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Woonsocket's Nineteenth Century Churches

The oldest churches in Woonsocket are Protestant congregations that were established in association with Woonsocket's early mill villages. Catholic parishes were established later as the need for workers brought European and French-Canada Catholics to the city to work in the mills.

Friends Meeting House (c. 1775) from an 1850 photo (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


With Quakers as the earliest settlers of the area, it is not surprising that the first place of public worship in the Woonsocket area was the Smithfield Friends Meeting House near Union Village. The Smithfield Friends Meeting House was one of a chain of Quaker meeting houses that were established along the Blackstone in the eighteenth century. Another stands on Great Road in Lincoln.

Construction of the original meeting house began in 1719 and continued on and off until 1755. In 1775, the original building was replaced with a larger structure that continued in use until 1881 when it was destroyed by fire. It was replaced by the current structure that is still in use today.

First Baptist Church (c. 1858) on Main Street from an 1860 photo (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


An early history of the Baptists in Woonsocket can not be given due to a fire that destroyed the First Baptist Church on Main Street in 1858. The congregation was established in 1833 and the original church was constructed in 1834 on the corner of Main and High Streets. After the fire, the church was rebuilt on the site and remained there until 1890 when the land was sold to interests that ultimately erected the Longley Building. The congregation then acquired land on Blackstone Street and built a new church building in 1892. The church is accented by a 60-foot spire and has remarkable stained glass windows.

Universalist Church (c. 1840) on Main Street from a 1920 photo (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


As early as 1821, the doctrine of universal salvation was preached in Woonsocket by the Reverend Hosea Ballou. It was not until 1834 that a permanent congregation - The Woonsocket Universalist Society of Young Men - was established. In the 1840's, the congregation built a church on the corner of Main and Church Streets, now the location of RIARC. The church prospered thanks to the active support and involvement of several of Woonsocket's prominent businessmen including Willis Cook - one of the founders of the Woonsocket Foundry Company, later the Woonsocket Machine & Press Company

In 1919, the Universalist Society voted to sell its property on Main Street and build a modern church on Earle and Snow Streets outside of the congested business-theater district. The congregation is still active today and the church is the home of the Center for the Arts and Spirituality.

Globe Congregational Church (c. 1843) on South Main Street from an 1890's photo (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


The Globe Congregational Church was established in Woonsocket in 1834. Originally, services were held in private homes or in the schoolhouse of the Dexter Ballou Mill. It was not until 1843 that a church was constructed on the corner of South Main Street and Pleasant Streets in Globe Mill Village. This building was destroyed by fire in 1904. Fortunately, the church had already moved to a new house of worship at the corner of South Main and Providence Streets. This building currently serves the parish of the St. James Baptist Church.

St. James Church (c. 1833) on Hamlet Avenue from an 1872 photo (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


St. James Episcopal Church was organized in 1832 and was an integral part of the Bernon Mill Village. Its meetings were held in private homes or in buildings of the Woonsocket Mill Company until the church was completed in 1833.

Today, St. James Church is the oldest Protestant church in Woonsocket that remains in its original location. Significant renovations were made to the church in 1856 when the exterior was remodeled in the Romanesque style and towers were added to lengthen the structure. The church was remodeled to its current appearance in the 1930's on the church's one hundred-year anniversary.

Over the years, many of Woonsocket's most prominent citizens have been members of the St. James Episcopal Church including Samuel Green, long time superintendent of the Woonsocket Mill Company; Edward Harris, founder of the Harris Woolen Company; Lyman Cook, founder of the Woonsocket Foundry; and George W. Miller, President of the Woonsocket Machine & Press Company. The congregation is still active today.

Methodist Church (c. 1836) on Main Street from an 1870 photo (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)

Methodist Church

The Methodist Church held services in the Social Mill until a church was constructed in 1836. The church was located on Main Street at the location of the old Post Office, now the YMCA pool. The congregation prospered on this location for many years until a new church was built on Federal Street in 1907. The congregation is still active today.

St. Charles Church (c. 1840) on North Main Street (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


It is believed that the first Catholic to take up permanent residence in Woonsocket was Michael Reddy in 1826. Ready was an Irish immigrant who came to Woonsocket as a laborer on the Blackstone Canal. Eventually, he settled on Front Street near the Bernon Mill Village and took up farming. Reddy became a leader in Irish community and organized the first Catholic service in Woonsocket in 1828.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in Woonsocket with half of the population of Irish decent. The Irish community, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, established the first Roman Catholic Church in Woonsocket in 1844. When that church burned in 1862, they built the Church of St. Charles Borromeo on North Main Street.

By the 1870's, the Irish and French-Canadian communities were approximately equal in size and it was decided that the French-Canadians should have their own parish. The first French-Canadian parish in Woonsocket was "Precieux Sang" - Precious Blood Church - established 1872 on the corner of Park Avenue and Carrington Avenue. Eventually, Woonsocket had five French-Canadian parishes - Precious Blood, St. Anne, St. Louis, Our Lady of Victories and Holy Family. Through the church, French-Canadian heritage and traditions were passed down to succeeding generations and "la survivance" thrived in Woonsocket.

A second predominately Irish parish - Sacred Heart - was established in the Fairmount District in 1895. The original Sacred Heart Church was located as at Second Avenue and Olo Street. Not long after, the current Sacred Heart Church on Second Avenue was completed.

Other ethnic parishes in Woonsocket include St. Anthony's (Italian), St. Stanislaus (Polish) and St. Michael (Ukrainian Catholic)

First Presbyterian Church (c. 1887) from a 1915 photo (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


The First Presbyterian Church is the youngest Protestant denomination in the city. The congregation was established in 1887 and a Queen Anne style church was constructed on the corner of Green and Bernon Streets. In 1904, the congregation moved to a new Shingle style church at the corner of Spring and Blackstone Streets. The congregation was dissolved in the 1950's.

B'nai Isreal (Woonsocket Library Historical Collection)


In the late nineteenth-century, Jewish residents in Woonsocket became numerous enough to justify forming a congregation. A congregation was formed in 1893 named the Lovers of Peace. This name was changed to the Congregation B'nai Israel in 1902.

In its early years, the congregation worshipped in the National Globe Bank and in the Lees Block on Main Street. In 1892, the congregation purchased land on Willow Street for a synagogue. Before they could build, though, the former Presbyterian Church on Green Street became available. The congregation purchased the building in 1904 and remodeled and rededicated it. It was used by the congregation until 1962 when a new synagogue was constructed on Prospect Street.

The new synagogue served not only as a focal point for religious activities, but also as an education and social center. The most striking feature of the modernist structure are the twelve triangular stained glass windows that depict the various phases of Jewish history.

Thanks to the Woonsocket Call for featuring my presentation on Woonsocecket's Historic Churches at the Museum of Work and Culture on January 29, 2006.

This page utilizes information from:

  • Statewide Historic Preservation Report for Woonsocket, Rhode Island published by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission, 1976.
  • History of Providence County Rhode Island edited by Richard M. Bayles and published by W. W. Peston & Co., New York, 1891
  • History of Woonsocket written by E. Richardson and published by S.S. Fosse Printers, Woonsocket, 1876 (printed by Higginson Book Company, Salem, MA)

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