The Town of Johnston.
Description. — Early Manufacturing. — First Town Officers. — Highway Districts. — Schools. — Johnston in the Rebellion. — Town Farm. — Horse Detective Society. — Prominent Families. — Olneyville. — Merino Village. — Hughesdale. — Manton. — Thornton. — Upper Simmonsville. — Graniteville. — Centerdale.
This town was taken from Providence and named in honor of Augustus Johnston, March 6th, 1759. Mr. Johnston was attorney general from 1758 to 1766. He donated to the town a set of record books. The population of the town in 1782 was 996. Its population now is upwards of 7,000. It is bounded north by Smithfield, northeast and east by North Providence and Providence, south by Cranston and west by Scituate. Olneyville, the largest village, is situated in the southeastern portion of the town.
Following is a list of the names of the most important points of interest in Johnston:
Villages. — Olneyville (Johnston side), Thornton, formerly Simmons Lower; Simmons Upper; Morganville, formerly Almyville; Centerdale (Johnston side); Greystone (Johnston side); Hughesdale, formerly Dry Brook; Walsh's' Pocasset Bleachery, formerly Waterman's Grist and Saw Mill; Manton, named after Edward E. Manton (Johnston side), formerly Tripptown; Merino; Graniteville.
Hills. — Neutakonkanut, from which may be enjoyed a very delightful view; College, Snake Den.
Streams — Woonasquatucket; Pocasset; Simmons; Dry Brook.
Rocks. — Pocasset Falls; Iron; Snake Den Ledge; Rear Ledge; Thurber Ledge.
Reservoirs. — Simmons; Almy's; Slack (Johnston side); Dry Brook; Moswansicut (Johnston side).
Historic. — Johnston Elm was noted for its size. The tree was ruined by the September gale of 1869, and was removed in 1873. In 1858 its measurement was taken, when its girth one foot from the ground was 40 feet, six feet from the ground 28 feet, and the girth of its two branches, respectively, 14 1/2 and 14 feet. On the Angell farm, near the site of this elm, are several springs, one of which is noted for its mineral waters. There are also an Indian burying ground, a soapstone quarry and a place where Indian pottery was manufactured. Shells imbedded in the earth indicate the site of an Indian village. Bear ledge, before named, furnished the columns and facades of the Providence Arcade. Snake Den ledge furnished the materials for the First Congregational church of Providence.
The following interesting sketch, bearing on the early manufacturing of the town of Johnston, is taken from Book of Records, No. 2, page 243, Providence, November 20th, 1788.
It must give pleasure to every friend of the arts and manufactures of our country to be informed that the Slitting Mill, erected in the neighborhood of this town, upon an improved plan, will be completed within a few weeks, that the carding and spinning machines used in Great Britain, &c., in manufacturing cotton stuffs, are introducing into this town by some public spirited gentlemen—and the domestic manufacturing increase daily, as there are few families in town but that are making cloth of different kinds. All the weaving looms in the town (of which there are great numbers) are of consequence fully employed. While we with great satisfaction take notice of these matters, we cannot help mentioning the spirit of enterprise which appears to actuate our merchants, who (under the very great disadvantage of not being able to command their property which they have credited out) are now (in addition to the ship "General Washington", sailed from here in December last for Canton) fitting out two large ships for the Indian Ocean, and a number of other vessels to different parts of the world.
An act for dividing the town passed the general assembly March 15th, 1759. By the authority of this act Colonel Christopher Harris called a meeting of the freemen of the town for the election of officers, on April 28th, 1759, the meeting being held at the house of Benjamin Belknap. Thomas Owens, Esq., was chosen moderator; Mr. Owens and Captain John Waterman were chosen to represent the town in the general assembly, to be held at Newport; Thomas Owens, town clerk; Abraham Belknap, town sergeant; Richard Fenner, Charles Waterman, Daniel Eddy, John Waterman, Jr., and Dean Kimball, councilmen; Josiah Thornton, town treasurer; Charles Waterman, Benjamin Belknap and Samuel Smith, overseers of the poor; Charles Waterman, Daniel Eddy and Joseph Waterman were elected town auditors, and Charles Waterman and Gideon Brown, assessors of rates and taxes, at 2d. per pound; William Alverson and William Harris were appointed to value the estates for qualification for freemen; Consider Luther, Benjamin Belknap and Joshua Remington, fence viewers; William Alverson, first constable, and Captain Josiah Thornton, second constable; William Henry, William Harris, William Alverson, Peleg Williams, John Brown and Abraham Belknap, way wardens; Captain Daniel Sprague, Lieutenant John Waterman and Amos Westcott were appointed a committee to view and find a place to set a pound on.
Book No. 1, of the town records, begins with the year 1772, the first part of the records being lost. At this time the subject of highways was taken up and discussed in a town meeting held at the house of Richard Eddy, July 25th, 1772; present, Edward Fenner, Thomas Angell, Noah Atherton, Andrew Harris, Richard Eddy and Seth Tripp. It is found by the records of this meeting that there were then in the town 13 road districts, which we give in full, because of the list of names with localities mentioned therein.
John Watermans Destrect To Begin at the fork of the Rhode by David Browns house and extend westerly on Plainfield Rhode &c. The names of those who were to work on this highway were as follows: David Brown, Christopher Thornton, Richard Fenner, Arthur Fenner, Charles Fenner, Amos Williams, Samuel Dyer, James Dyer, James Randall, Josiah Stone, Joseph Waterman, Isaac Waterman, Isaac Arnold, Henry Arnold, Noah Thornton, Job Salisbury, Richard Fenner, Jr., Joseph Fish, Ephraim Fish, Thomas Fenner, and all other persons within this district (No. 1) not named in any other.
George Beverlys Destrect to begin at the river by Peleg Rhoads house, and to extend westward as far as James Hoyles house, and like-wise the rhode that leads to Randalls Saw mill, the rhode that goes by John Beverlys and Esquire Williams until it comes to the head of the lane above T. Williams, and the rhode from Henry Stravens, by Capt. Spragues as far as said Spragues northermost corner. And his men to work on sd ways... are Peleg Rhoads, Edward Sheldon, Esq., John Beverly, Stephen Hammon, Joshua Remington, John Remington, Caleb Remington, Iseral Carpenter, Nicholas Carpenter, Benjamin Waterman, Peleg Williams, Esq., Zebedee Clemence, James Mathewson, John Ruttenburgh, Joseph Randall, Henry Stravins, Jr., Dan'l Sprague, Esq., Ebenezer Sprague, Esq., Rufus Sprague, Jacob Lockwood, John Tripp, Jesse Beverly and all other persons within this Destrect not named in any other.
Andrew Harris', Esq., Destrect to begin at the fork of the Rhode by David Brown's house, and to extend westward to the West End of the Bridge by Peleg Rhoads house, and likewise the Rhode that goes by Reuben Spragues, as far as the northermost corner of Capt. Angell's land. And his men to work sd ways are Thomas Angell, Thomas Harris, Jr., John Thornton, Elihu Thornton, Charles Thornton, Reuben Sprague, Christopher Harris, Amos Westcott, Thomas Harris, Thomas Clemence, Samuel Kilton, and all other persons, &c.
