Walnut Hill - East Woonsocket
Walnut Hill Acres in East Woonsocket is a well-preserved, post World War II residential neighborhood that is roughly bounded by Diamond Hill Road, Bound Road, Elder Ballou Meeting House Road and Mendon Road. This area was part of the Town of Cumberland until 1867 when it became part of the new Town of Woonsocket. It was rural farmland until 1950 when Walnut Hill Acres was established.
Walnut Hill Acres was established by the Ferland Corporation of Pawtucket, RI in 1950. Work continued in phases until the mid-1960's. It contains 300 ranch-style homes. When originally sold, these homes included fully applianced kitchens and forced hot air heat, a luxury in 1950 when 12% of Woonsocket households did not have mechanical refrigeration and 62% of Woonsocket households did not have central heat.
The development is laid out in curvilinear style following the contour of the land. Curbstones are included on all streets, but unlike most other streets in Woonsocket, sidewalks were eliminated. This adds to the suburban feel, as do the spacious yards. Many streets are named for World War II war heroes like Patton, LeMay, MacArthur, Minitz, Halsey and Marshall.
While developments like Walnut Hill Acres have been criticized for their "cookie-cutter" appearance, they actually represent an organized effort by many, including the federal government, to create an affordable single family housing. Developments like Walnut Hill Acres provided an attractive alternative to the multi-family tenement houses which were the principal housing for most of Woonsocket's middle class in the 1950's. In addition to Walnut Hill Acres, single family homes were built in large numbers in other parts of East Woonsocket, in the Oak Grove section of Woonsocket, and in Cumberland.
As workers moved to the suburbs, retail establishments soon followed. A related development by the Ferland Corporation was the Walnut Hill Plaza which was completed in 1960. Walnut Hill Plaza was Woonsocket's first suburban shopping center. It was located on Diamond Hill Road near Walnut Hill Acres. The opening of Walnut Hill Plaza was the beginning of the end of significant retail activity on Woonsocket's historic Main Street. With well lit, brightly decorated stores and ample parking, Walnut Hill Plaza was able to attract suburban shoppers away from Woonsocket's downtown retail area. Suburban growth, resulting in urban decline, was a trend that was repeated across the country in the mid-twentieth century.
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