"It was at the close of the 19th century, at a time when the weaving industry in New England began to prosper, that the Polish people were attracted to Central Falls, Valley Falls, Pawtucket and other vicinities in the state of Rhode Island. The first Polish people came to Central Falls and settled in the vicinity of High Street. Since no Church was available for their use, they found it necessary to attend services on Sundays and special Feast days in neighboring Churches and others, who were in a position to do so, traveled as far as St. Adalbert's in Providence to fulfill their spiritual obligations. Occasionally the people would be visited by Father Duczmal from Providence, who would try to attend to what- ever spiritual needs were necessary."
Eventually St. Joseph's and many other churches were built and they stand today...struggling as so many churches are... with smaller numbers or parishoners to support the huge old stone and brick structures which are costly to heat and in need of expensive restoration.
St. Joseph's has an active parish that pulls together every year to celebrate their heritage and raise money for their church at the St. Joseph's Annual Festival.
There are many churches in Central Falls. In fact, you will find one on nearly every block throughout this tiny city which consists of less than one square mile. Central Falls sits just north of Providence (our capitol city) and is adjacent to Pawtucket (which people often confuse with Pawtuxet .. where I live).
Central Falls has many "tenement" houses, which are 2, 3, or more apartments...one on each floor. The homes are wood frame, and built to house low income mill workers. We see many of these houses in the greater Providence area because we have such a history of fabric and jewelry mills and shops.
You can visit the web site listed here to get a more complete history of the parish and its parishoners.
I climbed a small hill street, past an elementary school where I witnessed a teacher scolding a disruptive immigrant kid, and into the neighborhoods of Central Falls, which team with large multi-family homes. These were the working class homes of factory workers, and today are home to mostly immigrants. Mixed in are the occasional large single family dwellings, some still inhabited by the descendents of families who worked the factories decades ago.
From the bridge that divides Cumberland from Central Falls, one can see a pontoon excursion boat parked at a dock. Directly below the bridge one can see the accumulation of debris that the state should figure out a way to clean up more often. Upstream there are more trails and the still water of the Blackstone River still held back by the stone and wood that controlled the river's industrial power.
The short but reliable drop of Blackstone Falls made Central Falls the textile giant it once was. The flowing water was harnessed to provide power inside one large brick factory, that today has been restored into an old folks home. There's a nature trail that traverses a forested sandbar, and periodically once can peek out on the rapids and reminents of brick factories.
Further north along Broad Street from Jenks Park and City Hall one eventually comes to the impressive brick Hasbro Factory, vacant since 1998 and now used for storage. This "molding shop" was the place where Mr. Potato Head and GI Joe were once manufactured. Athough Hasbro was founded in the 1920s, the architecture suggests late 19th century, before the age of concrete reinforce buildings. The exterior windows are not arched brick with a keystone, but inside, huge wood beams are wrapped with plastered wire, and within the warehouse space where I visited, forklift operators manuveured carefully to avoid backing into so many steel posts holding the wooden ceiling and floors above. Outside in back, beyond the dock that unloaded office furniture from my truck, tall rusty resin tanks stood, still waiting to be filled by pipes that were filled by railroad cars. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to photograph inside were there was still the occasional evidence of past marketing for Hasbro children's toys. After a number of acquisitions of other toy manfacturers, Tonka, Milton Bradley, and Playschool, to name a few, Hasbro has grown to be number two in the industry, second only to Los Angeles based Mattel. Currently all manufacturing is done overseas, but it seems likely that at least some design work is still being done in Providence.
Broad street has many find late 19th and early 20th century buildings in dire need for TLC. Some of these have familiar corporate names, but long since have been given over to new occupants. There are also here and there along Broad Street several sizeable mansions on rather large estates.
The local police station, a traditional massive granite edifice with steep stairs, is now occupied by another government office, and appears to be on the auction block. Across the street though, the aging city hall remains in need of repair but still in use.
Jenks Park is right near the City Hall building and provides a hilltop from which the entire city can be viewed. There are several interesting iron gazebos, for lack of better description, that were assembled by the Works Progress Administration during the depression. On top the knoll is a clock tower built of stone. But, the fine granite entrance archway reports that the park was founded in 1890. The whole park is a bit run down for lack maintenance, but it's worth a stroll anyway when your in town. There are some lovely large old trees and shrubs.
I spotted a small sign on the building across the street from the church and festival. Clearly everyone was heading in that direction, so I investigated. The church owns the building which looks as if it must have been another church previously... but now serves as a social hall for the parish.
Everyone was drawn to it on the day we visited, because that is where the Polish food was! The ladies of the parish made stuffed cabbage, pierogi, soup, keilbasa and the like... and it was sold as an additional fundraiser for the church. Far more popular than dancing in the hot sun... I'm sure this must be the biggest fundraising part of their event.
Lots of things were donated by local businesses and markets, and they posted a list of donors asking that they be remembered in everyone's prayers.
We enjoyed a taste of several items from the menu, but I must confess... I still think my stuffed cabbage is better!!! Ha ha ha... a recurring theme throughout my family for many years.
The St. Joseph's parish works hard to retain the heritage of its Polish parishoners, celebrating with an annual picnic or festival which also raises money for their church.
When we visited this year there was a band playing polkas, people dancing, and booths with raffle tickets, jewelry, hot dogs, and the like.
A few of the younger set organized a face painting booth to paint the faces of the younger kids. I was tempted to have mine done... but some people don't have the same sense of humor as I do. :-)
These heritage festivals are popular in Rhode Island as we are truly a melting pot here... on a smaller scale than NYC but very much the same. Nearly every nationality occupies at least a small neighborhood of our state. The restaurants are a good read of where everyone came from. Rhode Islanders are often experts with international cuisine.