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WHAT WAS PAWTUCKET LIKE 100 YEARS AGO?

[as typed ca 1928] By Helen George Larkin [1892-1980]
and [authored by] Catherine E. Martin Larkin [1850-1928]


[ Transcribed by Al Rose, great grandson of the author, from her original 1928 manuscript]
[Note: for the most part, spelling is as original and there are bound to be names misspelled]


Pawtucket today is a thriving community and a recognized center of industrial activity. It began its municipal life in March one hundred years ago, during the administration of President John Quincy Adams. A period of active agitation culminated in March 1829 in an act of the Massachusetts Legislature setting off a part of the town of Seekonk on the east side Pawtucket Falls and naming the new township "Pawtucket." It was Pawtucket Mass then and remained thus until March 1862 when annexation by Rhode Island was permitted. The new town of Pawtucket was formally organized on March 17th 1828 when the first town meeting was held at which the following officers were elected:

Moderator, William Starkweather; Clerk, James C. Starkweather; Treasurer, William Allen; Selectmen, David Bucklen; Elyah Ingraham and Remler Kent.

The village of Pawtucket had always been on both sides of the river ... half in Mass and half in Rhode Island. The naming of the East side of the river of Pawtucket Mass complicated matters; as natural, [among] the inhabitants a state of pride and petty jealousces accationed friction in spite of the manifest advantages of consolidation. The day when it could be secured seemed far distant, neither Mass nor R.I. was willing to surrender its claims of territory. Both sections although various controversies were brought to high court and council, it still remained unsettled.

Happily, the long standing boundary dispute between the two states was settled in 1861. The town of Pawtucket and the western portion of Seeconk lying along the shores of Seeconk River and Narragansette Bay were transferred to R.I. in exchange for the then R.I. town of Fall River. Pawtucket on the east side of the river began its career as a Rhode Island town on March 1st 1862 and its legal union with [the] community on the other side of the river occurred May 1st 1874 which date is the birthday of the Modern Pawtucket.

The first council elected newly formed town: General Olney Arnold, Claudinos B Farnsworth, John F Adams, William T Adam, Wm M Haskell, James L Pierce, and Harry B Metcalf. Gen. Arnold was named President of the board and Lewis Pearce, Esq., town clerk and George W Newell treasurer. The town grew rapidly. Railroads were built in 1847 and the added advantages offered by the railroads caused manufacturers to erect plants where shipments by freight would be feasible; the railroad passed through the town in the roadbed until 1913 when there was a change. After 1879, as a result of the rapid growth in population, increasing industries and [because] the town meetings became unwieldly, [there] arose a sentiment in favor of city government. A movement of that object in view by the electors April 1st 1885 by a vote of 1450 to 721, the act of Incorporation had been passed on March 21, 1885.

The town official[s] remained in office until the end of the year. The first city election was in December and the city government was organized Jan. 1, 1886. The members of the first city government were: Mayor Frederick Sayles, Aldermen: Oren S Horton, Edward Smith, Ansel D Nickerson, Frederick A Baker, Wm H Salisbury; councilmen: Jos. E Jenks, President Proctor C Lull, Daniel A Jillson, Fredrick H White, Elisha W Bucklin, Isaac Gill, Hinry C Burham, Alonzo Piece, Hiran S Johnson, George L Walker, James Collins, Mathew Bannon, and John Walker; city clerk Alder W Sibley; city treasurer George E Newell; chief of police Oliver RH Perry.

There were many mills; The Old Slater Mill, built in 1793 by Samuel Slater still stands today as a memorial of interest to the cotton manufactures. The Yellow Mill at the bridge, The White Mill, The Jerald and The Old Stone Mill all run by water wheel power.

The watchman at the Stone Mill rang a bell at five o’clock in the morning for the people to go to work at six, these people worked until six thirty at night. The bell rang again at nine o’clock to give the correct time, it was a very loud bell and could be heard all over the town.