William Latham's Destrect, To begin at the fork of the Rhode by David Brown's house, and to extend eastwardly to Providence line, and also the rhode over Rocky Hill to Cranston line, and his men to work on sd ways are Reuben Lake, Solomon Thornton, Edward Fenner, Stephen Thornton, William Borden, Gideon Brown, Nehemiah Sheldon, Joseph Borden, Jr., Abner Borden, and all others, &c.
Obadiah Browns Destrect, to begin at Smithfield line and to extend down Killingly Rhode to a grate Rock by Belknap's dam bars, and his men to work on sd way are Rufus Hawkins, Reuben Brown, Job Waterman, Benjamin Waterman (son of Job), William Hawkins, Johnathan Arnold, Jr., Barah McDonald, Thomas Arnold, John Brown, William Paine, Jeremiah Waterman, Charles Waterman, Reuben King, Emor Olney, Nathaniel Day, and all others, &c.
Richard Thornton, the 3d Destrect, to begin at Plainfield road by Nehemiah Sheldon, and to extend northward as far as Hope Hawkins gate and his men to work on sd way are Richard Borden, Benjamin Waterman, Joshua Greene, Joseph Thornton, and all other persons, &c.
Daniel Thorntons Destrect, To begin at Killingly Rhode by Esqiure Eddy's pot ash, and to extend westward on the new highway to Esquire Sprague's way so call'd, and his men to work on sd way are John Waterman, Esq., Job Waterman, William Waterman, and all others, &c.
William Harris Destrect To begin at James Hoyles house, and to extend westward to Scituate line, and Taking in Robert William Rhode, and his men to work on sd way are Samuel Smith, Wm. Whitiker, Joshua Kimball, Jonathan Fisk, Zebedee Mitchell, Esaih King, Sr., Dan'l King, Jeremiah Sheldon, William Mathewson, Richard Mathewson, and all others, &c.
Joseph Bordens Destrect To begin at Con. Angell northermost his land and to extend by Esq Harris Gate to Killingly Rhode and his men to work on sd way are Henry Harris (son of Josiah Harris), Josiah King, William Borden King, and the heirs of Henry Harris deceased and all other persons, &c.
Isaac Winsors Destrect, To begin at Rhode by Rufus Hawkins, and to extend westward on the new highway to the head thereof, and his men to work on sd way are John Mathewson, Daniel Mathewson, Noah Mathewson, Iseral Mathewson, Jr., William Mathewson, Elder Samuel Winsor, Rufus Hawkins, Jr., and all other persons, &c.
Capt. Seth Tripps Destrect to begin at Grate Rock opposite Belknap's Dam bars, and to extend down sd way to a chesnot stump, near the lower end of Richard Clemence wall, and also to take the new highway that goes from meeting house to Daniel Thorntons and his men to work on sd way are Daniel Waterman, Jeremiah Hopkins, Abraham Belknap, Jacob Belknap, Philip Potter, Andrew Aldrich, John Sweet, Jeriah Hawkins, Jonathan Thornton, William Antrum, and all others, &c.
Daniel Mortons Destrect, To begin at a chesnot stump, near the lower end of Richard Clemence wall and to extend to the river at Tripps Town, takeing in one half of the Bridge at sd river, and his men to work on sd way are Caleb Vensent, Nicholas Vensent, Job Potter, William Warnor, Richard Eddy, Ephraim Pearce, John Cary, and the heirs of Anthony Olney Deceast, and all other persons, &c.
Consider Luther's Destrect To being at Ebenezer Spragues, Esq., and to extend to Plainfield Rhode, and the Cross Rhode from Joseph Fisk to Scituate line, and his men to work on sd ways are Josiah Potter, Capt. Iseral Angell, Daniel Williams, William and Oliver Williams, and all other persons, &c.
Highway appropriations for 1888 were $6,000.
The first meeting of any school committee of which any record can be found was on the 2d of June 1828, and was holden at the inn of Resolved Waterman, at which 12 members were present. The Hon. James F. Simmons was elected chairman and Lyndon Knight secretary. On the second Saturday in August the town was divided into ten school districts, and on the first Saturday in September, 1829, the school houses were located and with few exceptions they remain as then located. The highest appropriation made at this time to any one district was $42, and the lowest $38, and by the records it is found a committee of three men was appointed to visit each school. In 1831 two schools were established in District No. 4, on account of the distance the pupils had to walk to attend the one which was situated at the extreme south side of the district, a house being hired for the use of the second school at 25 cents per week while in actual use.
June 9th, 1832, a new district was formed from parts of district 2, 3 and 5, and was called No. 11. A school house was located and the proper machinery put in motion for the accommodation of the inhabitants of that locality. About this time the wages were cut down, as ladies were receiving $1.25, while male teachers received $2.50 per week. In 1837 the town's appropriation had increased to $350, and the state appropriation to $274.84.
February 8th, 1841, Districts 12 and 13, one at Graniteville and the other at Dry Brook (now Hughesdale), were formed. In January, 1844, District No. 14 was established in the western part of the town and was composed of Districts 4 and 6. At this time the appropriation was over $1,100 from all sources. Under the new school act of 1846 the number of committee men was cut down to three. September 3d, 1850, at a special meeting of the committee, an application from District No. 7 (Manton) was received and approved for a district tax of $1,200, for the purpose of building a new school house. In November, 1852, District No. 3 (Simmons Upper Village) voted to follow the lead of No. 7 and build a house. About the year 1866 the village of Merino had established a school, which relieved that of No. 1, and in 1867 District No. 15 was formed and a four-story school house erected. District No. 13 in 1868 erected a commodious structure at an expense of over $4,000, and in 1869 District No. 16 was formed, consisting of Merino village and a small territory surrounding the same.
March 4th, 1871, an attempt was made to have district lines abolished, which attempt proved abortive and the old system prevails. July 1st, 1871, under the new law a superintendent was elected. In the spring of 1872 the commissioner held the first teachers' institute ever held in the town, which proved successful, stimulating the friends of education to renewed exertion. June 21st, 1873, Districts 6 and 14 were consolidated and were to be known as District No. 6. During the summer of 1873 the school house in No. 1 was raised and a story put underneath, making a four-room building. In the spring of 1875 the boundaries of several districts were changed. Appropriations for 1888 were $7,000.
The town of Johnston took a conspicuous part in the great rebellion of 1861-5. From the reports we find the following record: In the 1st Regiment of the state there were 6; 2d Regiment, 40; 3d Regiment, 35; 4th Regiment, 22; 5th Regiment, 33; 7th Regiment, 16; 9th Regiment, 10; 11th Regiment, 4; 12th Regiment, 19; 1st Cavalry, 24; 2d Cavalry, 6; 3d Cavalry, 9; Battery A, 6; Battery B, 4; Battery C, 4; Battery E, 3; Battery F, 5; Battery G, 7; 14th Colored Regiment, 1. Only one or two were drafted, as the town was ready to fill its quota of men at all times.
Land was bought for the town farm, of A.W. Winsor and wife, in 1862, at a cost of $3,800, consisting of two lots, in all 45 acres and over. At the present time the home for the poor is in a fair condition and with the many improvements that have been made the paupers of the town are comfortable. The average number of paupers kept at the farm during the year 1887-8 was five. The total cost of running the farm and care of the paupers from June 1st, 1887, to May 28th, 1888, was $3,190.80. The total receipts from the farm, etc., were $2,103.87. Of this last amount $1,603.18 was received for milk sold; $343.14 for produce, etc.; $157.50 for cows sold.
