WOONSOCKET – The city’s Main Street business district was largely back to normal routines on Friday and someone would have to have been at the big Block Party celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the city’s incorporation Thursday evening to know just how big a change that was.
The 12 stages where bands and performing acts entertained a sea of local and out-of-town people flowing like a tide from Market Square to Monument square were dissembled and all the booths and temporary facilities of the city’s one-night birthday party extravaganza taken away.
Only the Arch of Triumph created by local artist Ron Deziel and the 125th Anniversary organizing committee remained as a reminder of just how big the Block Party bash had roared on Main Street.
But even the Arch was becoming a curiosity to people walking through the area who had not been present Thursday night.
“I don’t know what it is,” a woman found walking on Main Street with her two small children said Friday afternoon when asked about the large scaffolding covered with panels of art depicting scenes of Woonsocket history. “I didn’t really take a good look at it,” the woman said before moving on with her kids.
Ashley Pelletier, 25, of Smithfield, said she also did not attend the Anniversary celebration Thursday but knew the Arch was made for the event and had watched it being put together as she came to the city each day.
“It looks pretty neat,” Pelletier said.
The arch is expected to remain at the junction of Main and Blackstone streets for at least another week and for those who had attended the Block Party, it might be a fitting tribute to all the work that went into planning it.
Ronnie Chaplin, 56, a 1975 graduate of the high school, can see the arch from the window of his apartment on Main Street and said it shows how much work went into the putting on the one-day city celebration.
“I thought it was very well planned and very well orchestrated and fun for everyone involved,” Chaplin said. “It gave a good representation of the city-- what we are all about and what we should be all about,” Chaplin, a patient advocate.
The gathering of city residents Thursday night showed the strength of the city’s diversity, its ability to bring together a mix of different cultures and different ethnic groups,” Chaplin said.
That was an improvement over the days he when he was a young black teenager growing up in the city and you belonged to one group and someone else belonged to another, he said.
Chaplin’s late mother had also been aware of the difference in the city in those days and 50 years ago this week had joined other black representatives of Rhode Island in the March on Washington, D.C. where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on his belief that everyone in the nation would someday enjoy freedom and equality.
“She was from Woonsocket and you know that March was really all about getting to where we are today,” Chaplin said. The city was a different place back then, and in some ways, with all the businesses open on Main Street and the opportunity for jobs, it was better off than it is today with its economic crisis , he said.
But in other ways, the city’s has improved from where it used to be, and that change has come in a world that is even more competitive and economically challenging, according to Chaplin.
The Arch could be viewed a symbol of the city moving forward, Chaplin said, for that reason he hopes it remains a bit longer.
“At night, it is all lit up and it is really a pretty thing and I think they should make it as some type of permanent gateway into the city,” Chaplin said.
The Arch may not get that permanent status just yet, but Albert G. Beauparlant, basking a bit on Friday in the success of the Block Party, said it will remain on display a while longer due to the interest in the structure.
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine has also received a letter from a couple who would like to be married under the Arch and there was plenty of additional talk about “what do we do with the Arch,” on Friday, Beauparlant said. “Some people want to keep it up until Autumnfest,” Beauparlant said.
The fountain that had flowed from the top of the scaffolding structure was taken down as part of Friday’s clean up work and the Blackstone Street blend under it reopened to traffic. Beauparlant said he plans to tighten up all the art panels for the next few days of display and is already working on holding a thank you cook out for all the volunteers and supporters of the block party next to it next week.
What was making him feel best on Friday was the knowledge everything had gone well on Thursday with very few glitches. The police department, which had put on 20 additional patrol members to provide security for the event both in the large crowd on Main Street, made only one arrest during the event, according to Police Department Det. Jamie Paone. A city man was arrested during the evening after he jumped into the pool located at the bottom of the Arch’s waterfall and initially refused to get out.
The man subsequently got into a scuffle with responding patrol officers and was charged with disorderly conduct and simple assault, according to Paone. Autumnfest will typically have several disorderly conduct or refusing to move incidents when it is underway, and as a result Paone said the Anniversary bash could be viewed as having gone very well with all the people that showed up at Main Street for the late afternoon and nighttime celebration.
Beauparlant said his best memory of this year’s Block Party’s came as the event closed after 11 p.m. and he and his wife took a golf cart ride up and down the venue’s course. The couple’s daughter Ashley had been born after the city held its 100th Anniversary Block Party in 1988 and Beauparlant said that made the ride 25 years later one that would be hard to forget as the couple talked about the past 25 years. “People were coming up to us saying thank you Mr. Beauparlant for coming back to make this possible and that was really a memorable moment,” he said.
The people who came to the event were the real stars in Beauparlant’s mind because of how they took pride in their city and were respectful of each other as the celebration took place. “It was amazing how clean the street was because everyone used the trash bins that had been put out,” he said. Some estimates, including those from the police department, projected as many as 32,000 people visited the half mile stretch at some point during the block party’s run from 4 p.m. to 11. The biggest potential threat to the smooth operation of the event was averted just before the bands started playing and the city’s Building Inspector Leo Cote and the electrical inspector discovered the power generators brought into supply electricity to the stages needed to be switch from a three-phase construction setting to a single-phase for the event. The needed changes were made in time as a result of the inspectors help, he said.
The success of the event for Main Street businesses, especially the restaurants such as Chan’s, Vintage, Ciro’s, New York Lunch, Tandoori, the Cakery and others in the food court near Domino’s who all ran outdoor services, could prompt the city to put on a smaller size Block Party again next year, he noted.
“I am optimistic that there is a 90 percent chance a smaller block party will be held on Main Street next year,” he said. Beauparlant himself hopes to be busy with other projects such as his work with the city’s new Redevelopment Agency to bring new businesses and opportunities for employment into Woonsocket. “I want to work on a road map for the city to move forward,” he said.
The event Beauparlant, his co-chair Linda Plays and all of the members of the Anniversary Committee, its volunteers and major sponsors created is not likely to be forgotten quickly as Estelle Turgeon offered Friday when found looking up at the Arch over Main Street. “I was here and it was wonderful,” she said. “Kudos to everyone who worked on this. It’s just too bad that we don’t have more of them.” Her late parents had operated Wilfred’s Seafood in the city for many years and would have been impressed by how so many people worked together to make the celebration a success.
“They would have been flabbergasted by all of this and it would have reminded them when Main Street was the city’s main business district,” she said. “It was just a nice gathering for everyone who came down to Main Street,” she said.
Dan Peloquin, a local architect and volunteer at the Stadium Theatre next to the Arch also had high praise for the Block Party. “Everything went smoothly and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves,” he said. “We didn’t see anything we didn’t want to see and everyone seemed to want to have a good time, from young to old,” he said. The celebration also was important for Main Street in that it called plenty of attention to the businesses that are still here, from River Falls, Vintage and Ye Olde English at Market Square to Chan’s and Ciro’s and the small but growing cluster of businesses near the Stadium.
“Anybody who came down here Thursday night I think was impressed with what they found despite all of the financial concerns we have experienced over the last several years. “It was a night for music, entertainment and meeting old friends,” he said.