The Congregational Church still stands in the same place on the corner of Slack Lane; Philander Baker kept a furniture store which was the only one in those days. Next to this was a tenement house with stores. Dr. Gaylord had his office there. Next to this was a hay and grain, run by Mr Green and son. On Stable Lane was the Pawtucket Hotel, run by Mrs Ables. The next building Mr McNamara had a tailor shop, Ira D Ellis a shoe shop, around the corner was a grocery store run by Mr Hickerson a blind man; Mr Warren Baxter worked for him and used to lead him around. On the corner at the bridge was the Bates Block built by Mr Bates who kept a dry goods store. Next was George Crawford’s fruit store. In the middle of the Square as far as Stable Lane was what was called an outside Farmers Market where hay, wood and straw were sold. The farmers came down with fresh cut hay and straw. The wood was sold by the cord and foot, the straw was sold to fill the ticks under the feather beds. There were no mattresses those days.

On the corner of Water Street Mr Marcus Dean had a very nice bakery and after school I used to like to go down there to watch a horse in a little shed joined to the bakery. The horse walked up and down on a belt joined to a wheel to make power to cut the crackers to bake. On Saturday nights the place would be filled with people taking their beans to bake and brown bread. On Sunday, the Fathers and Husbands would go after them, for that was their Sunday morning breakfast. I think they charged five cents for each.

Water Street was a respectable street; most of the residents were working people but nearly all of them owned their own homes. Elm Street was a very nice street. On Walcott Street was the homes of all the rich people. Mr Stackweather’s home was there and also Mr Pitcher (after it was Lyman Goff’s home), Frederick Read, Robert Sherman, and Thomas Lee which was the corner of Grove Street. The Dexter House set in large grounds, also Captain Marchant, which since have been cut up into streets. Then there was The Warren French House at the corner of North Bend Street and Walcott ( now the home of the White sisters). On the opposite side of Walcott, Darius Goff’s home ( now a Catholic College), the Elder Blodget home, John Potter a mill owner, and John B Reed.

There were two schools on the east side: Summit and Grove Street schools. They were not graded schools; the Summit was on the lower floor: primary and intermediate rooms, the upper floor high. Grove was primary, intermediate and grammar. At the end of the school year, the Principal of the grammar school with the advice of the committy would select a class of advanced pupils [and] examined them for high school. The west side had two schools: Church Hill and High Street schools. They were not graded but [were] primary, intermediate and grammar but no high school. Mr Samuel Only [sic] was the Principal of the Church Hill grammar and after [came?] Samuel Wedd who later became a minister. The Principal of the High School on the east side was a Mr Tolman his assist[ant] Miss Cleveland. Mr Tolman was a kind man using no harsh measures, his pupils had the most respect for him and his assistant. I wanted to go to the High School ( I lived on the west side) and I was introduced to Mr Tolman by Miss A Reed. I took the examination and passed. On account of my living on the west side, I had to pay for my tuition as the town was not annexed. The town paid the teachers, the pupils bought their own books: readers, spelling, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, and history books.

Jenks Forge, built in 1642, is today an old landmark. In the summer, the stream was easy to cross and in winter the ice formed a passage. As the population grew, the first bridge was built in 1712, both sides paying equal shares; it was swept away and rebuilt. The bridge which divided the East and West sides of the river was built in 1712 and was of wood. I think it was in the fifties [when] it was getting weak and it was decided to build a stone bridge. While building it, a foot bridge was built above the falls wide enough for two persons to pass. It started on the west side at Slater Mill and came out on the east side at Jeralds Mill. After the stone bridge was built, the foot bridge was taken away. The present stone one opened to traffic Nov 4, 1856. On the west side of the bridge there were some very large boulders or rocks which the water rushed over. Part of the mill rested on those rocks. The mill was torn down and the rocks blasted away, the theatre built. Business increased so rapidly that in order to take traffic off Main Street, they built the Exchange Street bridge in 1871 and the Division Street bridge in 1875.

On the West Side was the New Mill; it reached as far as Jenks Lane and employed between two and three hundred people; they made cotton cloth and it was run by water wheel. On the corner of Jenks Lane was a brick building built by Amos Read; he and his son had a hardware store. Next was a tailor shop for gents clothes as there was no ready made in those days, it was run by Stanford Pierce and his son; they were very stylish and also expensive. The next was John B Read; he kept a hardware. I think John and Amos were brothers. The next a dry goods store kept by a Quaker called Clib Payne.

