Friday Flagging: Central Falls

Rhode Island’s smallest city, Central Falls, sits on the right bank of the Blackstone River, bounded by Cumberland’s Valley Falls village to the north, Lincoln to its west, and Pawtucket to its south and east. The city began life as an industrial village, and then by act of the RI General Assembly, it was split from Lincoln following a local referendum to approve the act. Within the village itself, voters evenly split on whether to support the act, but the rest of Lincoln said goodbye and that was that. As a consequence of this split, Central Falls looks to be the only city in Rhode Island to incorporate directly as a city rather than going through the town stage first.

The city is notable for being very diverse, and the City itself is extremely proud of that, using a definition of “majority minority” of “more residents who are immigrants than American-born, English speaking residents.” At its hundredth anniversary in 1995, more than half of the world’s countries were represented. The City’s history page identifies it as the “City for all People.”

What has Central Falls got now?

Central Falls has a solid, but from what I can tell, seldom-used, coat of arms.

Coat of Arms of Central Falls

Illustration by Harold Bowditch, printed by Roger Williams Press, colored by Marlowe de Christoper, obtained from the Providence Archives, and from Sam Howard’s collection.

The Tercentenary Commission describes it like so:

Gules, on a pale argent three pallets wavy azure. On a red field a vertical white stripe with three narrow wavy vertical blue stripes. An heraldic representation of a waterfall.
Central Falls was named from the falls.

These are, essentially, “canting arms” – arms that are visual representations of the name of the person/place they represent. An example might be the arms of Wolfsburg in Germany, which feature a wolf on a castle (“burg” = “castle”) or the arms of Hensbroek in the Netherlands, which features a hen wearing pants because “broek” in Dutch translates to “pants” (though, it’s actually from the Dutch word for brook).

In Central Falls’ case, they literally have centered the falls in the arms.

Central Falls’ Clerk did not get back to me at time of writing, so I was forced to search around. I found their seal, which depicts Cogswell Tower, online.

Central Falls Seal Large

From what I can tell from my own experience, this seal appears to be image traced from a different image. If you were creating this yourself, you probably wouldn’t leave all those little speckles, and you’d likely try to keep the clock readable. You also would do consistent stars in the seal, and wouldn’t have things like that notch in the Y of “City” there since you can just plug in the correct fonts.

If you’re unfamiliar, programs like Adobe Illustrator or its free counterpart Inkscape have a feature that allows you to covert a bitmap image made up of pixels into a vector image made of nodes and lines between the nodes. The latter is really great for changing the overall size of the image; since it doesn’t lose or gain pixels as you shrink or expand it. So if you are designing an image that will be in 50 px, 300 px, and 1000 px formats, you do it all as a vector image first, then convert the final image into a bitmap at each size.

My guess is that someone ran into a problem some years ago that whatever image Central Falls was using as its seal wasn’t scaling well. So they ran it through an image trace, and were able to use the result above in all the applications they needed.

I couldn’t get an official image, but the City’s flag as it flies in front of City Hall is the seal in blue outlines on a white flag.

Digitizing existing designs

Okay, the only existing thing I succeeded in digitizing are the arms. Once again, I’ve done one by myself and then one using WappenWiki assets.

They’re not too substantially different, because hey, there’s really only so much you can do with that.

For the flag, I managed to make a rough version of the existing design using an image trace of the image traced seal (this copy of the copy was nearly exact).

Existing CF Design

Again, this is the “seal on a bedsheet” design that Bristol had. Because there’s not a lot more going on, Central Falls’ flag highlights how this genre of flag is “a disaster in flag design.” The front of the flag looks fine, and is even readable. But the reverse side actually flips the text entirely, making it no longer easily readable. Also, because this is a one-color flag (which certainly saves on printing), all the fiddly little details of the flag are hard to read. Could you be certain those are trees on the flag, for instance, or that that’s even a clock?

So, in terms of civic symbolism, we have a coat of arms that seems basically unused, and a seal that displays Cogswell Tower and its incorporation date. We have a very small city in terms of the area it takes up. We also have a city with a large population of immigrants that describes itself as a “City for all People.”

Redesigning Central Falls’ Flag

Design 1

Flag of Central Falls Arms

The first design, as usual, is is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the arms. In the center are three wavy lines running downwards representing the falls, and my guess is that the red is supposed to be reminiscent of the red brick of the mills.

I’ve used a “Canadian pale” (where the center stripe is twice the size of the outside stripes) to accommodate the wavy lines.

Design 2

Factory Flag

Design 2 is based off of factories in central falls, looking to mimic the architecture of roofs and windows while drawing from the symbolism of the coat of arms. In that case, this leads to it be a horizontal triband design instead of a vertical one.

Design 3

Flag of Central Falls Anvil and Falls

Central Falls got its start when Stephen Jenks set up there as a blacksmith, and this flag acknowledges that. The hammer and anvil also represent the labor of the people and an industrious city. The rest of the flag uses the falls motif from the arms, and gives a rough approximation of the city’s geography.

Design 4

CF Square

I think this turned out way better than I was expecting. This uses a 1:1 ratio, which is the same as the flag of Switzerland. This was to represent the smallness of Central Falls and its “One Square Mile” size (it’s actually 1.29 square miles, if you include water). The dense squares around the edge represent the high population density of the city, and also the many nationalities that reside within its bounds. The central circle shape represents the clock face on Cogswell Tower, and the three wavy lines represent the Blackstone River and Central Falls, while also drawing a connection between the city’s arms.

This is a flag with a lot of complexity to its design, which is usually frowned upon in the flag design community. However, in my opinion, the goal of good flag design is to have a distinguishing symbol, and I think this would really stand out in a crowd. The first time you’d see this flag flown, you’d go “wow, what flag is that?” and then you wouldn’t forget it when you found out.

Design 5

CF Tricolor

Finally,  less radical than the flag above, I’ve done a tricolor with an emblem featuring the Cogswell Tower clock behind the coat of arms of Central Falls. I’ve shifted it towards the hoist to give the flag bit longer before it wears out, while also making that emblem more visible in low-wind environments.

There are only so many ways to do red, white, and blue tricolors, so at its base, this flag resembles the flag of Los Altos, a state that attempted to break away from Guatemala in the early to mid-19th Century. Today, it’s used by the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango/Xela.

Wrapping Up

Okay, so let me reiterate as I will do when I talk about every community outside of Providence… I am not from Central Falls, nor do I frequent the area. If you are from Central Falls and feel like I’ve totally missed the ball here, let me know! Tell me what symbolizes the city to you. I’m always glad to follow-up and do a better design, or even feature your flag if you get the itch to (if you’re looking for a free software to do it in, let me recommend Flagmaker or Inkscape depending on how comfortable you are with image editing).

Please go ahead and vote on your favorite redesign (I was asked to include the flag images in the poll for easy reference, so all future polls will do that):

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