The Fruit Hill Horse Detective Society was organized July 3d, 1830, and although not in this town, the territory embraces Johnston, which has always taken a lively interest in the enterprise. Since its organization 750 names have been enrolled as members, and so effective has been this institution that but one or two horse thieves have escaped from their vigilance. The treasurers of this society have been: Jeremiah Angell, William Westcott, Joseph Westcott, Robert Devereux, 1843 to 1867, since which time Robert W. Devereux has filled the office. The other officers are: George F.A. Beane, president; William Phillips, secretary; George W. White, collector. Mr. White has been collector over 40 years.
Captain Arthur Fenner, a lieutenant in Cromwell's army, was born of a highly respectable family in 1622, and appeared in Providence about 1645. February 27th, 1649, Robert Williams and Thomas Harris gave him a receipt in full for his purchase money, 30 shillings, he having full and equal right in the plantation. He was among the early settlers of the town of Providence. About 1654 he bought of William Barrows meadow land at Neutaconkanut. He afterward increased this farm to 218 acres, his land lying to the south and west of the hill, and he later increased his possessions in the towns of Johnston, Providence and Cranston to 500 acres and over. "His castle", says Reverend J.P. Root, "was built immediately after the war of 1675-6, probably on the site of his burned house, nearly opposite to the locality where the Red Mill in Simmonsville now stands, and on the Cranston side of the road, close by the burial place where the tombstone of his son Thomas and others of his descendants may still be found. It has for generations been known as the Fenner Castle."
Many of the descendants of Captain Arthur Fenner, who was buried in the old cemetery near the site of Fenner Castle, settled in the towns of Johnston and Cranston. The children of Arthur and Mehitable Fenner were: Thomas, born 1652; Arthur, Freelove, Bethiah, Phebe, and Sarah, buried November, 1676. Thomas married first Alice Ralph, second Dinah Borden. He was a major during the Indian war of 1676 and proved a brave soldier. He was a valuable citizen and exerted a wide influence in the Providence plantations. He was deputy in 1683, '91, '95, '97, '99, 1704 and 1705. He held the office of governor's assistant from 1707 to 1717, except in 1714. He died February 27th, 1718. Thomas and Alice Fenner had one child, William. The children of Thomas and Dinah (Borden) Fenner were: Mehitable, Freelove, Thomas, Mary, Joseph, Richard, Sarah, Arthur, Eleazer and John.
Of the children of Captain Arthur Fenner, Freelove married Gideon Crawford April 13th, 1687; Bethia married Robert Kilton; Phebe married Joseph Latham; Arthur married Mary Smith, daughter of John Smith the miller. He died April 24th, 1725. Many of the descendants of the above settled in this town and vicinity.
Chad Brown came to Providence with his wife Elizabeth in 1638. His son John, who was about eight years of age at the time, accompanied him. He was the elder of the Baptist church on North Main street. He had five sons: John, James, Jeremiah, Judah or Chad, and Daniel. John resided at the north end of Providence, and married Mary, daughter of Obadiah Holmes, second pastor of the First Baptist church at Newport.
James, the second son of John, lived on the homestead and married Mary, daughter of William Harris, one of the original six who came to Providence in 1636. He was born in 1666, and died October 28th, 1732. His wife Mary died August 18th, 1736. Joseph, the third son of James, born May 15th, 1701, married Martha Field, lived in North Providence, and died May 8th, 1778. He had a son, Gideon, who settled in Johnston, on Plainfield road, two miles from Olneyville. Mr. Charles Brown, his great-grandson, now occupies the place. Gideon married Ruth, and had a son Nathan, who occupied the homestead. He was born in the year 1772, and died in 1848. He married Susan Thornton, daughter of Daniel. His second wife was Susan Smith, daughter of Job. Their children were: William, who married Sallie Fenner; Abby, who married Edmond Fisk; Daniel, who died May 1st, 1879, married Abby Fenner; Ruth, Nathan, Jr., Susan, Sarah, Gideon, Phebe, Isaac. All the children settled in the town of Johnston.
Jeremiah Williams, Jr., was born July 7th, 1736, and died about the year 1810. He was the ancestor of the Williamses who settled in the town of Johnston. In a previous chapter his lineage back to Roger Williams is given. Jeremiah, 2d, married Bethiah Williams, August 9th, 1756. Their children were: Andrew, Huldah who married Pardon Fenner; Othoniel, married a Field and was drowned in Vermont; Jeremiah, 3d, married Amy Knight; Stephen, born July 15th, 1763, married Annie Knight; Catharine, born 1765, married Uriah Eddy; Waterman, married Delaney Potter; Mary, married first a Williams, second William Eddy; Anthony, married and settled in Chester, Mass.; and George, went to the state of New York.
Huldah Williams, daughter of Jeremiah Williams, Jr., married Pardon Fenner. Their children were: Asahel, born in 1781, married Abigail Alverson; Phebe, settled in Pawtucket, was the wife of Doctor Niles Manchester, died January 23d, 1860, in the 73d year of her age; Arthur, born in 1792, died in 1825; and Abby, born January 17th, 1800, married Daniel Brown, son of Nathan, died May 1st, 1879. The children of Daniel Brown and Abby Fenner were: Adelia, Albert, Eliza, Pardon Fenner, who married Helen Angell, daughter of Elisha O. Angell, and Florinda. The children of Pardon F. Brown are: Arthur, Caroline and William Niles.
Olneyville is the largest village in the town of Johnston. It is situated in the extreme southeast corner of the town, the greater section of the business part of the place being over the line in the city of Providence. The place was named in honor of Colonel Christopher Olney, who owned a tract of land in this vicinity and was a noted officer in the revolutionary war. He was born in 1745, the village was named for him in 1785 and he died in 1809. He built mills and established himself in business here about the time the place was named. He was a descendant of Thomas Olney and his wife, Mary Small, who came from England in 1635. Mary, the daughter of his son Epenetus, married Nathaniel Waterman in 1692, and their son John Waterman (born 1709) and his son John Waterman, Jr., became conspicuous in the history of the town.
The Waterman family above mentioned are descendants of Richard Waterman, who came from England in 1629 and was one of the twelve persons to whom Roger Williams deeded land obtained from Conanicus and Miantinomi. Richard Waterman was also one of the Gortonites arrested by the authorities of Massachusetts and arraigned in Boston. His son, Nathaniel Waterman married Susanna Carder in 1663. His son Nathaniel married Mary Olney May 9th, 1692. Their children were: Bethiah, Nathaniel, Joseph, Zuriel, Sarah, Mary and John. Resolved Waterman, a son of Richard the settler, married Mercy, daughter of Roger Williams in 1659. Richard Waterman, a descendant of the first Richard, established a paper mill in Olneyville in an early day.
Colonel Nathaniel Proctor settled on Valley street on a site now owned by the Snow family in an early day. His sons, John and Nathaniel, worked in an old paper mill, John engaged in the grocery business. His brother, Captain Russell Proctor, father of Walter Proctor, owned a large property in the place and was an old man when he died in 1838.
