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Streetcar Neighborhoods

On the Front Porch of a Triple Decker from the Museum of Work and Culture For most of the nineteenth century, housing for Woonsocket's working class was concentrated near the mills, or near the central business district. While wealthy merchants and manufactures could build large houses along South Main Street or Harris Avenue, the working class had to be located within walking distance to their work.

That changed in 1887 with the establishment of the Woonsocket Street Railroad Company. By 1906, trollies covered all of Woonsocket's major streets and more than 70 miles of trolley lines emanated from the city. Woonsocket's street railroad provided convenient and inexpensive transportation that allowed workers to live in one section of the city and work or shop in another. From 1895 to 1925, suburban neighborhoods for the working class grew along the trolly tracks in Bernon, Globe, Social and Fairmount.

The most common type of dwelling built in Woonsocket from 1895 to 1925 was the triple decker. The triple decker is a three story, three family tenement, usually built of wood, distinguished by a three story porch. Fifty years ago, Woonsocket's streets were lined with hundreds of these buildings and they remain the city's most distinctive urban house type.

Front Palor from the Museum of Work and Culture The triple decker is an inexpensive type of housing, although some became quite elaborate. Functionally and socially, they represent an evolution from the two family, two and a half story houses built in the 1870's and 1880's. The floor plan is a series of elongated spaces - a front parlor (often used as a bedroom), dinning or multi purpose family room, kitchen and small rear bedrooms. Often, these buildings were owner occupied, and it was not unusual to find the other apartments rented to relatives or in-laws.

The aesthetic appeal of most Woonsocket triple deckers is their front porches. A delicate three story porch can make one of these hulking structures seem quite refined. To judge the importance of these porches, one only has to see a triple decker after the porches have been removed.

This page utilizes information from:

  • Statewide Historic Preservation Report for Woonsocket, Rhode Island published by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission in September, 1976.
  • Woonsocket, Rhode Island - A Centennial History 1888 - 1988 published by the Woonsocket Centennial Committee in 1988.
For Woonsocket residents, these books are available at the Woonsocket Harris Public Library.

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