Thousands flock to Pawtucket, CF for free Doors Open festival

Thousands flock to Pawtucket, CF for free Doors Open festival

Visitors climb the stairs to the top of the Jenks Park Cogswell Tower, the highest point in Central Falls, during Saturday’s Doors Open Rhode Island festival. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

PAWTUCKET – Thousands of people hit the streets of Pawtucket and Central Falls last Saturday for a peek behind the curtain into some of the area’s best-kept secrets, from unoccupied buildings to some of the area’s most popular attractions.

For one day only, the volunteer-run Doors Open R.I. held a free festival in Pawtucket and neighboring Central Falls, offering people the chance to explore 10 locations that are normally closed to the public.

There was something for everyone, from vacant buildings with historical charm to behind-the-scenes tours of popular attractions such as McCoy Stadium and The Guild.

A 10-minute line snaked up a hill in Central Falls, where visitors waited patiently to climb to the top of the 70-foot Jenks Park Cogswell Tower and peer out over the city at its highest point. Underneath the tower, jaws dropped as visitors entered a rarely seen grotto, or “mystery cave,” which includes a crystal-clear pool of water.

At Pawtucket’s To Kalon Club, guests explored the rehabilitated historic building while learning about the work of the Public Archaeology Laboratory, which is headquartered there.

Up the road, a vacant and rundown storefront at 238 Main St. gives way to a vaulted, copper-clad dome, the last remnant of the Old Industrial Trust Company that thrived in the building from 1901 to 1951. Nearby, the abandoned Elks Lodge Building at 27 Exchange St. still features a bright mezzanine, several party rooms and a vacant theater space.

A line of cameras on tripods snapped pictures of Pawtucket’s National Grid Historic Bridge Mill Power Station on Roosevelt Avenue, which served as the main source of power to downtown Pawtucket during the early 20th century.

Some visitors took advantage of a tour at McCoy Stadium, home of the PawSox until 2020 when the team will move to Worcester. Visitors were allowed inside the team locker room and players’ lounge, and given a chance to sit in the dugout.

Other locations included the Rhode Island Latino Arts La Galeria in Central Falls, Pawtucket City Hall and the mayor’s offic, and Slater Mill historic site.

The last festival by Doors Open was in 2017 in Providence. Caroline Stevens, executive director of Doors Open R.I., said she hopes to bring the festival back to Providence every other year and host a smaller festival in another community in R.I. in the other years.

Stevens said she thought this year’s festival was a huge success.

“It was so thrilling to see so many people out on the streets of Pawtucket and Central Falls excitedly making their way from place to place, each person experiencing a side of these two cities they had never before seen. Everyone got swept away by the festival energy. Even the Mayor ended up unexpectedly giving tours of the tower of Pawtucket City Hall,” she said.

Her favorite response to the festival came from attendee Kate Duffy, who said, “I realized that I had never really seen Pawtucket despite visiting specific places there from time to time. This was an opportunity to walk around and absorb the vibe. And the sites themselves told such a story of the (city’s) history. Honestly I might have loved this year even better than 2017 because it introduced me to a whole new geography.”

Stevens estimates that approximately 1,200 people participated this year. There were at least 4,600 individual site visits.