James Kelley was another distinguished man in the place, but of a later date. He was a very careful man and was bookkeeper for a long time in the mills. He was in the war of 1812 and was wounded at the battle when Washington city was burned by the British. He and Henry Snow became associated in business, Mr. Snow succeeding him in the drug trade.
Harrison Gray came to the village in April, 1838, from Fruit Hill. He was a blacksmith and had learned his trade at Worcester, Mass., in 1826. After coming to this village he carried on the business till the latter part of 1873. He was married in the fall of 1840 to Polly, daughter of William Smith, well known to many people of this vicinity. At the time he came here John Waterman kept a large store, owned the mill property here and manufactured cotton goods. The Waterman property consisted of two mills (on the city side) called the Eagle Mills. They were afterward called the Harrison Mills. In 1851 the Atlantic Mills were erected on this site.
John Pettey, great-grandfather of James L. Pettis, was born in Helburn Woods, near Dartmouth, Mass., November 11th, 1732 (old style), and was married to Rachel, daughter of Judge Benjamin Miller, of Warren, R.I., in 1755. He was a shoemaker. In 1765 he bought a house lot on the corner of Snow and Broad streets, and after framing his house in Warren, R.I., moved it there by boat and put it together. He died in 1815 in Providence. James M. Pettis, his grandson, so well known to the people of Johnston and vicinity, was born January 22d, 1783, on High street, in a house a little west of Stewart street. He was the son of Daniel Pettey (the name was so spelled till that time), who was a revolutionary soldier, and was captured and confined in the old Jersey ship at New York.
Mr. Pettey was a cooper by trade, and was constantly kept at work on the ship. One day he and another workman decided they would attempt to escape, knowing that death from the yard-arm of the ship for the adventure would not be much more than certain than that from yellow fever and other diseases which were daily carrying off the men by the score. Having decided what they would do, they got into a rowboat by night and put to sea, getting well out into the harbor before their flight was discovered and pursuit was made. Their efforts were now redoubled, but the boat of the enemy, with three armed soldiers, was soon upon them. The British boat was pushed alongside, when Pettey pushed it away. In the struggle which ensued, the boat of the British was capsized, when the crew attempted to climb in that of the fugitives, but as fast as they swam to and laid hands upon it for that purpose, contrary to warning, Mr. Pettey chopped off their fingers with his axe, and in the confusion very easily escaped.
His son, James M. Pettis, was a carpenter by trade, and built many houses now standing in Olneyville. When a boy he would tramp over this region hunting and setting his traps for game. In 1803 he came to the place and began clerking for his uncle, Samuel Harrington, who kept a store where J.O. San Souci's store is now. Not liking the business, he left the store and went back to his trade. In 1807 he built the house now owned and occupied by David Andrews, out of old Oliver Williams' barn. In 1812 he built the house beside it, the one now occupied by Mrs. Albert Waterman, who has just raised it one story higher, and made a store room of the first floor. In 1826 James M. Pettis built the house now owned and occupied by his daughter, Mrs. Ednah H. Bradford. Mr. Pettis died February 16th, 1871.
Among other old houses now standing, erected by Mr. Pettis and others, should be mentioned the two just opposite Harrison Gray's, near the railroad station. The second one from the station is very ancient, being at one time the property of the Williamses. Alfred Anthony's house was built about 1849 by John, son of Harvey Kelley. Governor Samuel Ward King built his house here in 1842. He was then governor of the state, and his house is a fit monument to commemorate the Dorr war. Mr. King was town clerk many years. His son, Charles King, is living in the city, and the heirs of Arthur Kimball own the property here. Nathan B. Harris owns the house William Smith erected in 1839 or 1840. It passed into the hands of Lake and Harris, and at the time of their division of the property in 1880, it fell to the lot of the latter, who moved it back and erected the present house on its site in 1885. Harrison Gray built his house in 1845. Samuel A. Irons built the store now occupied by Thomnpson and Co. soon after the war. The Odd Fellows' Building, on Plainfield street, was erected in 1887.
The American Multiple Fabric Company's mill, in Olneyville, was formerly used as a batting mill. The present company was originally organized by Seth W. Baker, the inventor of the process by which goods are manufactured, and upon being chartered under the state laws in 1873, the corporation was called the S.W. Baker Manufacturing Company, under the title the business was carried on until 1884, when the present corporate name was assumed. Charles A. Fletcher is president of the corporation, and William A. Wilkinson, agent and treasurer. One branch of the work done at this mill is the production of textile hose for the use of fire companies. They also manufacture the Baker patent evaporating horse blankets and other similar goods.
Trading was begun in the village of Olneyville very soon after settlement was made here, and from that time business has steadily increased. The old paper mill, owned and controlled by Richard Waterman, the old forge and foundry, and some other minor industries created a center here evidently as early as the revolutionary war, though the first stores of note were carrying on business after this time. Samuel Huntington, John Waterman, John Proctor and his half-brother, Captain Russell Proctor, were all doing business in the place early in the present century. Samuel Huntington was here in 1803, and probably years before and after. John Waterman made a purchase of land here in 1796. He started his mills in 1812, and he had a large store and was going a thriving business in 1838, when Harrison Gray came to the place. Waterman was among the most prominent traders at that time. He kept where Nathan B. Harris now carried a line of goods, and the latter, too, has been a trader for many years in the place. Mr. Waterman lived to be very old, dying at the age of 93. He was buried at the foot of Broadway. Eli Messenger, a Mr. Tillinghast and Nathan B. Harris all traded at this stand. Mr. Harris had been in business in the village for a third of a century. He was of the firm of Lake, Harris and Co., then of Lake and Harris. In 1880 he moved to his present quarters, and Mr. A. Lake started up in the building now owned by the Kimballs, where he is now. He came to the place in 1866, and has been a prominent merchant ever since.
The Union Store was kept by Charles Franklin. This property is now owned by the Atlantic Mills, but no store has been kept in that place since Mr. Franklin's day. John Proctor, and after him his half-brother, kept store on the site or near where Russell Proctor now has a place. Captain Russell Proctor died in 1838 and was followed by Walter R. Proctor and he by Henry Proctor. Benjamin Anthony and his brother Jerome B. Anthony succeeded, and after them Henry Anthony, a brother of Alfred Anthony, kept store where Fred. San Souci keeps a shoe shore now. A Mr. Holloway traded here at one time and also made clothing while running his business. Robert K. Atwood came to the village in 1856 and began clerking for William Harris in a grocery and provision store. Mr. Harris was succeeded in this store by Charles Abbott, whose successors have been Albert Burgess, E.J. Beane, S.C. Jamison and San Souci. Mr. Atwood began the meat market and grocery business in 1867 and continued trading on the Johnston side till 1884, when he moved across the line where he is now. When he came to the place 34 years ago Benoni Mathewson had the hotel, Francis Cummings had a grocery store on Plainfield street, the Proctors, Anthony, and others also before mentioned were doing business.
Dry goods were carried as part of the stock, in the earlier stores, with hardware, groceries, etc. Mrs. H. McKinley was among the earliest traders in this specialty of goods, and is trading still. About ten years ago she crossed the line and is now in the city. She has been a very successful business woman, and is now the oldest trader in Olneyille. Mrs. Clarke began in 1852, and carried on a successful business until recently in the millinery line. George E. Boyden carried on the most extensive store in the place for many years and was a very successful merchant. He sold to Mr. Allen. Robert Melvin keeps the store now, and has been there a number of years. He traded formerly in the Irons Block, where Thompson and Co. are now doing business.
