Pawtuxet Village is one of New England's oldest communities. By 1638, only two years after Roger Williams founded Providence, settlers had established a hamlet around the falls and cove where the Pawtuxet River flows into upper Narragansett Bay. They were attracted to the sheltered harbor as well as the readily available water power (the Native American term "pawtuxet" means "little falls").
By the time of the celebrated burning of the British ship of war, Gaspee, by disgruntled Rhode Island taxpayers in 1772, Pawtuxet Village was a thriving seaport and wayside stop on the Old Post Road, the major overland link between Boston and New York. Rhode Islanders are fond of pointing out that the burning of the Gaspee was actually the first shot of the Revolutionary War, as the schooner's commander, Lieutenant Duddingston, was wounded during the incident. This event is celebrated each June with a grand parade and other activities.
Although many people tend to look at the significance of Pawtuxet Village strictly in terms of its colonial history, the village continued to flourish with the introduction of industry in the early nineteenth century. The Rhodes brothers, Christopher and William, for example, became very successful textile manufacturers. They were noted for producing the first woolen broadcloth in America made from the wool of sheep imported from Norway. Other enterprises that flourished over a period of time were a grist mill, fulling mill (for shrinking and thickening cloth), ropewalk, screw factory, jewelry business and a company that produced aluminum products.
The growth of the village continued through the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, but with a shift in emphasis to its rich potential as a summer resort. Construction along Pawtuxet Neck and the opening of the Providence Yacht Club (now the Rhode Island Yacht Club and one of the oldest in the country) signalled the development of the village as a recreational area. A bountiful harvest of shellfish from Narragansett Bay made the Cove House a popular shore dinner hall, and the Pettis family at the end of the Neck was famous for their Oyster Houses. Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet, which started its popularity as a shore dinner hall and boat rental site, became a nationally known recreational center.
The middle of the twentieth century witnessed a transition of the village into a modern suburban community, with the construction of new housing on the site of the Russell Farm, just behind the Pawtuxet Baptist Church between Tucker Avenue and the Pawtuxet River. Along with these changes came the development of Broad Street for modern commercial uses as well as the adaptation of Broad Street and Post Road to relatively heavy automobile traffic. Pawtuxet is a village that straddles two cities, with its southern side in Warwick and the portion north of the river in Cranston.
Pawtuxet Village does not represent just one era of our history, but incorporates layers of our heritage, from colonial and Victorian houses to Cape Cod cottages built after World War II. Nationwide recognition of the historical and architectural significance of the village came in 1973 with its designation to the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, this distinction in itself does not protect further erosion of this significant heritage. Local historic zoning is the only way to insure that the unique treasures from the past located in Pawtuxet will continue to inform and inspire us--and future generations. The Warwick side of the village now has this protection (since becoming a local district in 1989). But, despite two attempts by the Historic District Commission, the City of Cranston has yet to pass an ordinance designating Pawtuxet Village as a city historic district.