In addition to the excellent sites found along the Pawtuxet River in the western section of the town, Warwick also had fine water resources in Apponaug that were used extensively in the early 19th century. During the 18th century, Apponaug had been noted for its “fulling mill,” which had been built by James Micarter in 1696. The Greene family of Apponaug acquired that mill and decided to convert it to textile manufacturing.
O.P. Fuller tells us that the fulling mill in Apponaug “was followed by a cotton mill, run by a company, of which Capt. Caleb Greene was the agent.” Fuller describes the mill as being “of three stories, shingled on all sides, and remained, until…the Print works went into operation. There was also a saw and gristmill in operation near by, for some years.”
Caleb Greene Jr., who went from a sea captain to part owner and agent for a cotton mill, exemplified the trend in Rhode Island during the early part of the 19th century. In the period following the Revolution, Apponaug had become a very significant port, and Greene, whose ship was anchored in the cove, was a prosperous mariner.
By 1803, was erupted in Europe between France under Napoleon Bonaparte and England. At first, these Napoleonic Wars seemed beneficial to Warwick and the American colonies as the demand for goods kept prices and profits high. Soon, however, England attempted to stop trade with France by issuing Orders in Council, and Napoleon issued his Berlin and Milan decrees, which threatened to seize all ships trading with Britain.
IN 1807, angered by these infringements upon the right of “freedom of the seas” and prompted by an attack upon an American frigate by a British vessel that resulted in 24 Americans killed or wounded, President Thomas Jefferson asked Congress to enact an embargo prohibiting all foreign trade. This embargo proved disastrous for most New England merchants who claimed their goods were rotting on the wharves. The embargo was repealed, but other acts that prohibited trade with France and England were passed, which were almost as damaging.
In 1812 the United States and England were again at war and the Greenes of Apponaug turned toward the textile industry rather than the sea. The company, with Caleb Greene as its agent, prospered for a time. By the mid-19th century, however, the Greene mills had suffered some financial reverses, and the owners were persuaded to sell out their interests.
This enabled a new group of entrepreneurs, led by Alfred Augustus Reed, who had made his fortune in the East India trade, to move into the area. One of his partners, Edward D. Boit, found Apponaug a most desirable site for the establishment of a print works.
The establishment of such a large enterprise as the Original Print Works meant a number of changes in Apponaug. The purchase by Reed and his partners included one large tenement house and one or two smaller ones. Hotels and boarding houses, such as the Oriental Boarding House owned by village butcher A.W. Hargrove, flourished in the early years of the Print Works. The mill attracted numbers of workers and, unlike the early villagers, many of them were not of English or Scottish origin and were not Protestant but Irish and French Catholics. The increased activity saw Apponaug once again revitalized and an important center for business and trade.