The drug trade was begun here in the old fashioned way by James Kelley about the year 1846 or 1847. The stock was limited to a few general articles, which in the strictest sense of the term would not now require much of a pharmacist to compound. Mr. Kelley occupied the building now used by B.A. Smith, one of the oldest structures apparently in the place. He was succeeded by Mr. Snow, and he by Jacob Mott, Jr., who carried on business about 15 yeas. In 1885 he was followed by John Knowlton, and he gave up possession to the present proprietor in February, 1889.
E.T. Luther was virtually the first druggist in Olneyville. He came to the place in 1865 and on January 26th, started up at the stand where he has since carried on a successful business. When Mr. Stephen Whipple and Robert Macmillan had a meat market, Benjamin Mathewson the hotel, Abel Reynolds a fish market, John Hart a livery stable and Mrs. Clark a millinery store. At that time John Wade, blacksmith, Harris Brown, wheelwright, John Gaddin, segar [sic] manufacturer, Harris and Gray, old blacksmiths, and Samuel Anthony, coal merchant, were all doing business in the place on the Johnston side.
Jacob Mott was the next druggist after Luther, and remained in trade at the Kelley stand. There are now three drug stores in the village of Olneyville (Johnston side), G.R. Parker, who started up in the Odd Fellow building in 1886, being the third one.
The Olneyville Times was established in 1887, and with the exception of the Rhode Island Citizen, is the only paper ever published in the place. The Citizen was established a few years ago by Benjamin Evans, and was continued but a short time. The Times is a local paper, and is published by Sibley and Johnson, both men of experience and ability, the former having been previously connected with the Star and the Press of Providence, and the latter being a practical printer by trade. They also publish the East Providence Record, which was established by M. Sibley in 1885, Mr. Johnson coming into the firm upon the starting of the Times in 1887. The firm have a well equipped job office, and print and publish other papers, giving employment to five hands constantly.
The Olneyville Free Library and Reading Room was started as a reading room, principally through the efforts of Reverend William Davis about the year 1877. Mr. Davis, it will be remembered, was the subject of Boston's municipal vengeance a year or two ago for preaching on the street one Sunday. For this act he was confined in jail for some time. The library has been mainly supported and kept by ladies. A few years ago the Library Association was formed and incorporated, with the following officers: George C. Calef, president; Thomas B. Stockwell, vice-president; Mrs. L. Leavens, secretary; Walter Brownell, treasurer, and H. H. Richardson, librarian. There are now in the alcoves of the library 2,200 volumes. Applicants for books have the privilege of visiting the alcoves for themselves, an unusual but far the best method in vogue. The amount required each year for its support is about $500. An appropriation of $200 was made by the town May 28th, 1888, for this purpose.
There are three secret societies in the village of Olneyville, one of which, the Knight of Pythias, has recently been instituted.
Manufacturers' Lodge, No. 15, I.O.O.F., was first instituted in Hopkinton, February 19th, 1851. In February, 1859, the charter was returned to the Grand Lodge, and on April 26th, 1870, the charter was revived and returned to Olneyville with 23 members, who were drawn from Eagle, Canonicus and Hope Lodges. The first officers were: N.G., Sheldon P. Sprague; V.G., W.A. Phillips; R.S., Thomas Ball; P.S., Edgar D. Stearns; treasurer, James Davis.
Woonasquatucket Encampment, No. 10, was instituted and charted June 28th, 1873, with seven charter members. The first officers were: C.P., Thomas Ball; H.P., Edgar E. Stearns; S.W., Matthew Tennent; J.W., Dennison Harden; R.S., Edward J. Collins; F.S., Seth Mitchell; treasurer, Cyril S. Carpenter.
The following account of the Olneyville Baptist church is taken principally from a history of the society prepared and published in 1878. The conversion of the first pastor of this church occurred in 1820, and in 1827, on the erection of the meeting house, Mr. Cheney accepted an invitation to occupy its pulpit regularly. The attendance and interest increased, and November 7th, 1828, a covenant was prepared and accepted by five brothers and six sisters: Martin Cheney, Peter Place, Cyrus Williams, William Chaffee, John Peyton, Ruhama Angell, Prudence Baxter, Anna Buffington, Sarah Ann Williams, Candace Irons and Wealthy Latham. Martin Cheney was at this meeting chosen pastor, clerk and treasurer. April 3d, 1830, Stephen Barton succeeded as clerk, and Peter Place as treasurer. At the same time Peter Place and Cyrus Williams were chosen to act as deacons, serving until March, 1832, when they were succeeded by Horace Read and Samuel Thompson. In February, 1832, Mr. Cheney was again chosen clerk, and Mr. Bucklin was chosen treasurer. In November of the same year Jordan Taylor was chosen clerk, and in May following he succeeded Mr. Thompson as deacon.
In 1836 the society purchased a dwelling house for the pastor on Atlantic street, where he resided until his death. In 1837 and 1838 seasons of extensive revivals were enjoyed, which added much strength to the church. At a special church meeting, October 14th, 1837, Daniel P. Dyer and Ralph P. Devereux were elected deacons, and were installed in January following. In the spring of 1843 a protracted meeting was held for a number of weeks, during which a large number of persons made a profession of religion. At a church meeting held in March, 1847, a resolution was passed giving its approval to Brother George T. Day as a minister of the gospel, he having, a short time previously, commenced his labors in that capacity. In January, 1851, Cornelius S. Sweetland was chosen clerk, and in March, 1854, he was succeeded by Andrew H. Waterman, and one year later William H. Bowen became clerk.
January 4th, 1852, Reverend Martin Cheney, the beloved pastor of the church, died, and in the same month the church and society called to the pulpit Reverend George T. Day, who was installed as pastor in July following. Under his care the church continued to prosper until his resignation in March, 1857. In 1857, the original covenant, prepared by Mr. Cheney, under which the church was organized, was carefully revised.
A call was extended in May, 1857, to Reverend D.J.B. Sargent to become pastor, which was accepted. He came to his labors with impaired health, which after a few months gave way completely. In September leave of absence for six months was granted him in the hope that rest and a warmer climate might restore him to health, but the time fixed for his return proved to be the time appointed for his departure to the skies. His brief ministry was long enough to endear him to his people, and to teach them the value of his life.
In March, 1858, Reverend M.J. Steere was called to the pastorate, but soon afterward resigned, and subsequently joined the Second Universalist church of Providence. About this time the house of worship was extensively repaired and rededicated. In August of this year A.A. Harrington became clerk of the society. The church remained without a settled pastor for six months, during which time the pulpit was supplied by Reverend A.J. Davis, of Lowell, Mass. In the spring of 1859 Mr. B.F. Hayes of New Hampton, N.H., was invited to preach and was subsequently requested to become the permanent minister. He was ordained July 27th, 1859, and was installed in April of the next year. Mr. Hayes resigned his office after a profitable pastorate of four years. In March, 1864, Reverend J.A. Howe commenced his services as pastor and continued to serve until August, 1872, when he resigned to accept the chair of Systematic Theology in Bates College.
