Wanskuck is one of two neighborhoods that comprise the North End, an area in the northern part of the city roughly divided by Route 146 and the West River Valley. The Wanskuck neighborhood is bounded by the Elmhurst neighborhood to its west, Smith Hill to the south, Charles to the east, and the town of North Providence to the north. Two major north-south thoroughfares are Douglas Avenue and Admiral Street, which run from the center of Providence through the Wanskuck neighborhood and eventually to the town of North Providence.
Prior to the 19th century, the North End was a sparsely settled rural area with only a few farms and houses. Until the completion of the Wanskuck Road (now Branch Avenue) in 1706, the North End lacked a major road or highway. Largely unconnected to the developed areas of Providence, the North End was annexed to North Providence in 1765. It was during this period (1756) when Esek Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built his house on Admiral Street. In the early 1800s, industry first came to the area with the establishment of a small cotton mill on Wanskuck Pond. Soon thereafter, the first village in Wanskuck developed around the mill.
As in many surrounding areas, 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 area of the North End seeking to capitalize on the natural resources of the West River and its clear-watered ponds. The Wanskuck Company, established in 1862 in the North End, began as a major manufacturer of woolens for the Civil War, and was the driving force in the physical and social evolution of the Wanskuck neighborhood. The textile company constructed several two-family dwellings south of Branch Avenue in order to house its workers.
Furthermore, the company's need for labor brought skilled English workers and mostly unskilled Irish and French Canadian workers to the area. As the Wanskuck Company grew increasingly successful over the next 50 to 60 years, residential and commercial growth followed in the developing village.
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, numbering in the thousands by the first decade of the 20th century. The growing immigrant 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 Douglas Avenue by 1908, fully connected Wanskuck to the rest of the city for the first time. By the 1930s, the North End was a densely settled working and middle-class area for residents working both in 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.
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