Providence in Providence County, Rhode Island — The American Northeast (New England)
The Moshassuck River
Its Industry and settlements as shown on an 1885 map
A Short River Through Time
“Mooshausick,” was the name given by the native Narragansett tribe to the body of water that flows into the Providence River at Confluence Park. It means “river where the moose watered.” The Moshassuck originates in Lincoln, R.I., ten miles north of there. One mile into Providence, the Moshassuck is joined by its major tributary, the West River, known locally as Geneva Brook. In widening from five feet in Lincoln to 45 feet at points up-river from here in Providence, the Moshassuck flows through five ponds and 11 dams.
Roger Williams fled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 when he and his followers settled at a spring on the east bank of the Moshassuck, two hundred yards up river from where you are standing. Williams granted 13 original plots of land to himself and a dozen “loving friends and neighbors” and added parcels north and south as the settlement grew. Most of the settlers were farmers. Each narrow parcel fronted along Town Street (now North Main) and stretched several hundred yards up beyond the crest of the hill to your right, to Hope Street on what eventually was called College Hill. Today the site of the original settlement is the Roger Williams National Memorial, the smallest national park
From Farm to Factory
The first “factory” along the river was a grist mill and tannery built by John Smith in 1646, at what is now Smith Street toward what was then the north end of the settlement. In the 1700’s, additional mills, a distillery, a cooper, a paper mill and even a chocolate factory were built on the Moshassuck. In 1790, Joseph Congdon built an iron shop, the oldest surviving industrial building in Providence. It is over on the far corner there, at 3 Steeple Street across the river.
By 1812, there were 30 textile mills in or near Providence, including the famous Slater Mill on the Blackstone River in Pawtucket. The War of 1812 undermined the stability of the maritime traders, and shipping gave way to industry as the focus of commerce – especially the textile industry. Productivity leaped after George Corliss developed a more accurate and reliable steam engine in his factory along the West River.
The Blackstone Canal, together with its locks and dams, was built between 1824 and 1828 to link factories inland from here to Worcester with the ports of Providence and the Narragansett Bay. The success of the canal was soon undermined by the invention and growth of rail transportation; however, this only added to prosperity in the Moshassuck and Blackstone valleys, especially in Providence. By
The Befouling of the River
The first factories in Rhode Island were built along rivers, including the Moshassuck, because rivers powered the engines that operated machinery. After steam replaced water power, factories continued to be built near rivers so that the waste products of the manufacturing process could be easily disposed.
As the factories grew, so did nearby housing for the workers and they, too, disposed of waste in the Moshassuck. Adjacent public works projects like canal building and railroad construction led many Irish laborers to locate near its banks and resulted in the creation of St. Patrick’s Parish. The increasing availability of jobs for domestics, food peddlers and stevedores on the waterfront attracted former slaves from scaled down plantations in Sough Kingston. Many of these settled in Snowtown and Hardscrabble, the city’s first African-American neighborhoods – now known as Mount Hope.
Pollution was blamed for outbreaks of cholera in 1849 and 1854. Conditions improved after 1897 when interceptor sewers were built to carry the sewage to the new waste treatment plant at
Return to the River
Two factors have improved water quality in the Moshassuck River since then. The first was the shift away from manufacturing in Rhode Island as textile factories moved to the South, and the more recent shift towards cleaner service industries in the Northeast. The second was the passage by Congress of the Clean Water Act, creating incentives for businesses to reduce pollution and municipalities to improve sewer systems. That process continues to this day.
Beginning in the 1980’s, construction on the capital Center and River Relocation projects have opened the riverfront to the public enjoyment and brought the forgotten river into public focus. Organizations were formed to protect and improve the water quality from the legacy of abuse from the past. In 1991, River Rescue was organized by Citizens Bank and University of Rhode Island’s Coast Resources Center to watch over the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers.
Location. 41° 49.625′ N, 71° 24.614′ W. Marker is in Providence, Rhode Island, in Providence County. Marker Touch for map. Marker is mounted on the large Steeple Street Bridge tower, on the west side of the Moshassuck River. Marker is in this post office area: Providence RI 02903, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Woonasquatucket River (a few steps from this marker); Steeple Street Complex (within shouting distance of this marker); Lady Carrington and The Blackstone Canal (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Fleur-De-Lys Studio (about 500 feet away); First Baptist Church in America 375th Anniversary (about 500 feet away); First Town House of Providence (about 500 feet away); The First Baptist Church (about 500 feet away); a different marker also named First Baptist Church (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Providence.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker.
Also see . . .
1. Moshassuck River Watershed.
The Euro-Americans cut down and burned forests in order to build houses and create farm land. They also started the trend of draining wetlands to create dry land for farms, cities and docking facilities. By the end of the Revolutionary War, Providence had leaped over Newport and became the leading city in Rhode Island, with the Moshassuck River an integral part of what was going on. Small dams were built to power grain mills and sawmills, and with the coming of the Industrial Revolution larger dams and a canal were built upon the river. (Submitted on August 30, 2017, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
2. American Screw Company.
The American Screw Company was organized in 1860, with a nominal capital of $1,000,000, and it immediately purchased the property of the Eagle Screw Company (1840) and New England Screw Company (1850). This is by far the largest manufactory of this kind in this country, if not in the world. It has a capacity for producing, each working day, about forty thousand gross of wood screws, several tons of rivets, large quantities of machine screws, and gives employment to some two thousand five hundred operatives. (Submitted on August 30, 2017, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
3. Corliss Steam Engine Company.
The company was originally known as Fairbanks, Clark & Co. in the 1830s. In 1843 it was renamed Fairbanks, Bancroft & Co. when Edward Bancroft joined the company. In 1846 it was renamed Bancroft, Nightingale & Co. when Corliss joined the company, and in 1847 it was renamed Corliss, Nightingale and Co. In 1848 the company moved to the location shown in the images above at the Charles Street Railroad Crossing. In 1857 the company was renamed for the last time to Corliss Steam Engine Company. By 1864 Corliss bought out his partners and was the sole owner of the company. (Submitted on August 30, 2017, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
4. The Fletcher Manufacturing Company.
The Fletcher Manufacturing Company was founded by Thomas Fletcher. He started his weaving business in Boston in 1793 to produce narrow fabrics, such as tapes, "rufflings" and lamp wicks. Until the passage of the Embargo Act of 1807, Fletcher had probably imported his cotton yarn from England. Afterward, he sought out a ready supply of cotton yard which he found from Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. In 1808 he relocated his business to Providence, Rhode Island, which was quickly becoming a marketing and distribution center. (Submitted on August 30, 2017, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Categories. • Colonial Era • Industry & Commerce • Settlements & Settlers • Waterways & Vessels •
Credits. This page was last revised on September 1, 2017. This page originally submitted on August 30, 2017, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 89 times since then and 25 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on August 30, 2017, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.