The death of Deacon R.P. Devereux occurred June 13th, 1866. For 29 years he had filled the office of deacon, endearing himself to the people. In July, 1866, A.A. Harrington was elected deacon and J.D. Hubbard treasurer and trustee. Brother Harrington declined to serve permanently, but consented to fill the position until another should be chosen. The church created about this time the office of assistant deacon, and chose J.D. Hubbard and Stephen Stone to serve in that capacity. This office was discontinued when these brethren, together with Thomas Sawyer, who had been chosen to the place, were set apart to the office of deacon April 2d, 1873.
In September, 1872, Brother William F. Davis was invited to become pastor. He began his labors October 1st and was ordained November 20th. He remained pastor until May, 1875. During this period a mission was established in Johnston about one mile west of the church, which resulted in the building of what is now known as Pettis Avenue chapel, at an expense of about $3,000. The chapel was dedicated January 12th, 1876, Mr. Davis conducting the dedicatory services. Deacon D.P. Dyer died June 10th, 1875, aged 82 years.
Reverend A.L. Gerish, of Pittsfield, Maine, was called to the pastorate in December, 1875, and assumed the pastoral relation February 1st, 1876. The present pastor is Reverend J.W. Parsons. A new house of worship was erected in 1884. The present membership of the society is about 300.
The Merino Mills are located at Merino village. The manufacturing interest was started there by John Waterman, who built the original mill in 1812. This property was burned in 1841, and the present structures were erected in 1851. Mr. Waterman manufactured woolen goods at first, but after a year or so changed to cotton. In 1847 the property was bought by the Franklin Manufacturing Company, consisting of Henry P. Franklin, Charles A. Franklin and Amos D. Smith. The present company, of which Peleg J. Congdon is president and treasurer, came into possession in 1885. They manufacture cotton gods, operating 30,000 spindles, and giving employment to 325 hands. The capital stock of the company is $200,000. They manufacture annually goods to the amount of about $270,000.
The village of Hughesdale takes its name from Thomas Hughes, who came there in 1849, and during the next year established what is now somewhat extensively known as the Hughesdale Chemical Works. Mr. Hughes came from Manchester, England, to this country in 1839. He was a specialist in the printing and dyeing of cotton and silk goods, and located in Pawtucket, R.I. In 1846 he married Mary A., daughter of Nathan Smith, one of the first block printers who came to this country. He began the manufacture of dye stuffs soon after he located in Hughesdale and continued the business till his death in 1883. His children were: Theodore S., William H., Thomas F., Oscar L., Harold E., and Alfred E. In 1871 Thomas Hughes organized a stock company, the style being the Hughesdale Manufacturing Company, to manufacture chemicals. In 1886 Theodore S. Hughes and his brother, William H. Hughes, succeeded to the business. In May, 1868, a great flood swept the village out of existence, and the mills were then rebuilt by Thomas Hughes on a grander scale than before.
The post office was established here in 1876 by Theodore S. Hughes and kept in his store.
The Hughesdale Congregational church was established in 1877 under the charge of the Reverend Doctor Taylor.
The village of Manton lies principally in North Providence. Of those who settled early on the Johnston side of the stream may be mentioned John Tripp, who came from Cranston as early as 1700 and took up a tract of land bordering on the village, and the Watermans, who occupied lands, part of which covers the site of W.H. Carpenter's store and vicinity. The Watermans owned a little carding mill, afterward converted into a button factory, and probably 50 years ago moved back and used as a tenement house. Mrs. Jeremiah King occupied it first as a dwelling. It now stands on the hill and is owned and occupied by Mrs. Catherine Dolan. It formerly stood near the river below the store, and was in all probability erected during the revolutionary war or soon afterward.
Robert Devereux came to the place as early as 1824, and was for many years overseer of the Manton and Kelley Mill on the other side. He purchased property of Cyrus Stone in 1828, and in that house John Tripp, Jr., married his wife, as early as 1800. Mr. Tripp died in 1861, over 80 years of age. Colonel Peter Briggs was a large landholder in this part of the town, and was a blacksmith by trade. His son, Peter J. Briggs, ran the hotel at one time. Henry M. Sessions, father of Henry M. Sessions, Jr., came here in 1830; both of them have been prosperous farmers. Mr. Sessions settled on the farm of Andrew Angell, known originally as the Whipple place. The Mantons were old settlers also. Edward and Jeremiah Manton owned considerable property in this vicinity, and the place after the establishment of a post office was changed from Tripp-town to Manton, in honor of that family. The name was changed just before the late war.
There is but one store in the village on the Johnston side. It was erected by E.A. Whipple during the late war. It was occupied by various parties till 1880, when W.H. Carpenter, the present occupant, took possession, since which time he has controlled a good trade.
St. Peter's Protestant Episcopal Society erected a church building in the place in 1845. It was a wooden building, and gave way to the present stone structure erected in 1857, Reverend W.H. Mills being the rector at that time, to whose efforts the parishioners are indebted for the house of worship. The building is of the Gothic order, after designs by Mr. Frank Mills. It stands on land originally owned by the Harris family. This land was given the church by Susan, daughter of Nathan Brown. The first wedding in this church was that of Pardon F. Brown, a grandson of Nathan Brown, to Miss Helen Angell, November 14th, 1850.
The rectors of this society have been as follows: Reverends Daniel Henshaw, Andrew Croswell, Doctor W.F. Childs, David Lumsden, W.H. Mills, Thomas L. Randolph, Benjamin F. Chase, Samuel H. Webb, W.I. Magill and Thomas H. Cocroft, the present rector. E.O. Angell has been senior warden and treasurer of this society for many years. A.T. Mansfield is the junior warden. W.S. Steere is Sunday school superintendent. The society is very prosperous and has lately made improvements on the building at the expense of $700.
There was formerly a Free-will Baptist society in the village of Manton. This society worshipped in the old depot building, but the church was always weak, and it eventually became extinct. The Calvinist Baptists have just erected a building, and under the leadership of John Perrington are making some progress. They formerly worshipped in Lee's Hall, and later in the depot building, which they sold to the railroad company in 1874 for $800. Their new chapel cost $4,000. They have no regular pastor yet. John Perrington is the Sabbath school superintendent.
There has been a hotel in Manton since about the year 1830. The tavern was probably erected at that time by Harrie Hoyle, who stayed long enough in the business to make for himself a name as an old-fashioned tavern keeper. He was followed by Peter Briggs, son of Colonel Peter Briggs, who also entertained the traveling public with good dinners and lodging for the night. Mr. Briggs also kept store, the principal article for sale and barter being West India goods, the other name for rum. Following Mr. Briggs came Charles Dewey, about the year 1854-5. He formerly worked for Pardon F. Brown in the sash and blind factory. After him came Henry C. Peckham, Charles Hall, James Phillips and Henry Mowry, the present occupant.
The Greek Hotel, or the old Elm House, a noted old tavern stand, is on the Hartford Pike, about one mile from the village of Manton. It is on the stage route from Providence to Danielsonville. Eminent horsemen made this house their headquarters in days gone by, and it has been a favorite resort of politicians. It is said that a number of Rhode Island governors have been nominated in this hotel. One of the first landlords was a Mr. Williams, succeeded by Harry Smith, Colonel Knight, George Crump, Thomas Kilton, Ben Brownell, James Eddy, George Cook, a Mr. Shattuck, Levi Phillips, J. Farnum and Daniel Greene. May 1st, 1889, O.F. Knowlton became the landlord. Mr. Knowlton was born in Vermont in 1835.
