns: the largely rural Towns of Smithfield and North Smithfield and the Town of Lincoln, the latter of which now included the ever-industrializing Central Falls Fire-District. This fire-district, or fire-ward as it was sometimes called, required greater public expenditures than did the rest of Lincoln due to industry’s need for roads, lights, fire hydrants and other costly infrastructure. Because of this, Central Falls was taxed differently from the rest of the Town and, due to its unique needs, soon developed fire and police departments, and controlled the water supply and street lights.
The continued growth of the Central Falls Fire-District, however, soon strained the resources of the Town of Lincoln, which was otherwise largely an agricultural region. With the Town unprepared for the social stresses of its hyper-industrializing district, its leaders soon held town meetings featuring discussions and proposals to merge Central Falls with the neighboring (and similarly industrialized) City of Pawtucket. The small fire-district’s out-sized pride, however, saved the day and prevented the merger from happening.
With the merger defeated, the local populace increasingly supported transforming the entrepreneurial square-mile of Central Falls into a City. After the Town Council held a series of meetings between June through December, 1894. the ensuing political pressure led to the February 21, 1895 passage of a legislative Act by the Rhode Island General Assembly creating the City of Central Falls. On February 27, 1895, Lincoln citizens went to the ballot box to vote on this Act.
As it turned out, the Central Falls villagers were evenly split, with 749 voting for, and 749 voting against, the Act. Rural voters in Lincoln, however, were wary of committing further resources to their voracious village by the Blackstone and consequently threw their support behind the Act, in doing so transforming the entrepreneurial Village into an independent City.
The City’s government was organized on March 18, 1895, with Charles Moies becoming the first City’s first mayor, and barely a year later the City Charter was accepted by the state. Freed from the constraints of rural oversight, the City of Central Falls accelerated its economic growth, contributing mightily to the industrial preeminence of the United States over the next half century and beyond.
The Ethnic & Religious Influence in the Growth of a Community
The City is best symbolized by its ethnic diversity and its religious backgrounds. The first inhabitants, mostly Quakers, traveled to worship to their Meeting House on what today is known as Smithfield Avenue. Wesleyan Methodists established their worship place in a small chapel located on High Street. The Baptist Community began to grow and by 1844 they formed the First Baptist Society and became the first organized religious community in the City. These religions were influenced by the early settlers to the Community. Religion played an important role to the many immigrants that came to work and live in the City. The Church helped to assimilate the many different immigrants into the City. It was also instrumental in maintaining the ethic identity of each group which helping them to adjust to their new way of life.
What's Happening Now
While the past history focuses on the building of mills and the growing population. The City's recent history focuses on the immigration of many people of Latin American descent. Like the people who arrived before them, these new immigrants have found a home in Central Falls. Many are bringing new flavor and culture to an ethically rich community. The hardships endure throughout its history as a working class community have not affected the community's structure or its civic pride and attitude. According to the 2010 US Census, Central Falls is the only city in the state of Rhode Island which is a so-called 'majority minority' city. That is, there are more residents who are immigrants than American-born, English speaking residents. City leaders, ethnic political and religious, have developed into cohesive groups which emphasis the positive image of a city which clearly identifies itself as a "City for all People."
* Around 1890 the City was spotted with small ponds, one near Cross Street, another between Crossman St. & Lonsdale Ave. Dwyer's Pond was down in a hallow, between Washington & Perry St.
* The Little City was a large producer of may different items such as brooms, aprons, art goods, badges, soda bottles, candy, stationary, tools, braid & hosiery, lace, webbing, belting, spools, rayon, mill supplies, monuments and knitting machines. The most important industries of the City were Wheaterhead & Thompson Tannery Firm (1858); E.L. Freeman Co. (1869-1889) which owned and operated the "Central Falls Weekly; Conant's Mill (later known as Coats Thread Mills (1868); Pawtucket Hair Cloth Co. and National Haircloth; The Weyboset Textile Mill which was perhaps the largest employer during the mid to late 1800's.
* June 10, 1921 - Baseball, a must see sport in Central Falls, saw in attendance 16,000 viewers for a Holy Trinity Baseball Team victory over J.C. Potter School (Pawtucket) with a score of 14-9.
* November 24, 1926 - The first automotive fire truck was purchased and the horse drawn truck was placed in service at the Kendall Street fire station.
* July 8, 1929 - First Sunday Baseball game held at the Weyboset Stadium.
* September 4, 1929 - First Sunday Football game.
* October 7, 1929 Pulaski Square dedicated.
* August 6, 1930 - "The McCarthy Ouster" - Chief James McCarthy (1908-1931) of Central Falls Police Department was suspended by Mayor Labrosse in 1915. The Chief was reinstated by a decision of the Superior Court in 1929 the "Franco-Polish" Bloc of Aldemen and City Councilmen refused to attend meeting and held up City business until Chief McCarthy was removed. Three times Mayor St. George fired him and three times the Supreme Court reinstated him. The Kennedy bill, passed in 1931, making mandatory retirement, cost Chief McCarthy his position.
* June 11, 1933 - Quinn Square was dedicated in honor of James H. Quinn.
* September 13, 1934 - National Guard called to quell Saylesville Workers strike riot in the Moshassuck Cemetery.
* March 26, 1945 - SS Central Falls Victory christened by Mrs. Healy, the wife of Mayor Healy. The Victory was named in honor of Central Falls Residents who purchased an outstanding number of War Bonds.
* April 7, 1947 - The Central Falls City Council pass a Resolution vindicating the "Fearless Four." These four were Officers John Gorman, John Byrnes, Frank Klich and Lucien Tessier who presented evidence of illegal slot machines in Central Falls. Chief George Collette suspended them but the public outcry was so great that they were re-instated in good standing.
* April 5, 1948 - Franco American Square Dedicated.
* April 4, 1949 - Public Playground Act officially enacted.
* June 4, 1952 - Fluoridation of water supply established.
* August 31, 1954 - The area was scene to one of the area's Hurricane's which left the City with great deal of damage and property loss, the worse since the great 1938 hurricane.
* November 20, 1957 - Macomber Field dedicated in memory of Raymond Macomber who bought the field, located on Blackstone & High Streets, from the Weyboset Mfg. Co. for $10.00 on July 6, 1934 and was known at that time as Municipal Stadium.
* 1995 - To showcase its powerful diversity, Central Falls had more than 100 countries represented when the city celebrated its 100th anniversary with a parade.
* August 1, 2011 - The City of Central Falls is officially brought into federal bankruptcy along with its already existing state receivership.
* January 1, 2013 - James A. Diossa is sworn in as the City's first Latino Mayor.
* April 15, 2013 - The City officially is no longer under state receivership and federal bankruptcy and sets a course towards a comeback.