Then the famous Despue Saloon, everybody coming to Pawtucket them days went there; his meals were first class and the upstairs was for the ladies for meals and ice cream. Very few went home at the noon hour, they went to Despou’s where town topics were discussed. The next building on the corner of Pleasant and Main Street was Mr Wilson’s Tailor shop. Then came the Dexter Yarn; the only one run by steam, the engineer Mr Matherson. It was owned by Captain Dexter and his two sons, Simon and Daniel. They employed about 300. The next building was Davis Drug Store (now Liggetts); everybody went there for medicine. Dr Davis made a very good Cough medicine and one for summer complaints which is still made today. He was noted for his braided candy in all flavors and people visiting Pawtucket would be sure to take some away with them, they liked it so much. In the next store, Miss West had a millenery. The Dr Wheaton’s home; he hada very good practice. Then came the home of Levi Tower who was killed in the civil war at the battle of Bull Run. The next was Lawyer Weeden’s home and Dr Miller and Mr Sayles who kept a grocery store; the land was later bought and made into the new Idea Store. Mr Sharpenburge first started his store when coming to Pawtucket in one of the J.B.Read stores on Main with only one counter of dry goods.

At the corner of Park and Main was an old wooden building owned by Daniel Clark for making coffins; it was sold and the land bought by Mr Connett [ or Connent] about thirty years ago. He built the building where the Boston Store is now. On the opposite side was the old home of Captain Benedict. It was torn down and the new building called the Benedict House. The same buildings are on the corner of North Union and Main Street; the only improvements being in the stores. The next building, the Bagly Block, and the next an old two-room house. It was a private school kept by two Miss Jones and some of our best families sent their children there. Mr Cole bought the land and built the Cole Block (where the Deahy store is today). The next corner of Maple and Main was a drug store kept by Mr Jenks which is the Pacific Bank, then James Mason’s home now the Business mens. Then Dr Manchester’s home which was moved to Garden Street; the Darling family buying the land and building the Music Hall. The next was an old house where Mr Duff lived; he was the watchman at Dexter Mill; it was after torn down and the Lee Block built. On the other side of Meeting Street was the home of Mr Cleaveland where O Gorman store is [today]. The next building on the corner of High Street was the Lefavor Block; on the first floor Tom Dix had groceries and Isica Shove had his insurance office and on the second floor was a Savings Bank. High Street was so narrow that part of the Lefavor building had to be cut off to widen it. The opposite on High and Main was the Gardener block; the next Rob[??] Sherman office upstairs and Duckworth jewelry store on the street floor. The next was the Dorrance Building on Main and Mill Street, Mr Philips had a drug store and Mr Reynolds a clock store. Facing Main was an old building Giddeon Spencer where the first Boston Store started. The next owned by the Millers where the Post Office was during the civil war; in the same was the Express Office devided by a spring door conducted by a man called Barton Miller.

Around the corner going toward the bridge was a fish shop kept by Mr Hawkins. The next building was the Almy Block; two brothers had a china store. After the Post Office was moved to the Manchester Block, in the further side on Mill Street, everybody had to go after their own mail as there was no letter carriers. On the top floor of the Manchester Block was the only place for theaters; traverling shows, and noted acters such as Booth and Davenport, played there until the Music Hall was built in 1880. It was the only place we had for dancing and parties. Later, the Express was moved from the Miller Block to the building next to the Manchester Block. It was the Earl and Prew conducted by Mr Prew in Providence and Mr Earl in Pawtucket. Later, the Post Office was [moved] from the Manchester block to the other Miller Block on Pleasant Street (where the Strand Theater is today). It remained there until after the Dexter Mill was torn down and the Slater Bank built their own building, where the bank had one half and the Post Office the other. It remained there until they built their own home on High Street.

