A village of snakes: New signs will highlight the history of Pascoag

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BURRILLVILLE – It was once a Native American village, known for the snakes that would hide in its rocks and ledges.

In the mid-1800s, it was home to large textile mills that shaped the character of the surrounding land and its inhabitants.

Now, the village of roughly 4,600 people is on a path toward revitalization, with town officials focused on bringing new development and life to Pascoag.

Last week, a new sign was installed on Pascoag Main Street by the Bridgeway welcoming people to the village.

The four-foot-wide maroon-colored marker depicts Granite Mill, owned by A. L. Sayles and Sons, manufacturers of worsteds and fancy cashmeres. The mill once processed some two thousand pounds of wool per day according to historical accounts. The back of the new marker will soon have historical information about the business, as well as the story of the etymology of the word Pascoag.

According to “Burrillville: As It Was, and As It Is,” written by Horace A. Keach in 1856, the village was once home to a tribe known as the Pas-co-ag Indians.

“It is a ledgy place, and furnishes among the rocks around, a secure retreat for snakes,” wrote Keach. “In the Indian dialect, the term coag meant a snake, and when they went by this locality they said Pass Coag.”

The sign is one of two that will be erected in the village. The second, at the other end of the downtown area near the intersection of Sayles Avenue and High Street, will be installed in a few weeks.

That sign will display a picture of a second historic village mill: F. L. Sayles & Co. Lincoln Mills. Mfrs. Men’s Wear Worsteds, another maker of cashmere.

The signs are part of an effort by the Burrillville Redevelopment Agency to highlight the village and bring life to the downtown zone, attracting reinvestment. First formed in 2003, the agency aims to encourage, direct, and regulate new development and redevelopment within town districts.

The agency’s work in Harrisville included renovation of the former Stillwater Mill Complex. Mill buildings were repurposed to create a new library, 47-units of affordable housing and a pavilion. The project has been widely recognized as an innovative approach to economic development and won a Grow Smart Award in 2012.

In Pascoag, the agency plans improvements to roadways, parking, utilities and zoning that retain and highlight the village’s historic features, and the process has already begun.

“The fabric of the historic downtown in Pascoag has all of the elements of a picturesque traditional village that should be a desirable place for visiting, shopping, working and living,” notes the redevelopment plan, first penned in 2006.

Agency members worked with contractor Ace Farrell of Farrell Signs to design the new monuments, which were paid for with the help of a legislative grant.

Town Manager Michael Wood currently serves as the group’s secretary.

“The Agency determined some time ago that the addition of these signs would complement the development of Pascoag,” said Wood. “They are a nice addition.”