In 1754, settlements along the Pawtuxet River were incorporated as the Town of Cranston in Rhode Island. During the early 19th century, Cranston evolved from a seaport town into an important industrial entity.
Major changes came when farmland in Cranston was purchased by the State in 1869, eventually becoming the site of a State prison, a mental institution, a home for the poor, and training schools. Cranston became a city in 1910.
Today, Cranston is Rhode Island's third largest city, with a population of around 80,000. It is a major industrial center but retains much of the charm of its rural and seacoast origins. Densely populated in its eastern sector, Cranston is still largely rural in the west. During the 20th century, Cranston became an important suburb for the capital city of Providence, just to the north.
Cranston has a great diversity of historic resources, many listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including a farm district, a crossroads village district, two early 20th-century suburban districts, and an important prehistoric archeological district. More than 800 local historic resources dating from the 17th century to the present have been inventoried and are described in an illustrated booklet along with a developmental history of the city.
A partnership between a private developer and the city has recently helped to preserve much of the Sockanosett School for Boys, a large complex of stone buildings built in the 1880s and 1890s as an institution for delinquent youth.
Unused by the State for several decades, this highly visible property was sold to the developer, who planned to level the complex. The Cranston Historic District Commission instead advocated for preserving as much of the complex as possible, and, at the request of the City Council, has been working with the developer for several years to achieve that goal.
The School for Boys is now being transformed for retail, office, and residential use. It will include new construction, but will also rehabilitate and adaptively reuse four of the major historic buildings.
Cranston's role in the American Revolution is remembered through the annual observance of Gaspee Days, commemorating the burning of the ship Gaspee off Namquit Point on Narragansett Bay. A new driving tour of historic farms that appear much as they did 200 years ago, as well as an annual Colonial Fair, help preserve Cranston's historic heritage.
Designated a Preserve America Community in March 2004.