The Charles neighborhood, along with Wanskuck, comprises the North End of Providence. Charles is bounded by Wanskuck and Route 146 to the west, Smith Hill to its south, the town of North Providence to its north, and the West River and the New York & New Hampshire Railroad tracks to its east. Major north-south thoroughfares in the neighborhood include Branch Avenue, Charles Street and Silver Spring Street, while Ledge Street provides an important east-west axis. Windmill Hill, located in the northeastern part of Charles, is one of the highest points in Providence and has a breathtaking view of the skyline.
Until the completion of the Wanskuck Road (now Branch Avenue) in 1706, the North End lacked a major road or highway and was a sparsely settled rural area with only a few farms and houses. Largely unconnected to the more developed areas of Providence, the North End was annexed to the town of North Providence in 1765. In the early 1800s, industry first came to the North End with the establishment of a small cotton mill on Wanskuck Pond. Because of this, the Charles side of the North End grew much more slowly than did Wanskuck.
Substantial settlement followed industrial growth in the various river valleys in and around Providence. Just after the mid 19th century, corporations began arriving in the North End area seeking to capitalize on the natural resources of the West River and its clear-watered ponds. The Silver Spring Bleaching and Dyeing Company, established in 1864, was a driving force in the physical and social development of the Charles neighborhood. It attracted all types of workers, including many immigrants, to the area. Capitalizing on the demand for new housing, developers constructed many one- and two-family homes along Charles Street, Branch Avenue and Silver Spring Street towards the end of the 19th century.
By the turn of the century, the North End had grown to have an extremely diverse population of Irish, English, German, Scottish, and Italian immigrant families. Italian residents, in particular, became a large part of the community and numbered in the thousands by the first decade of the 20th century. The growing population, combined with the rapid development of the area, served as the major factors behind North Providence's decision to return the North End to the city of Providence in 1874.
Neighborhood growth continued into the 20th century, spurred mostly by the extension of streetcar service into the North End. Trolleys running on Branch Avenue by 1895, and on Charles Street and Silver Spring Street by 1908, fully connected the Charles neighborhood to the rest of the city. By the 1930s, the North End was a densely settled working and middle class area for residents employed both inside and outside the neighborhood.
With the close of the Silver Spring Bleaching and Dyeing Company in 1939 and the Wanskuck Company in 1957, the North End was no longer a site of major industry. Though the North End today is primarily a residential and commercial area, the city government has attempted to market the area near Silver Spring Street as a viable industrial park. That overall effort has been somewhat successful in that there are significant manufacturing and commercial uses occupying the southern part of the neighborhood. Hopkins Square, at the intersection of Branch Avenue and Charles Street, remains the center of commercial and transportation activity for the neighborhood. Also, the nearby DaVinci Center for Community Progress provides the area with many services including day care, programs for elderly residents, and G.E.D. classes.
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