Your Town, Your Life: Woonsocket - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather

Your Town, Your Life: Woonsocket

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By: Alexandra Cowley

In this weeks Your Town, Your Life,  Woonsocket resident and business owner, Susan, contacted us to tell us about how Woonsocket is changing its image. A city that's been blanketed in financial hardship over the last few years. But the new mayor is pushing for a fresh start. Slowly lifting that dark shadow, trying to revitalize downtown.

Businesses have moved into many of the old textile buildings and dilapidated, abandoned structures are being torn down. The Museum of Work and Culture downtown tells the history of textile manufacturing in the city. It also features the stories of the French–Canadian immigrants who came to Woonsocket in search of a better life. Many working in the mills along the Blackstone River. It's open Tuesday through Sunday and costs less than ten dollars to tour.

A place that was home to thousands of immigrants in the early 1900's is St. Ann's Church. Now, St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center. The interior of the breathtaking building features one of the largest collections of Fresco paintings in North America. The paintings are the actual faces of parishioners who attended the church. The artwork covers the walls from floor to ceiling. The 3D stained glass windows are pretty impressive too. St. Ann is now run by volunteers, many with a personal connection to its rich history.

Wally Rathbun is chairman and says, "We have 30 volunteers now. This past year has been our most popular year, people are finding out about us, they're coming in from all over the country to see St. Ann's in Woonsocket. That's pretty extraordinary in itself."

The Providence Diocese almost did away with the church in 2000, because of the declining membership and high cost to maintain. But the volunteers saved St. Ann's and now it hosts weddings, receptions, and tours. It's about to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Perhaps Woonsocket's pride and joy is the Stadium Theatre downtown. It hosts hundreds of shows every year and has recently gained attention for the disappearing acts many workers have witnessed.

If the flashing marquis outside Stadium Theatre doesn't draw you in, then the stories of flash appearances might.

"The famous line is who's your ghost here," said building manager Dennis Tancrell. 

The staff and volunteers at the antiquated theatre have all experienced some ghostly sighting.

Tancrell explained one of his experiences, "I was here programming doing lighting for that day I heard the stage door open, heard footsteps across the ceiling, and the first thing I said was Nick that's not even funny you can't physically walk from that side of the stage to the other part of the ceiling in that kind of time. My hair standing up, typical feeling of not being alone."

The theatre was built in 1926. Back then there were three shows a day, seven days a week. It was remodeled in the 1990's thanks to a group of volunteers who raised 3 million dollars.

Executive director Cathy Levesque says the building temporarily closed but re-opened because of the volunteers.

"It would have been a parking lot and today not only do we have 180 events a year that mixes the community with big international acts but we also have an educational program, after school program, and children's program that were busting at the seams," said Levesque. 

Levesque thinks all the recent construction may be why they're seeing things. The disappearing acts are just a part of what makes Stadium Theatre stand out.

"It's a wonderful place to be, it lifts spirits no pun intended, " she laughed. 

Stadium began as a Vaudeville theatre. Today it hosts comedy shows, plays, and musicals.

The theatre isn't the only place in Woonsocket that attracts actors. Richard Gere was in the city in 2008 to film the movie Hachi: A Dog's Tale. It's based on a true story from Japan, where a dog named Hachiko had unwavering loyalty for his owner. The dog would wait at the train station every day for his owner to come home, even after he owner died, Hachiko became a stray waiting at the train stop, hoping for his owners return.

One Depot Square was the back drop for the movie which starred Richard Gere. In 2011, the Hachiko dog statue was unveiled and now sits at Depot Square in the center of town.

So far our journey to discovering Southern New England's character has taken us to 11 cities and towns. We want to know what's unique about where you live. Visit our website and fill us in.

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