In this vicinity of the town Benjamin Hawkins, who was a connection of Harry Hoyle, Albert C. Greene and Mary Tourtellot, children of Ray Greene, and the house of Phebe Brown, once the headquarters of General Nathaniel Greene, are all names of note.
Thornton was originally called Simmonsville, in honor of James F. Simmons, who built a mill here as early as 1835, and established a store at the same time. The mill stood on grounds now occupied by the British Hosiery Company. The property was sold first to John Whipple, and passed next into the hands of his brother, Charles H., who sold it to Charles Fletcher. About the year 1839 Daniel Brown erected a wooden mill used for grinding grain. About 1847 it was destroyed by fire. In 1849 it was rebuilt with stone. Daniel Brown died in 1827, and his estate was sold by Pardon F. Brown, in 1882, to M.P. Simmons. In 1884 Charles Fletcher erected the present mills, now owned and operated by the British Hosiery Company. A wooden mill was built here in 1827 by Daniel Brown for a machine shop. Brown and Fisk operated the shop for some time after, when it passed into various hands, and was used for different purposes. It is now owned by Charles Fletcher, and is used for a shoddy mill.
Robert Wright Cooper, well known as the president of the British Hosiery Company, is a native of Manchester, England, having been born in that city September 2d, 1844. His parents were Francis A. and Maria (Wright) Cooper, both of whom were of old English families. Owing to the illness of his father, Mr. Cooper was compelled to leave school at an early age, and seek his fortune unaided. At the age of 14 years he obtained a position as apprentice in a large wholesale warehouse, and being industrious as well as quick to learn, was, at the age of 17, commissioned to travel as salesman. In 1863 he made his first voyage to America, and shortly afterward connected himself with a large hosiery manufacturing house of Nottingham, England, and for 20 years following, made many trips to this country, travelling on an average over 25,000 miles a year.
As a salesman few, if any, have been more successful than Mr. Cooper. He was the first to represent, in this county, English hosiery direct from the manufacturer, this class of goods having previously been sold through commission houses. The large houses in the principal American cities, with which he has had dealings, will remember Mr. Cooper as one of the most genial, agreeable and accommodating of salesmen, yet at the same time one of the strictest business men. Early in his connection with the Nottingham house, Mr. Cooper was made a member of the firm, and for several years shared the prosperity he had so largely helped to produce. In the year 1879, an opening presenting itself, he withdrew from this concern, and established a business of his own under the name of R.W. Cooper and Co. Owing, however, to the severe competition of Germany, with its cheap labor, the business was not a financial success, and American friends invited Mr. Cooper to leave England and locate his business in the United States. This invitation Mr. Cooper considered favorably, and on his succeeding in securing the necessary financial backing from New York capitalists, he made arrangements to remove to this country. Mr. Cooper arrived at Simmonsville, R.I. (now named Thornton), December 24th, 1884, with a valuable plant of English hosiery machinery, and a force of 120 skilled English work people, many of whom had been in his employment in England. Business was at once commenced under the name of British Hosiery Company, and in 1885 an act of the state legislature was obtained, incorporating the company. The mill buildings and cottages for the workers had been erected by Mr. Charles Fletcher from plans suggested by Mr. Cooper, and were leased to the corporation for a term of years with the option of purchase. On January 1st, 1891, taking advantage of this option, the company purchased from Mr. Fletcher the mill property, cottages and about seven acres of land, and very soon intend making extensive alterations and additions to meet the growing requirements of their trade.
The industry of making full-fashioned cashmere and cotton hosiery was entirely new to this country, and very great difficulty was experienced in getting the proper materials and help to carry on the business successfully. For upward of four years, Mr. Cooper contended against almost insurmountable difficulties, devoting on an average 15 hours a day to the business, and with indomitable perseverance and tenacity of purpose overcoming obstacles that would have discouraged a man of less sanguine temperament. Finding at least it was useless to hope for an adequate return for the outlay and labor necessary to carry on a successful business, unless the company could make their own yarns, in 1888 an additional mill was erected, in which the spinning of cashmere and worsted yarns is now carried on, so that now the manufacture of cashmere hosiery, from the wool in the grease to the finished product, is all done on the premises under the personal superintendence of Mr. Cooper. Until the passing of the present tariff laws, it was found impossible to manufacture cotton hosiery with any degree of success, but now under the fostering care of the protection granted to manufacturers of this class of goods, the British Hosiery Company have begun making cotton hose, and are now putting in new machinery, and expect very soon to double their present production. At the present time the company has in its employment nearly 400 hands, with a pay roll of about $12,000 per month, an average per capita that will compare favorably with the wages paid by any other corporation in Rhode Island.
Mr. Cooper is one of the most generous of employers, and has done everything in his power to make comfortable the surroundings of the work people, most of whom are English, as the industry being new to this country, the necessary skilled labor could not be procured here. They have a resident pastor for their church, an institute and library which are well patronized, and cottages are ready furnished for the help. Athletic sports are encouraged and developed. The British Hosiery Company's cricket and football teams, each of which has Mr. Cooper for its honorary president, are too well known to require any description here. Through Mr. Cooper's help and encouragement, a full brass band has also been formed among the employees, which is a source of great help and pleasure to the villagers in their social entertainments. Mr. Cooper was first to introduce the Saturday half-holiday to the state, the mill, from the commencement, having closed down for the week every Saturday at 1 P.M. This, combined with the weekly payment of wages, affords time and opportunity to the help to do their shopping in reasonable hours, and also to engage in the various sports and pastimes suited to their individual tastes. It may safely be assumed that the British Hosiery Company, under the skillful management and guidance of Mr. Cooper, is going to make itself felt for good in this community, and at present it stands unrivaled in America in its own particular line of business.
In 1863, Mr. Cooper was married to Miss Louisa Card, of Dorsetshire, England. Their union has been blessed with 12 children, of whom six daughters and three sons are living. The eldest son, Oliver, is now learning his father's business. Mr. Cooper is a man of temperate habits, a total abstainer from all kinds of intoxicants and tobacco, and to this he probably owes much of his robust health, and the ability to transact personally the many business affairs that call for his attention.
The Thornton Worsted Mills are now owned by a stock company of which William A. Shaw is president and Walter C. Eames treasurer. They purchased the mill in 1887. The capital stock of the company is $200,000. They manufacture worsted yarns and do an annual business of $300,000, employing 200 hands. They own 24 tenement houses and three-eighths interest in the Thornton Reservoir. Mr. William A. Shaw married Frances Fawcett, and they have five children.
Dexter F. Phetteplace came from Connecticut about the year 1842 and began the manufacture of sash and blinds. He sold out to Tripp and Lewis, who employed a dozen hands or more. Mr. Abel Tripp built the original wooden church of St. Peter at Manton. Pardon F. Brown succeeded to the business in 1848. His first job was the making of the sash, doors, and window frames for the Merino Mills and the next job was for the Delaine Mill, employing from 12 to 15 hands. He removed to Manton in 1851, where he continued till 1869. The shop was not occupied afterward as a sash and blind factory.
