Woonsocket, Rhode Island

Woonsocket is a city in Providence County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 43,224 at the 2000 census, making it the sixth largest city in the state. Woonsocket lies directly south of the Massachusetts border.

In the 2000 census, 46.1% of the population identified itself as French or French-Canadian, making Woonsocket one of the most heavily French-Canadian cities in New England. Historically, the city has been called, « La ville la plus française aux États-Unis » (The most French city in America). The city is home to St John the Baptist Union and the Museum of Work and Culture. Before the Italian-American population hit its peak, Providence County's majority was French-Canadian. As of 2000, that distinction lies across the border in Windham County, Connecticut.


Before northern Rhode Island was settled, the Woonsocket region was inhabited by three Native American tribes — the Nipmucs (Cowesett), Wampanoags, and Narragansetts . In 1660 Roger Williams purchased the area from the local Native Americans, and Richard Arnold constructed the first sawmill on the Blackstone River. This sparked the first European colonization of the region . Over the course of the next 200 years, Arnold's friends and family — as well as several other colonists — built and expanded several small villages in the area.

As the 19th century dawned and the textile Industrial Revolution began in nearby Pawtucket, the area that would become Woonsocket experienced significant changes. With the Blackstone River providing ample water power, the region became a hot spot for textile mills, mainly after World War I with help of French engineers from Roubaix, a textile manufacturing town in northern France. Six new villages were constructed over the pre-existing settlements: Social, Jenckesville, Hamlet, Bernon, Globe, and Woonsocket Falls

Woonsocket was soon officially formed by the integration of these six industrial villages. Many French-Canadians and other ethnic groups entered the city at the turn of the 20th century. Consequently, the communities grew in area and population, thus changing Woonsocket from a collection of six settlements to one of the largest cities in the state. The largest of the villages — Woonsocket Falls — formed Woonsocket's downtown, while the other five communities became general neighborhoods.

After World War II, most of the textile industry moved south and the mill town was forced to diversify its economy. The suburban migration and a shopping plaza, which is located in northeast Woonsocket on the border of Massachusetts and opened in the early 1960s, took away much business from downtown and the city's independent business The North End of Woonsocket has a great number of historic houses. Preservation plays a significant role in this area, with several individual houses as well as groups added to the National Register of Historic Places in recent years. Sixty-four buildings are included in the South Main Street Historic District. Nevertheless, several historical structures — including the original Court Street Bridge — were demolished and replaced by modern design for safety reasons.

In 1978, Woonsocket began holding Autumnfest, an annual festival held on Columbus Day weekend. The festival remains a major annual attraction and gathering place for Woonsocket residents

The mayor of Woonsocket, Susan D. Menard, announced her resignation from office in early March 2008. She took over from Francis L. Lanctot in 1995. She was the first female mayor of the city and also was the longest serving to date.

Blizzard of 1978

Woonsocket was buried under 54 inches of snow during the Blizzard of 1978. However, the National Weather Service accepted a lesser figure of 38.0 inches. The storm's forward progress was blocked by a high pressure area and caused the storm to move very slowly. Snowfall rates of up to four inches per hour were reported as well as thunder and lightning. The National Guard was activated by the state of Rhode Island to help the city open up the roads so people could resume their normal lives. A local belief is that the higher snow figure resulted from measurements taken where snow had heavily drifted. The mayor, Gerard Bouley, was thought to have elected to use the inflated figure in hopes of obtaining disaster relief funds. As a result, the higher snow total is often humorously referred to as "Gerry's Total."

Name origin

The name Woonsocket is derived from a Native American word. In 1661 Roger Williams purchased the area from the "Coweset and Nipmucks," and in a letter referred to modern day Woonsocket as "Niswosakit. Woonsocket is widely believed to mean "thunder-mist" in reference to the largest waterfall on the Blackstone River, which lies at the center of the city. Recent scholarship puts this translation in doubt. Another theory is that the city was named after the impressive Woonsocket Hill in neighboring North Smithfield. The meaning of the name is a mystery. Nevertheless, the term "thunder-mist" is used by several local businesses, including the city clinic.Other possible derivations to the name include several Nipmuc place names that sound similar to Woonsocket from nearby Massachusetts. These are “Woonksechocksett", from Worcester County meaning "fox country"., and "Wannashowatuckqut", also from Worcester County, meaning "at the fork of the river". Another older local version said that “Woonsocket” referred to "place of the great hill”, once again referring back to the hill in North Smithfield.