Pleasant Street was a residential street. On the right hand side was Jos. Green home after the Salsbury Block. The next Dr Morton home and then Samuel Slater. I do not remember him but I knew his wife who lived alone with her housekeeper, Margaret Black, and she stayed there until her death. When everything was sold, everybody was anxious to buy something to remember Samuel Slater. My father bought a four poster bed and a down feather bed; there was no springs ... it was roped across on wooden pegs. The next was the Samuel Merry home; in the rear was a bleach house. It was known as the R.D. Mason Company. George Everett had a blacksmith shop and Mr Rounds a carriage trimmer and his paint shop. The next was Joe Quambys who made home brew; we used to have to go there to buy our yeast to make our bread. The next was Sam Daggett home, a carpenter. The next a double house where Frank Sayles lived in one half and his Father and brother Frederick lived in the other half. The next was Amos Reed and on the corner was the Almy home. Next, on the corner of Cedar and East was the home of Debro, Wilcox, Sayles [sic ... punctuation as original] and opposite Gen. William Walker home. The next corner was the David Ryders home and next the James Green home, now the home of Col. P. Hayes; the next Ba?ker [ Baker or Barker?] home then the Lowden. [A]t the corner of East and Pleasant St was Daniel Mitchell home, a Quaker, which after was bought by my father, Dennis Martin.

On Pleasant Street was the Thornton Home. On East Av., the Wheaton family had a bakery in back. On Park Place the Wilkerson family lived and gave the land which was called Wilkerson Park; Dr Clapp was also on Park Place. We had masons, bricklayers, plasterers, and painters, then we had Wm. Haskell Bolt & Screws. At the back of the Strand was a paper mill run by Harem Thomas (the Jolly and Linden brothers afterwards owned it). Jacob Dunnel had a print works for printing cloth; Frank Sayles bought his home and later his son, Frank, donated the land for the Memorial Hospital.

The principle way for traveling was by steantrains; altho there was a stage run from Pawtucket to Providence owned & run by a man named Sterry Frye and Hiram Titus was the driver; he was the father of Captain Titus. No hack went to the depot but there was a carriage that looked like a box; it was called a tender. Driven by a man named O’Coyle, it was fifty cents to the depot. The depot was only a little room house: one side for the ladies and the other for gents and the ticket office devided the rooms. The freight was then managed by the ticket master, Mr McQuilly, and his sons. Goods were sent by freight doing your own carrying. There were two coal and lumber yards: Jos. Smith on the east side and Jesse Thornton on the west side; it came by schooners and towed up the river by tugs. There were three tanneries: Lewis Fairbrother, James Davis, they manufactured lace and belt leather; Dennis Martin [father of the author] calf, sheep and lamb for cavery boots and harness leather. There were two harness makers Edward Hogan and C. Bradly.

The women that worked in the mills and out as servants at two dollars a week. The wash on Monday was out on the line before seven o’clock; if later, they were considered lazy. They did not dress like we do today. A nice cambric dress was starched very stiff [and] was to some a good Sunday dress. Then there was the beautiful silk dresses [with] tight fitting waists [and] skirts touching the ground. Some were five to nine yards wide; they had hoops then and had to be wide. Jewelry was of Jet and Roman gold and Camio broches.

Homes were lighted with oil lamps, also the streets by lamps; the first oil lamps were put in on April 26, 1832. The first Gas lamps [came] in 1855 and in 1884 they first had electric lights. The only way of heating the homes was from the kitchen stoves. The main streets were made of cobble stones but the rest were just dirt roads. I think we had about six churches: St Paul, the First Baptist, Universalist, Congregational Methodist, The Freewill Baptist, and Saint Mary’s Catholic Church. [It] is just one Hundred years ago since the Catholic church started in Pawtucket; the land being given by a Protestant man named Mr Wilkinson and the church was erected on the site in 1828.

There was no police in those days; it was a constable during the day and a watch man at night. We were good people in those days; if anyone did any wrong on the east side of the bridge, you could run across to the other side and laugh at the constable because the town was [not] annexed. If any one was arrested, they were put in a room under the city hall. There was two fire engines; the Hay cart and the Monator. When there was a fire, every [one] would run and call, "Fire! Fire!"

The people were very peaceable.