Upper Simmonsville was formerly a thriving manufacturing village principally laid out and built up by James F. Simmons, a son-in-law of Samuel Randall. Mr. Simmons was a man of political prominence, having been United States senator two terms. The manufacture of cotton goods was carried on till the great freshet of April 13th, 1840, swept everything away, since which time there has been nothing there. The following is quoted from a newspaper account of the flood:
Perhaps the worst catastrophe of the flood kind that ever afflicted this state was the great Simmonsville flood, which happed on the morning of April 13th, 1840. Simmonsville was then one of the most flourishing factory communities in the state and several hundred people found occupation in its mills. The owner of the mill property was James F. Simmons. He it was who started the first factory in this part of the state, and by improvements and enlargements had succeeded in making it a very valuable property. The water power was derived from two dams, the upper and the lower, as they were called, and situated in the upper village. The combined areas of the two dams is about two hundred acres, but they were badly built, and probably still worse looked after considering the amount of water they contained. They were not fed by any regular running stream, but by springs and small rills, the water from which was stored in these reservoirs. The upper dam was the reservoir proper while the lower, the one near the mills, was the storage place for water in immediate use.
The eleventh and twelfth days of April 1840, were remarkable for the vast amount of rain that fell. Continuously, for more than 24 hours, rain came down in torrents. It seemed as though the heavens had opened and solid sheets of rain allowed to fall. The consequence of this was, the surface drainage running into the upper dam was more than the structure could withstand, and in the early morning on the thirteenth the whole of the earthen embankment gave way and the waters rushed down to the lower dam in a column upwards of ten feet high, carrying everything with it. The lower dam being a much weaker structure could no more withstand the force of the rush than a reed can stand before the wind without bending. What happened then is best told by Major William A. Pirce, whose father had charge of the mill in the lower village at that time, now Thornton. Major Pirce says:
Our family lived on the Plainfield road, over the store, near the mill in the lower village. The Saturday night and Sunday previous it had been raining in torrents, and on Monday morning, between 5 and 6 o'clock, about the time for people to get ready for their work, the alarm was given. I was awakened from sleep by hearing shouts of "The dam's burst! The dam's burst!" and I at once jumped up and looked through the window looking out into the road, and there I saw a man called Steve Baker, on a white horse, driving up the road at a fearful rate shouting the warning cry. Instinctively I then ran to the other window which overlooked the stream, and I was just in time to see the first of the flood. It looked like a great solid, but movable wall. I was just in time to see the column strike the first of the buildings after its destructive course in the upper village. This was a slaughter house on the opposite side of the stream from our house. It caught the building so pat that it went over as gracefully as any one could wish to see, and sailed down the stream. Everybody quitted their houses, not realizing what was coming, but fortunately no further harm was down in the lower village, except the carrying away the underpinning of what was then known as the "Cidar House." The upper dam was first to give way, and then the lower one. Two houses which stood in the plat between Mr. Simmons's house and the mill were found to have disappeared, they having been taken clear off their foundations. On the opposite side of the stream there stood only a short time before a large store, a block printing shop, a shoemaker's shop, a storehouse and several houses, all of which were carried clear away. In the houses several families lived, many of the members of which perished. The lower mill of the upper village was known as the "Sucker Head," and that mill was almost entirely destroyed. Immense rocks and trees and vast quantities of gravel were carried down by the impetuous torrent, and deposited from a mile to two miles down the course of the stream.
Among the families who suffered through this awful affair was one named Whittemore, who had removed into the house but 13 days previous. Eight out of this family were drowned. Six out of another family named Angell were also among the dead; a Scotchman, whose name I do not at this moment remember, and John Hoel and his wife were among the drowned, and one more, making 18 in all. The body of one of the victims of the flood was not found until about the middle of the following June. A woman named Mrs. Addy was carried down the stream in one-half of her house. She was in bed an invalid and could not help herself. Her bed caught against an obstruction, and she was saved and lived to tell the story of her narrow escape for more than a third of a century afterward. The dead were taken to the school house in Simmonsville. Mr. Simmons had a fine horse in the barn when it was carried away, and strange to say, that horse succeeded in getting out of the flood alive, after being carried about a mile, and although it was covered with bruises, it recovered and lived to die of old age. The event was the death blow to the manufacturing business in the upper village. Mr. Simmons's losses were very great when measured by the standard of those days, and he could get no insurance on his property. He tried hard to fight against the loss, but he had to succumb to it.
Graniteville is a small village in the northeastern portion of the town, lying partly in North Providence. Daniel Angell settled here in colonial times and built the gambrel roof house still standing. His son, Olney Angell, who was 84 years of age when he died in 1856, was born in that house. Emor J. Angell, his grandson, built the house where he now resides in 1846 or 1847. Another house was built by Mr. Angell, about the time the Angell homestead was erected. It was occupied by Daniel Mowry and is now the residence of Larned Dean, his son-in-law. Nelson Barnes erected his homestead in this place, where John W. Barnes now resides, in 1844. The house now occupied by Doctor Charles A. Barnard was erected by Doctor Isaac W. Sawin, who lived there and practiced medicine 15 years in the place. It was next occupied by Doctor John Budlong, who practiced medicine 17 years in the place, and finally by Doctor Barnard, who moved into it in 1878. Samuel Sweet, the founder of the Baptist church here, was of an old family and a prominent settler in the place. His daughter, Mrs. Mary Burrows, occupied the old homestead. Elisha Angell and Daniel Sweet built the house now occupied by Edwin H. Farnham.
The principal business in the place is carried on in the mills on the opposite side of the stream. They were erected by James Anthony, Joseph Westcott and Mr. Whipple, and burned in 1875. They were rebuilt and are now owned by the Campbells. There is one small store in the place, the business being carried on by Reuben Wyans. Paris Whitman had a store there in 1843. The building was burned a number of years ago.
The Baptist church in this place was erected in 1849 by Daniel Sweet and others. Daniel Sweet preached here a number of years. Following various other supplies, Reverend S. S. Barney supplied the pulpit six or seven years, but no settled pastor was engaged till Reverend N.H. Farr took charge in 1884. He remained till 1888, when he was succeeded by the present pastor, Reverend C. W. Griffin. The deacons are Philip Sweet and Daniel O. Mathewson. George E. Olney is church clerk. Deacon Daniel O. Mathewson is Sabbath school superintendent. The church has a membership of about 60.
Centredale lies on both sides of the river, principally in North Providence, where most of the business is done. A station was erected there in 1874, and in 1876 a company of men consisting of Philip Aldrich, Frederick Aldrich and Henry Arnold, erected the store building which Arthur A. Lee has occupied since 1883 for the Centredale Mineral Water Company's place of business. The building was used for a store by Philip Aldrich. The Centredale Mineral Water Company manufacture all kinds of summer drinks, such as ginger ale, etc., and give employment to six hands.
—Transcribed by Beth Hurd from History of Providence County by Richard M. Bayles, 1890-'91, pp785-811.
Continue with Part 2, Biographical Sketches of the Town of Johnston.
Johnston Historical Society, 101 Putnam Pike, Johnston, RI 02919, (401) 231-3380, firstname.lastname@example.org
Unless otherwise noted, all content is © 2006 Johnston Historical Society.
Posted April 2006