The Narragansett Indians gave the river its name, Mooshausick, meaning the river where moose watered. In 1636 Roger Williams, European founder of Rhode Island, settled on the East bank of the river and learned its name from the Narragansetts. The Moshassuck is joined by its major tributary, the West River, about a mile from the center of Providence. The headwaters are only ten miles away in Lincoln. Between the two cities, the river has five ponds, a reservoir, and 11 dams.
The dams and ponds are the river's industrial heritage. As early as 1646 the first grist mill was set up on the Moshassuck near Smith street in Providence. During the 1700's the river saw tanneries, slaughter houses, coopers, a paper mill, and a chocolate factory along its banks. In 1828 five years of constuction on the lower Moshassuck completed the Blackstone Canal. The canal thrived for 20 years and served the communities between Worcester and Providence. On November 9th, 1848 the canal received its last paying freight. The railroads had arrived and made the canal obsolete. High granite walls along the river between Charles street and Citizen's Plaza are the only remains of the canal visible today on the lower Moshassuck.
The factories, transportation and housing along the river all used the Moshassuck to dispose of industrial and human waste. So much in fact, the Cholera epidemics in the area in 1849 and 1854 were blamed on the state of the Moshassuck.
The first clean up attempts were sewers built in 1897. So began a long slow recovery that continues today on the river once known for watering moose. The decline of Industry in our region has contributed to improved health of the waterway. The Clean Water Act passed by Congress in the 70's has given cities and towns like those along the Moshassuck incentives to improve sewer and treatment systems. Finally, and so important to the health of Narragansett Bay and the watersheds like the Moshassuck that feed the Bay, are citizen supported groups like Save the Bay
, the Rhode Island Rivers Council
, and Friends of the Moshassuck.