Who We Are Our Neighborhood Our History




The city of Pawtucket is located adjacent to the Blackstone River, an area popular with Native Americans for fishing salmon and other fish prior to the arrival of Europeans. The Native Americans called the river "Kittacuck," meaning "great tidal river." It got its "Blackstone" name from William Blackstone (Blaxton) who in 1625 became the first settler of Boston. He resettled to present day Cumberland, RI in 1635 where he built his home along the river.

The first European settler in the area of present-day Pawtucket was Joseph Jencks who moved from Lynn, Massachusetts in 1671 and set up a sawmill and forge. More people moved to the area and by 1775 industries in the area included shipbuilding, manufacturers of potash, linseed oil, muskets and other iron implements including cannons. The city grew up on the east side of the Blackstone River, which was then Massachusetts, but in 1874 the state line was relocated and Pawtucket became part of Rhode Island. The city then merged with part of North Providence on the west side of the river.

The Blackstone River provided waterpower for many industries along its 48 mile length between Providence, RI and Worcester, MA. In 1793, and Englishman, Samuel Slater, built the first fully mechanized cotton spinning mill in America. Slater Mill exists today in Pawtucket as a historic site. As more mills were built along the river, Pawtucket became an early and important center for the production of textiles. The industry thrived until the Great Depression when many mills were closed or moved to the southern states. During its heyday as a properous industrial city, Pawtucket was bustling with hotels, theaters, department stores, stately homes, and large churches, impressive architectural structures including an Art Deco style City Hall, the ornate LeRoy theatre, an Armory, and many brick Beaux Arts commercial and mill buildings.

Although providing much prosperity along its length, the Blackstone River also produced a great deal of pollution from the dumping of waste, especially from the dyeing and bleaching industries. Work to clean up the river has been slow. Even in 1990 the United States Environmental Protection Agency called the Blackstone, "The most polluted river in the country with respect to toxic sediments." More recent efforts have resulted in classifying the river as a Class C river (suitable only for "secondary contact" activities like boating.)

In 2015, the Blackstone River Valley became a National Park and its history is documented and displayed in a Visitor Center and historic sites in a number of communities along its length.

Some of those buildings are within the Armory Arts District and have been repurposed to serve the arts community. See Our Nighborhood


In 1998 Morris Nathanson, a native of Pawtucket, artist and a restaurant designer, purchased a mill building across the street from the Pawtucket Armory on Exchange Street and moved his design firm from New York City into the building. He lobbied the Pawtucket Zoning Board to create a new zoning designation as "work/live" and renovated the rest of his building as live/work units for artists. Morris Nathanson then became an active and vocal advocate for the arts in the city and has recieved numerous awards for his efforts. The Exchange Street Bridge was renamed the Morris Nathanson Bridge in his honor.

Also in 1998 The General Assembly for the State of Rhode Island passed a law creating a 307-acre Arts and Entertainment District in the Pawtucket's historic downtown giving state income and sales tax advantages to artists living in the area, an area that includes the present Armory Arts District. In 2013 the General Assembly exempted the state sales tax on original art and limited edition prints sold throughout the state. More information.

The Pawtucket Armory Association was formed in 2005 to manage the Pawtucket Armory. When the building was sold to a private owner, the Association evolved into the Armory Arts District Study Group which included representatives from the neighborhood immediately surrounding the Armory. The mission of the group is to address problems in the neighborhood such as parking and lighting and to stay informed about city issues that impacted the area. The City has since recognized the neighborhood as one of its several official districts and in 2013 awarded the group a Community Development Block Grant that was used to improve landscaping on public land within the neighborhood and to pay for and install lightpole banners. In addition to efforts to improve the appearance of the neighborhood, the group has sponsored social events where artists, designers, creatives and residents can meet and learn about each other's work, organizations, and events.