The groceries proprietors on the east side were Charrick and Allen, George Graham, and Green; on the west John Crain, William Allen, and Thos. Dix. The butchers were Darlings and Carpenters on the west and on the east, Richersons. The Mills paid once a month, so of course the stores gave monthly credit. They did not have traveling salesmen; they advertised by the merits of the goods manufactured and also by the bill-heads. I never heard of any wild animals in Pawtucket. I know nothing of the panic in 1828. My mother, [Agnes (Lafferty) Martin], told me of the panic of 1857 when all the stores were closed except Charrick and Allen, George Graham, and John Crain.

Camp Burnside and Spencer Grove were the principal places for picnics. It was very pretty along the banks of the river as far as Butlers Hospital; we used to go Maying there. Pawtucket Av was called the Pike. It was considered the handsomest in the state. Large trees on both sides arched over half way to Providence to Pidge Av. There was a toll house: a Mr George William was toll keeper. The amount received kept the roads in repair. The people were happy and contented. Those days, barrels of flour sugar, potatoes, pork and lard was in for the winter. In the summer, they put in the Coal and Wood; so they were prepared. The winters were very severe and many a skating I had above the falls. One year it was so cold, they had horses race from Davis Tannery to the Butler Hospital.

Where Coliers Park is today, there were woods where Indians camped. They made baskets for a living. There also were woods on Mineral Spring Av where soldiers camped going to war. They were the Home Guards. On the east side were the Sherridans, at first all volunteered. Later on, they were drafted and those who did not care to go paid three hundred dollars to a substitute. There was a mineral spring under L B Darlings house, who had the tripe works, and from that Mineral Spring Av got its name. There was no Sunday papers; people visited one another and took walks. Services in the Churches were twice on Sunday.

Pawtucket today is still growing and beautiful. Falls which once caused such dispute still remain and I am proud to think of Pawtucket as my birthplace. [note: her Martin father and grandfather were born in county Monaghan, Ireland and died in MA & RI].

The population is growing to 75000 from 1800. As told by,

Katherine Martin Larkin
Written by Helen G. Larkin


OBITUARY …. Pawtucket, Providence, RI
Friday, February 15, 1907.  Pawtucket Gazette & Chronicle


Colonel James William Larkin.

Col. James W. Larkin died at his home, corner of Knowles street and West avenue, on Monday, the immediate cause being shock.  He had been in good health of late, although he felt well enough until last Saturday to be about his business.  James W. Larkin was born in this city in 1847, had lived here all his life and received his education in the public schools.  At the age of 21 years he entered the grocery and grain business on North Main st., under the firm name of Pierce & Larkin, and while in this business he was elected a member of the Town Council of North Providence, of which Pawtucket was then a part.  His parents were Thomas and Ellen (Gough) Larkin.   After Pawtucket became a city he was elected a member of the Common Council from the Fifth Ward in 1890.  The title of colonel was due to his service in the Rhode Island militia, he having been colonel of the Fifth Battalion, now the Second Regiment, for several years.  When a young man, Col. Larkin was prominent in the Fenian movement in this state, and was the treasurer of the local committee.  He was a member of Branch 268, Catholic Knights of America.  After retiring from the grain business, in which he remained for 20 years, he took the road as salesman for the wholesale grocery houses, and until his health began to fail he was active in the duties of this position.  In 1878 he married Miss Catherine E. Martin, daughter of the late Dennis Martin, a leather manufacturer of this city, and she and two daughters and a son survive him.  A brother of the late Col. Larkin, Peter Larkin, died a few weeks ago.  The funeral took place Thursday and was largely attended.  His remains were removed from his late home, 238 West avenue, to St. Mary's Church, where a requiem high mass was celebrated by Rev. Fr. McCabe.  Many relatives and friends assisted at the mass, at the conclusion of which Miss Kathleen O'Brien sang, "He Leadeth Me."  The flowers included a large floral piece from the employees of the millinery department of the Shepard Store, Providence.  The bearers were Charles E. Gorman and James P. Tierney of Providence; Daniel Murphy, John T. Maguire, Robert J. Casey, and Thomas O'Brien of this city, the latter two being representatives of the Catholic Knights of America.  Burial was at Mount St. Mary's Cemetery.


[Transcribed 2002 by Al Rose, great grandson of Col. James W. Larkin]
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