Early Roads in the Blackstone River Valley
Many of the roads that exist today in the Blackstone River Valley have been used for centuries. Early European settlers found a network of Indian trails and adopted them to their own use. Two of the oldest roads in the Woonsocket area are Great Road and Mendon Road.
Great Road, built in 1683 as a major thoroughfare on the west side of the Blackstone River, passes by Woonsocket in Union Village (North Smithfield) on its way to the Town of Mendon, Massachusetts. Called "Great" because it was so much more substantial than other routes through the valley, its path can still be traced today along Smithfield Avenue in Providence and Pawtucket, Great Road in Lincoln and Smithfield Road in North Smithfield.
Great Road was connected to the Woonsocket Falls area in 1731 when the Smithfield Town Council voted to build a road connecting Woonsocket Falls to Union Village. This road is now known as South Main Street. In 1736, a bridge was built at the end of South Main Street to connect the Smithfield side of the river with the Cumberland side. Now known as the Globe Bridge, it was the first of ten bridges to be built at this location.
Another early road that connects the Woonsocket Falls area to Great Road is now known as Providence Street. Originally laid out in 1752, Providence Street branches off of South Main Street just south of the falls and intersects Great Road near the Smithfield Friends Meeting House. It passed through John Arnold's farm and his 1712 house can still be seen at 99 Providence Street. This house is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Woonsocket.
Mendon Road was established as the major thoroughfare on the east side of the Blackstone River. By 1820, the Providence to Worcester Stage Coach followed this route. Two roads originally connected the Woonsocket Falls area to Mendon Road. The first, sometimes referred to as "Old Mendon Road", developed into portions of what is now North Main Street. The second included portions of what is now Social Street. It is likely that one of these routes formed part of an old highway system that connected the Boston colony to the colonies in Connecticut.
By the early nineteenth century, it became apparent that that these early roads were inadequate to meet the transportation needs of the growing Blackstone River Valley. In response, the State of Rhode Island charted corporations to build private toll roads or turnpikes. The Douglas Turnpike, now Route 7, which ran northwest from Providence, through North Smithfield and on to Douglas Massachusetts, was charter in 1806. The Louisquisset Pike, now 146A, was chartered in 1805 and connected Providence with Lime Rock. The Louisquisset Pike's north gate house in Lime Rock is now the home to the Blackstone Valley Historical Society.
In 1869, the lines and grade of Woonsocket's streets were established by a civil engineer and the work of paving and curbing began. By 1883, Main Street was paved from Market Square to Monument Square and paving continued on other major streets around the city.
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