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Built with the labor of Irish immigrants and completed in 1828, the Blackstone Canal stretched through downtown Worcester from Thomas Street to Harding Street. After the arrival of the railroad, the canal remained open, but was neglected, then used as a sewer, and finally arched over in the 1890s. When Union Station was renovated and reopened as a multi-modal transportation hub in 2000, the Canal District was redeveloped as a retail and entertainment district, boasting bars, restaurants, clubs, and shops, as well as events such as the Blackstone Canalfest, Canal Diggers 5K and Snails Pace Antique Auto Races, the Worcester Irish Music Festival, and Turtle Boy Music Series. Historic walking tours and horse and wagon tours include stops at Union Station, the Wachusett Building, 82-88 Windsor Street, the J.H. and G.M. Walker Shoe Factory, the W.H. Hill Envelope Factory, Crompton Loom Works, the Ash Street School, Father Matthew Hall, 91 Green Street, the John T. Cahill House, and St. John's Church and Rectory [1].


  • Canal District Mural (image from the Worcester Telegram)
  • Drawing of the Blackstone Canal District, c. 1835 (image from the National Parks Service)
  • Horse and wagon tour of the Canal District (image from Worcester Diversions)
The Blackstone Canal was a joint venture of Massachusetts and Rhode Island businessmen, who wished to connect the town of Worcester and the towns along the Blackstone River Valley to Narragansett Bay on the Atlantic. Built with the labor of Irish immigrants, the canal followed the natural course of the river except for a bypass to avoid rapids and shallows. In Worcester, it met up with Mill Brook and stretched through downtown from Thomas Street to Harding Street, creating a swampy island (known as The Island or Scalping Town) where Crompton Park is now located. The canal was built by the labor of Irish immigrants and completed in 1828. St. John's Church, the first Catholic church in Worcester, was established at The Island to accommodate the town's new population of Irish immigrants. The first traveler to arrive at Worcester via the canal was Lady Carrington. Though the canal was only used commercially for approximately twenty years, it aided the development of industry and commerce in the Blackstone River Valley, which is considered the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, and in turn pushed Boston toward railroad construction. After the arrival of the railroad, the canal remained open, but was neglected, then used as a sewer, and finally arched over in the 1890s [1].

 

The area above and surrounding the old canal developed as a multi-ethnic commercial and residential neighborhood, with communities including Poles, Lithuanians, Greeks, and Jewish people. The construction of Interstate 290 in the 1960s destroyed much of the housing and isolated the area from other nearby districts. However, when Union Station was renovated and reopened as a multi-modal transportation hub in 2000, its proximity to both the station and the highway prompted new investment in the Canal District. The district is now a retail and entertainment district, boasting bars, restaurants, clubs, and shops, as well as events such as the Blackstone Canalfest, Canal Diggers 5K and Snails Pace Antique Auto Races, the Worcester Irish Music Festival, and Turtle Boy Music Series. Historic walking tours and horse and wagon tours include stops at Union Station, the Wachusett Building, 82-88 Windsor Street, the J.H. and G.M. Walker Shoe Factory, the W.H. Hill Envelope Factory, Crompton Loom Works, the Ash Street School, Father Matthew Hall, 91 Green Street, the John T. Cahill House, and St. John's Church and Rectory [1].

1. The Canal District of Worcester. The Canal District Alliance. Accessed June 17, 2016. http://www.thecanaldistrict.com
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