Cranston’s Spragueville named for 19th century industrialist, mansion to be commemorated

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Homes along Fiat Avenue. Spragueville is known for its automotive street names because it was once the site of an auto-racing oval. [The Providence Journal/Steve Szydlowski]
Homes along Fiat Avenue. Spragueville is known for its automotive street names because it was once the site of an auto-racing oval. [The Providence Journal/Steve Szydlowski]

CRANSTON — The historic mill village of Spragueville, soon to have its own sign, is a dynamic place.

“It’s an older neighborhood … densely populated,” said City Councilman Paul H. Archetto, a Democrat who represents Ward 3, which includes Spragueville.

“It’s changing now in the 21st century. A lot of residents of Providence are mnamed for the 19th century industrialistoving in. We’re all getting along.”

Spragueville lies within four modern-day neighborhoods, according to historical and contemporary records: Knightsville, Arlington, The Village and Stadium.

“Spragueville was never geographically defined,” said amateur historian and retired state social worker Albert Melikian Jr., who grew up there. “Over a period of time it became part of Arlington. But it didn’t disappear. It’s still part of history.”

Spragueville is to be commemorated this month with the installation of a sign at Sprague Mansion, the homestead of the 19th-century industrialist family that gave its name to the village. The sign will be the first of many to establish the Cranston Discovery Network — a trail of markers celebrating the history of the city.

The Governor William Sprague Mansion, the homestead of the 19th-century industrialist family that gave its name to the village. [The Providence Journal/Steve Szydlowski]
The Governor William Sprague Mansion, the homestead of the 19th-century industrialist family that gave its name to the village. [The Providence Journal/Steve Szydlowski]
A two-minute drive on Cranston Street from the Providence city line brings a person to Spragueville.

The attraction for a homebuyer, according to RE/MAX real estate agent Judy Albanese, is lower real estate taxes and a good public school system.

She is handling the pending sale of a 62-year-old rambler at 60 Fountain Ave., which is government-owned and was the subject of a mortgage foreclosure. Although it needs TLC, she said the single-family house is a hot property because of its proximity to an elementary school.

“It was a very close-knit community,” said Melikian, who grew up in Spragueville from 1948 to 1963. “The neighbors all knew one another and they all helped one another. It’s changed.”

Said Archetto, “I have a lot of transient rental people in the ward now.”

 

Melikian lived at 1246 Cranston St., one of a row of Greek Revival houses built in 1865 for English bosses hired to oversee the Irish millhands employed by the Spragues. That immediate area was dubbed “Bull Town,” as in “John Bull,” a Colonial-era nickname for the English.

Four of the original structures are still in use as dwellings: 1230, 1246, 1254 and 1260 Cranston St.

There is a single-family house for sale in the former Bull Town, at 16 Howard St. The remodeled 1843 mill house contains three bedrooms, one full bathroom and a finished basement, with a total of 1,262 square feet. The list price is $194,900.

Elsewhere in Spragueville is a Cape Cod at 185 Fiat Ave., which was listed for sale at $199,000 and is under contract now. The neighborhood is known for its auto-inspired street names, such as Packard, because it was once the site of an auto-racing oval.

 

Largely shorn of their Greek Revival ornamentation and vinyl-sided, row upon row of mill houses still line Spragueville on Oak, Maple, Cedar and Pine streets, among many others. Elsewhere, on streets such as Pengrove and Princess and Cleveland Avenue, the neighborhood consists of a collection of bungalows, cottages and ranches, some in need of exterior paint and a yard cleanup.

Generally speaking, Archetto said, “We need infrastructure improvement.”

There is a three-family house on the market at 72 Princess for $369,900 and a gray cottage at 21 Princess, updated with bamboo hardwood floors, for $184,900.

Besides the mansion, at 1351 Cranston, the second major landmark is the widely known Cranston Print Works complex at the corner of Cranston and Dyer Avenue, the textile mill that was the source of the Sprague family wealth.

There is another Spragueville, in Smithfield, where the Spragues also left their footprint.

 

gsmith@providencejournal.com

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