Woonsocket is an industrial city located on the Blackstone River about 13 miles (21 km) northwest of Providence. Water powered the city's development, starting with the construction in 1666 of a sawmill her by settlers John and Richard Arnold. With the advent of the industrial revoltion, cotton mills opened in 1810 followed by the wool industry after 1840. Numerous other industries grew up as well. Industrialization brought heavy immigration, including large numbers of French Canadians.
Today the city retains an industrial base. Urban renewal in the 1970s extended the downtown to the northeast in an auto-friendly style associated with suburban growth, creating an interesting juxtaposition of two contrasting modes of commercial development.