While so many people are fully aware of the contribution of Samuel Slater and the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, so much of the real changes in lifestyle occurred in the western mill villages of Warwick.
On Oct. 3, 1794, shortly after Slater and Moses Brown demonstrated that textiles could be successfully produced in America, a company was organized to manufacture cotton by machinery. The site selected for this was on land in Centreville, once known as “Beaver Dam,” which was owned by Job Greene, who operated a very successful gristmill and sawmill there.
By 1807 Almy and Brown had purchased additional land and all of Job Greene’s rights to the spinning mill and erected a second mill on the east side of the river. This new mill was called the Warwick Manufacturing Company. The mill was originally painted green and became known as the “green mill.”
Shortly after the mill was established at Centreville, the Rhodes family in Pawtuxet became interested in the new industry. Robert Rhodes and his sons had been very successful in the “coastal trade” and by the turn of the century expanded into other areas. Starting with a small gable-roofed mill, built south of the Pawtuxet Bridge, Christopher and William Rhodes made their successful entry into the textile industry. These brothers formed the C & W Rhodes Manufacturing Company and, in 1810, built a three-story mill on the northwest side of the bridge. This company was one of the first to manufacture broadcloth, and O.P. Fuller tells us that this venture “succeeded so well that the brothers extended their business to Natick.”
By 1819 three companies were organized and a number of mills were built. In 1821 William Sprague of Cranston purchased two mills in Natick and brought what was to become one of the state’s most significant textile families to Warwick. In 1852 the Spragues added to their interests in Natick by purchasing the Rhodes’ holding there for $55,000.
The obvious advantages of the waterpower of the Pawtuxet River prompted the building of even more mills in Warwick’s western section. In 1809 a partnership called the Lippitt Manufacturing Company invested $40,000 in the purchase of land and the erection of a mill close to the village of Phenix. The Lippitt Mill, near the intersection of present-day Main and Wakefield Streets in West Warwick, proved to be one of the few wooden mills to survive in Rhode Island.
While there were several houses and a small store in Lippitt early in the century, the village was regarded as part of the larger one at Phenix. The Roger Williams Manufacturing Company was built in that village at the northwestern corner of western Warwick, In 1810-11 the Roger William Company built a dam across the river, several tenement houses and a wooden mill.
Within the first two decades of the 19th century, several other villages appeared in western Warwick. In Crompton, the southernmost village in the western area of the town, eight men formed what was known as the Providence Manufacturing Company and in 1807 built what is said to have been the first stone cotton mill in the state.
In 1813, on the south branch of the Pawtuxet River, not far form where it joins the north branch, Dr. Stephen Harris and Dr. Sylvester Knight decided to give up the medical profession and enter into cotton manufacturing with Harris’ father-in-law, James Greene.
In 1816 the mill failed and there was a change in ownership, which resulted in Dr. Harris taking control. Harris was very successful, and by 1832 was operating one of the seven largest cotton mill in the state.