Woonsocket is located at (42.001731, -71.507223). The city is located approximately 15 miles North of Providence.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.0 square miles (20.6 km²), of which, 7.7 square miles (20.0 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.6 km²) of it (3.14%) is water. Woonsocket is drained by the Blackstone River. Adjacent communities include: Blackstone, Bellingham, Cumberland, and North Smithfield.


As of the census of 2000, there were 43,224 people, 17,750 households, and 10,774 families residing in the city. The population density was 5,608.8 people per square mile (2,164.6/km²). There were 18,757 housing units at an average density of 2,433.9/sq mi (939.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.14% White, 4.44% African American, 0.32% Native American, 4.06% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 4.86% from other races, and 3.14% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 9.32% of the population.

Woonsocket is a part of the Providence metropolitan area, which has an estimated population of 1,622,520.

There were 17,750 households out of which 31.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.4% were married couples living together, 16.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.3% were non-families. 32.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 3.02.

In the city the population was spread out with 25.8% under the age of 18, 9.2% from 18 to 24, 30.0% from 25 to 44, 19.7% from 45 to 64, and 15.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 91.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,819, and the median income for a family was $38,353. Males had a median income of $31,465 versus $24,638 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,223. About 16.7% of families and 19.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.3% of those under age 18 and 14.7% of those age 65 or over.


Because of the large numbers of French-Canadians who settled in the city, Woonsocket gained the title, "the most French place in the United States outside of Louisiana." Many of the French-Canadian immigrants use French grammar in order to form English sentences. Therefore, instead of "side by side" and "throw my coat downstairs," the phrases become "side by each" and "throw me down the stairs my coat." This is prevalent among the older residents of the city, but has become scarce as grandchildren and great-grandchildren of French-Canadian immigrants have Americanized themselves.


Autumnfest is an annual festival that takes place on Columbus Day Weekend at World War II Veteran's Memorial State Park. The festival is run by the Woonsocket Rotary Club and features several sponsors, including CVS. Autumnfest began in 1977 with a primary goal of providing residents of Rhode Island and Massachusetts a chance to explore the culture of Woonsocket via consumer/arts and crafts stands, musical entertainment at the park's Band Stand, and local cuisine. The first Autumnfest featured heavy rain in addition to other technical issues. Nevertheless, the festival has grown into a popular Rhode Island attraction for 28 years.

Admission to Autumnfest is free.  However, all attractions (excluding the bandstand) cost money. Autumnfest officially opens at the park's Band Stand on Saturday at 10:00 a.m., with the Mayor and other popular figures addressing the festival.  This is immediately followed by a string of bands, talent shows, and other performances until 9:00 p.m.  On Sunday, the same schedule is followed, except that there is a fireworks display at 9:00 p.m.  On Monday, one of the largest parades in Rhode Island begins at 9:00 a.m.  The Columbus Day Parade is three hours long and features ten divisions of local schools, officials, and talents.  Other events, such as the "Iron Man Competition" are also featured throughout the long weekend.  Autumnfest officially closes at 6:00 p.m. on Columbus Day (Monday).

Constant attractions at Autumnfest include the extensive Food Court, consumer and arts & crafts stands, a Midway, the Beer Garden, and the popular "Consumer Showcase," which features stands for local and area businesses. Autumnfest has seen several popular local performers, including Beatlemania, Big Nazo, Beaver Brown Band, Kings Row, and the Reminisants.

Properties and Districts in Woonsocket listed on National Register of Historic Places

Notable residents


External links

Search another word or see Woonsocket,_Rhode_Islandon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature