A Brief History of West Warwick’s Villages
Built in 1809-10, the Lippitt Mill is one of the oldest mills still standing in Rhode Island and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This tiny village did not grow like the others; it depended on nearby Phenix for schooling, banking, worship, and shopping. In 1889, B.B. & R. Knight bought the mill and the village. They made improvements, but did not expand.
Lippitt is known as a Portuguese neighborhood, as large numbers of Portuguese immigrants settled in this area in the 1890s and still occupy the area today. Their Feast of the Holy Ghost, put on every year in September, is known throughout the state and draws a large following.
Westcott is the only village that did not grow up around a factory. It derives its name from the Westcott family, who resided in the dwelling at 341 Providence Street and lies between the two Pawtuxet River bridges on Providence Street. Nineteenth century mill houses line the street in Westcott because it provided much of the housing for the mill workers of the neighboring village, Riverpoint.
The most significant structure in Westcott was the former high school, which was a Neo-Classical structure that was built in 1904-05. It was originally the Warwick High School, but when West Warwick became a separate town in 1913, it became the West Warwick High School. It has now been converted into elderly housing, Westcott Terrace.
Today Westcott is at the center of a busy intersection at Providence Street and Tollgate Road.
The name “Natick” is a Native American word that means “a place of hills”. The first recorded development in this area was William Holden’s gristmill, built in the 1600s. In 1807, the Natick Manufacturing Company was established and the mill they built was a spinning and dye house. It wasn’t successful & the company was reorganized in 1815 into 3 separate units. Under several owners, more factories were built during the 1820s and 1830s. William Sprague, who had a successful business in Cranston, purchased a factory here in 1821. In 1839, a school house and a meeting house were erected. Two turnpikes ran through this village in the early nineteenth century, bringing a lot of people in. By 1846, the Natick mill and village were quite large and growing. From 1850 through 1900, Natick was Western Warwick’s largest village. In 1858, it is estimated, the population was about 1,400 and there were 730 workers. By 1895, there were 3,142 people counted in the census. To compare, the village of Lippitt only had a population of 702 that same year.
In 1882-83, B.B. & R. Knight bought the factories and combined them into one massive mill. The mill continued running until the 1920s when southern competition and depressed economic conditions resulted in labor unrest and strikes and the mill was closed. Then on July 3, 1941, the whole complex was destroyed by a fire and the mills were not rebuilt.
The Italian immigrants started trickling in during the late 1800s, but the largest wave came from Italy between 1900 and 1915; most of them settled in Natick. It has been reported that by 1935, two-thirds of the village of Natick was of Italian extraction. They brought with them culture and traditions that have now become a familiar part of American life.
Today there are some houses with notable architecture and two churches still standing and in use: the first is St. Joseph’s Church, which was built in 1873-87 for the French and Irish populations; the other is Sacred Heart Church, which was built in 1928-29 for the growing Italian population. The Providence Street School is currently vacant, but is considered a typical example of a Colonial Revival structure. Natick is largely residential with a sprinkling of businesses throughout.
The village of Clyde is unique in that it was built up around a mill that bleached and printed cotton cloth, not a spinning mill. In 1828, The Greene & Pike Company, comprised of Simon H. Greene and Edward Pike, built the Clyde Printworks and several houses for their workers. Simon Greene eventually became the sole owner; and the company became known as S. H. Greene & Sons in the 1860s when some of his sons took up the business as well. The area around the mill grew slowly, but by the mid-nineteenth century contained multiple mills, mill housing, a church, and private residences.
On the other side of the river, the section known as Birch Hill (but today considered part of Clyde), the growth was more significant. It was home to a Baptist church, the Classical Seminary, a carpenter shop, the Bethel, a Roman Catholic chapel, a store, a hotel, and several houses. By 1905, there were many more houses, a telegraph exchange, a telephone office, an opera house, a post office, a fire station, and several stores and craftsmen shops. It was quickly becoming an important commercial and social center; and in 1913, when West Warwick became a town, the town hall was located in this village on Pike Street. Eventually town hall was moved to Arctic, diminishing Clyde’s political and commercial prominence.
Today Clyde is mostly residential housing with a few businesses throughout, mostly along Main Street. Unfortunately, the Clyde Printworks mills are no longer standing.
The story of Riverpoint starts in 1812 when Dr. Stephen Harris & Dr. Sylvester Knight, along with a few partners, purchased a site on the river to build a small spinning mill. They formed the Greene Manufacturing Company and the area became known as Greeneville. After the company failed, Harris rebuilt and improved the mill. By 1832, he was operating one of the seven largest cotton mills in the state. Harris added two more factories to the site in 1834 & 1844, and built a new dam in 1834. The village started to grow as more housing was added, and in 1849 the Riverpoint Congregational Church was built, which featured beautiful Gothic Revival architecture. Several years later a Queen Anne-style parsonage was added.
The addition of the Providence, Hartford, & Fishkill Railroad through the village added to its significance. The name Riverpoint was adopted by the railroad company and later, the post office, because two branches of the Pawtuxet River meet at that point.
By 1862, Riverpoint had a store, mill houses, a church, a post office, and private residences. Although, for schooling, and commercial and social needs, they used nearby Birch Hill (in present day Clyde) and later built rows of mill houses in its other neighboring village, Westcott.
The population of Riverpoint was 540, according to an 1875 census. Thanks to B.B. & R. Knight’s acquisition of the mills in the 1880s, more jobs were created and the population quickly grew to 2,475 in 1895. It was the third largest village in Western Warwick at the time, behind Arctic and Natick.
Today, Riverpoint is home to the John F. Horgan Elementray School (built in 1927) and its mills are still standing. The Royal Mills have been converted into beautiful loft apartments and the cotton shed across the street is the home of Thundermist Health Center. The Original Bradford Soapworks moved into the Valley Queen mill in 1931 and is still in operation today.
The village of Phenix was started when the Roger Williams Manufacturing Company built a dam and the Roger Williams Mill on the river in 1810. An 1821 fire destroyed the mill and several tenements, but the Phenix Manufacturing Company purchased the site, rebuilt, and renamed the village Phenix (after the mythological creature, which arose from the ashes more beautiful than ever); it turned out to be a fitting name, as there were five more fires that destroyed buildings before the end of the century, but they kept rebuilding.
Between 1839 and 1867 the mills were purchased by the Lonsdale Company (later named the Hope Company), which already operated several textile mills in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The operations of the mill remained in the hands of the Lonsdale Company well into the twentieth century.
By the mid-nineteenth century, Phenix was a well-established village and center of commerce. It could boast a school that provided education for both its population and that of nearby Lippitt, three churches, a commercial center, a bank, two hotels, a rail depot, and the Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner, a local newspaper which began publishing in 1876.
Although it was surpassed by Arctic as the commercial center, Phenix still holds many historically significant structures, representing some of the finest architecture in West Warwick. The William B. Spencer home on Fairview Avenue, built in 1869-70 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was occupied first by William B. Spencer, a prominent businessman and civic leader in Phenix. Next it was occupied by Robert Reoch, an important manufacturer. Also notable is the Henry D. Brown House, built in 1840, and located at 19 Fairview Avenue. William B. Spencer also built a commercial structure called Spencer’s Block in 1829. The Phenix Hotel opened in 1871 and is the only hotel remaining in West Warwick today.
The village in Arctic was the last to develop, both industrially and commercially, but would ultimately surpass all other villages by becoming the most populous village, the commercial and social center, and the seat of government. When the New London Turnpike – a major development in transportation at the time – was built in 1820, it bypassed the village, making it less desirable than the villages it did pass through. It finally started to grow when, in 1834, Rufus Wakefield built a mill in the area and rented it out to various companies. It passed through several hands until it was purchased by the large manufacturing firm, A. & W. Sprague Manufacturing Company. The story goes, that the bottom of the hill collects cold air, making it the coldest village in the town; hence, the Spragues named both the village and the mill Arctic.
In 1884, B.B. & R. Knight bought out the Spragues and started to expand the mill and add more mill housing to accommodate their growing workforce, most of which comprised of French Canadians who were coming in large numbers at the time. By the late 1800s, they had built so many houses that they reached the neighboring village of Riverpoint, blurring the lines of the separate and distinct neighborhoods.
While the Knights were busy expanding the east side of the river, A.K. Barnes was making a major contribution on the west side, what would come to be known as Jericho (but later part of Arctic). In 1869, Barnes established a trading post & stock exchange in Jericho. Then in 1874, the French built a church, St. John the Baptist Church, right across from his property. He was a wise businessman and recognized that the growing French Canadian population would become a good customer base for him. His commercial endeavors spurred on the development of more businesses in Jericho. Soon, it had a newspaper, an opera house, a train station, and several large commercial blocks. Later, town hall, the post office, and Centreville Bank would be added. It became the Main Street and most popular shopping center, not only of Western Warwick, but of mid-Rhode Island, second only to Rhode Island’s capitol city, Providence. Arctic would enjoy this distinction through the 1960s.
Unfortunately, the decline of Arctic would come about due to competition from the new shopping malls in Warwick and the implementation of Interstate 95, which did not run close to this village. Sadly, many of the buildings have become dilapidated or have been torn down. It no longer has the character it once had. Today, local government and residents are striving to revitalize Arctic and there’s hope that it will come to life again.
Centerville holds a special place in Kent County history. It is the location of the second mill erected in America and the site of the very first textile mill in Warwick (present day West Warwick). The Centreville Savings Bank, which was the first bank in this area, started in this village in 1828. It was also the first to have a steam-powered mill, which meant it did not need to be located on the river. And it was at the crossroads of two major turnpikes, Apponaug and New London, which made it a center of commerce in the nineteenth century.
The natural falls at Centerville were perfect for water power, which is why one of the early sawmills was built there in 1677. Later, using the same technology as Slater Mill in Pawtucket, the Centerville Mill was built in 1794. Job Greene, who was a descendent of one of the original purchasers of Warwick, deeded the land needed to build the mill in exchange for shares in the company. More structures were added to the site over time and the mills exchanged hands a couple times until Benedict Lapham bought them in July of 1852. He further expanded the mills, creating more jobs, which brought in large numbers of French Canadian immigrants. It is estimated that by the year 1900, over 61,000 Canadians had immigrated to Rhode Island. By 1830, Centerville had two schools, a church, a post office, and a bank; and it was a well-established village and center of commerce by 1860.
Today, there are mills still standing and in use. And you can see several houses that feature Victorian and Greek Revival architectures. The Centerville Mill at 3 Bridal Avenue, built in 1861 by Horace Foster, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The village of Crompton wins the prize for the most sites on the National Register of Historic Places: Crompton Mill Historic District (Remington & Manchester Streets), St. Mary’s Church & Cemetery, Silas Clapp House, and the Crompton Free Library (which was the first lending library in West Warwick and is now the home of the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society). The village of Crompton started in 1807 when the Stone Jug Mill was built by The Providence Manufacturing Company. It has been reported that it earned the name “Stone Jug” because farmers-turned-mill-workers, who were unfamiliar with this type of work environment, named it for its confined space.
There appears to be some speculation regarding how Crompton got its name. Some say it was in honor of Samuel Crompton, inventor of the spinning mule. Others say it was prompted by a visit from James Crompton, an English machinist, who provided some helpful advice for improvement to the mills. As it is not likely well-documented, we may never know.
More mills were added to Crompton throughout the nineteenth century and an 1862 map shows that Crompton was a substantial village with a school, hotels, stores, and four churches. One of those churches was St. Mary’s Church – the oldest Catholic church in the state, built in 1844 for the exploding Irish population. In addition to the Irish population, Crompton is known for its Swedish, Polish, and Slavic immigrant groups.
Nicknamed the “Velvet Village”, Crompton became most well-known in the late 1800s for its Velvet Mill, which manufactured velveteen goods and corduroy, making it the first mill in the US to make both corduroy and velvet.