17.11.10

History Unravels

Last week, I passed by Woonsocket, Rhode Island - a small town situated on the Massachusetts border. Seemingly forgotten by modern times, it only took a little scratching to reveal important historic relics below the surface of this town.
The story of Woonsocket is the story of a shifting textile industry during the 19th and 20th centuries. It once was filled with bustling mill factories that provided attractive employment opportunities for immigrants.

In the late 1800's, a steady stream of French-speaking Canadians immigrated from the farmlands of Quebec to Woonsocket and the surrounding Blackstone Valley in Rhode Island. They came to join the workforce in hope of a better and more reliable income. Unfortunately, this meant working 14-hour days spinning yarn or operating giant wool looms.
This is where my family history enters the picture. The French Canadian community in Woonsocket was so big that they demanded a French catholic church to provide them with religious services. Charles D'Auray came from Quebec to set up the requested church - he was the priest there until the 1930s. My mom, Mary Lou D'Auray, was born to that family and grew up in Woonsocket. Her father operated a printed textile mill there.
Today, the mills are all closed, and slowly the hollow brick factories are losing their past. The lucky ones are being turned into condominiums - others have burned or been torn down. Woonsocket's textile industry lives on as a memory in museums and family stories, and as part of the ever-evolving global story of man-made materials.

photos taken at the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket: http://www.woonsocket.org/workandculture.htm

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