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Then and Now
Hillsgrove Methodist Church: Sunday school meant fun and learning for children
Terry D'Amato Spencer

Hillsgrove United Methodist Church on Kilvert St. has served the village of Hillsgrove well from 1884 until the present time. Over the years, it has seen the village change dramatically from one almost totally dominated by the enterprises owned by Thomas J. Hill to a community that has received the full impact of a state airport and, later, of Warwick’s industrial expansion. Today more sweeping changes are taking place as the state airport has been significantly expanded and there is also a railroad station, hotels and other buildings in the vicinity of the church. As in the past, Hillsgrove United Methodist Church seems ready to take the changes in stride and to continue its ministry in a positive way.

Between 1922 and 1925, a new central heating plant and an improved lighting system were installed. A new carpet and pulpit chairs donated by the Ladies Helping Hand Society helped to redecorate the church.

Janice Place’s history of the church, written in 1984, tells us that the year 1928 “was a year of great changes in the community. Gas was installed in the church, city water was on the way, trolley cars were being replaced by buses and the Hillsgrove Airport was constructed.” In 1930 a parish hall addition to the church was built and, in 1931, a parsonage was erected.

The impact of the airport was enormous on all of Hillsgrove. In 1943 the U.S. government asked the church to remove its spire because of the danger to planes landing at the airport. The church complied and remains, like other churches in the area, without a spire. Since that time, new buildings have been built that are higher than the original spire. There are those in Hillsgrove that point this out and who favor the restoration of the spire for the church.

During the difficult times of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the church managed to survive and to grow. Once again, the W.G. James family, so generously in the past, gave additional gifts and the church was even able to build the parish hall addition and a new parsonage. During this period, concrete walks, steps, a porch and various other improvements were made by parishioners.

It was also at this time that the Ladies Helping Hand Society was replaced by the Women’s Society of Christian Service. The Helping Hand group had conducted many fundraisers to aid the church and the new society was able to continue in this area. By the end of the decade, the church was able to reduce its debt and call for a “Debt Free Church” by 1945. This goal was attained in May of that year.

During and after World War II, Hillsgrove Church joined the R.I. Council of Churches and, by 1959, the church had over 300 members. Once again, as it had done in the late 19th century, the parishioners accepted the challenge of meeting rising costs through a series of activities. The anniversary booklet on the church’s history notes, “Auctions, bazaars, suppers, cookie sales and other fund raisers were held with great enthusiasm.” These efforts were successful, as we are told, “In this time the church building was given new siding, an outside ramp for access by the handicapped, and the kitchen was improved and redecorated.” In addition, “The sanctuary was newly carpeted and painted, all thanks to the dedication of the church membership.”

The church today, while thankful for the generous support of mill owner Thomas J. Hill and mill superintendent William R. James in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, exists and prospers because of its many parishioners who have often given very unselfishly of their time and efforts. In 1984 the 100 years of church history was written, and it proudly ends by saying, “On the 100th anniversary of its founding, the Hillsgrove United Methodist Church has a future bright with promise as we move into it with courage and confidence ‘for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’”

The story of Warwick’s Houses of Worship will be continued.


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