After serving as an apprentice in a machine shop, Thomas Hill moved to Providence in 1830. He hoped to take advantage of the newest innovations of the Industrial Revolution and further his career. He worked in, and became part owner of, the Providence Machine Shop, which was connected with the steam-cotton machinery owned by Samuel Slater. By the time he was 33 years old, Hill was able to but out some of the owners and acquired a two-thirds interest in the shop. In 1846 he became the sole owner and under his management the Providence Machine Shop became the largest and most complete establishment for the manufacture of cotton and woolen machinery in New England.
Using the machine shop as a base, Hill was able to expand and extend his fortune. Among his vast holdings were the Ire Mills in Connecticut, the Rhode Island Malleable Iron Works and the Peckham Mill (Bay Mill) in East Greenwich. In 1875 he built the very successful Elizabeth Mill on Jefferson Blvd. And named it in honor of his wife. Today, that building houses Leviton Manufacturing Co. Hill also organized the Providence Pile Driving and Bridge Building Co. that was responsible for building the Crawford Street Bridge in Providence, which, according to Guinness’ Book of World Records, is the widest bridge in the world. By the time he reached middle age, Hill owned so much land in Warwick that one entire section, “Hillsgrove” was named in his honor.
Among his most cherished possessions was the mansion called Fyrtre Hall. Mrs. William Barrows, Hill’s great-granddaughter, has many fond memories of this beautiful home on Division Street. She recalls how her granduncles, William and Albert Hill, took her to visit the 24-room mansion and how impressed she was with the stone wall and tall iron gates.
“The stone wall,” she was told, “is a sign that the property belongs to the Hills.”
The Hills built many fine stone walls in Warwick, including the one near the railroad tracks in Apponaug Cove. At one time, Mrs. Barrows recalls, there were horses and stables on the property at Division St. Later changes included a five-car garage, a four-room apartment for the chauffeurs and a three-room gardener’s apartment.
In 1901 William L. Hedgman purchased Fyrtre Hall and the adjoining property. In 1904 he added the east and west wings to the house. After his death the property passed to his daughter, Mrs. T.I. Powell. In 1949, the beautiful mansion was acquired by Marie Harkings. This lady felt that she would like to start a “retirement and nursing home” that would not be a sterile institution but a place where “guests” could enjoy gracious living.
This 1949 dream has become a reality in Royal Manor. The home is owned and operated by members of her family who carry on the tradition she had started. Today, the mansion is a well-maintained and handsome home. One cannot help but be impressed by its many fine features, such as the magnificent grand stairway and the dozen or more marble fireplaces. The house ranks high among the finest mansions in Warwick in beauty, charm and comfort. Mrs. Hugh Doolin, one of the founders’ daughters, believes that the interior of the house should remain as much as possible as it was in the time of Thomas Hill’s residency there.
According to Mrs. Doolin, the Royal Manor can accommodate over 50 elderly guests and has a large staff to help care for them. The original 24-room house has been expanded to 39 to provide for the needs of the residents. Along with all the comforts and opulence that only a 19th century mansion can provide, every modern convenience is available. It even includes modest beauty shops and barbershops on both floors. Guests are allowed and encouraged to bring in their own furnishings to create a home-like atmosphere while enjoying the security and care provided by 24-hour service.
Without a doubt, the handsome home is a definite part of Warwick’s history. It was built as a result of a tragic love affair in the style and manner that was popular in the early 19th century. It served as the proud home of one of Warwick’s most influential citizens. With all its splendor, it is a visual reminder of the part Warwick played in the industrialization of Rhode Island and the United States. As important as its role in the past, it still provides a most useful function as the Royal Manor Retirement and Nursing Center. This old house is not a museum, but a useful and productive friend to man.