All Saints Church benefits from the Knights' generosity.
Pontiac during the late nineteenth century was almost entirely dominated by the B.B. and R. Knight Company. Looking back, through the writings of O.P. Fuller (History of Warwick) and J. R. Cole, (History of Washington & Kent Counties) we get a picture of the Knights as benevolent and generous benefactors. These nineteenth century authors tend to stress the positive aspects of village life and ignore the facts of child labor, low wages, long hours and dangerous machinery.
The B.B. & R. Knight Company buildings
At the turn of the century, the Knights owned nearly every building of significance in the village, including 120 of the 170 tenements. In addition to the four-story, 66 by 200 foot, brick factory building, the company had a 40 by 160 foot bleachery, a large brick store, and a storehouse of stone. The Knights' paternalism towards the 1500 employees in the village went beyond providing a living for the worker and his family to caring for the intellectual and spiritual needs of the village. This was done by supporting the Pontiac Library and the All Saints' Episcopal Church.
The All Saints Church
The church was organized in the spring of 1869 when Stephen N. Bourne, the mill superintendent, and fourteen interested Episcopalians met and elected officers. At first there were only five regular communicants but thanks in part to the support of the Knights, the parish grew quickly. The company immediately allowed the new parish to meet in the upper story of the company store. Oliver P. Fuller comments on that saying in 1869, the Knights, "...tendered to the parish...a room neatly fitted up with sitting and chancel furniture..." The company also provided a dwelling for the rector and both the dwelling and the hall were rent-free. In addition, the Knights gave liberally toward paying the minister's salary. Superintendent Stephen N. Bourne, as senior warden, used his influence and that of the Knights to attract able ministers. Because of the liberal financial stipend given by the Knights, Pontiac attracted ministers who found no difficulty in cooperating with the mill owners' desires for the village. A few of the more influential ministers were the Reverend E. H. Porter, the first rector; Reverend William H. Williams; Reverend Laurence B. Thomas, who helped start the library; and the Reverend Edmund S. Rousmaniere, an excellent historian who was rector when the new church was built in 1888. In addition to the work at the church, the Reverend Rousmaniere's writings on the Pawtuxet villages have provided a great deal of insight towards understanding the role played by the Greene and Brown families in the development of Rhode Island in the early years.
J. R. Cole, in his impressive History of Washington and Kent Counties, tells us that the lovely church at 111 Greenwich Avenue "was erected and deeded for church purposes by the Pontiac Manufacturing Company, consisting of Messrs. B. B. & R. Knight of Providence, who, with the exception of $1,500 raised by the parish, bore the entire cost." He describes the structure by saying "it is Gothic in most of its lines, yet there are evidences of independent design." The Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission of 1981 says of the church that it is, " A 1 1/2 and 2-story, stone and wood, Shingle Style structure with Gothic detailing..." The wooden portions of the building, the report informs us, are now covered with aluminum siding.
Cole, who was very much impressed with the edifice, was especially attracted to the carriage porch and to the tower with its "graceful proportions." He adds, "Along the south side of the church runs a cloister, which is one of the happiest of the exterior architectural features." The church and parish house were the work of the distinguished Providence architect Howard Hoppin in 1888. The membership included the more affluent families in Pontiac as well as most of the English mill workers.
The influence of the Knight family on the community was evident as a special train brought two hundred people from Boston and Providence to take part in the dedication of the church. J.R. Cole, in his History of Pontiac, tells us, "...the bishop entered the main door, followed by fifty-three clergymen, and as they moved up the south side of the chancel they repeated the Twenty-fourth Psalm..." Among the distinguished clergymen who participated in the exercises were the erudite Reverend Daniel Goodwin, of St. Luke's Church in East Greenwich, and the Reverend Edmund S. Rousmaniere, the rector of All Saints parish. Both men, in addition to being clergymen were excellent orators and historians.
Hoppin's architectural gem
Because of the Knights' generous contribution, the church was able to commission the architect, Howard Hoppin, to include many striking features that would have been too costly for the congregation. Nineteenth century historian J. R. Cole describes many of most elegant. He calls the chancel, the room east of the nave, "the most striking feature of the interior." He says it is, "beautiful...semi-circular in shape, surrounded by a very handsome brass rail and enclosing elegantly carved cherry furniture."
The Knights were also responsible for five beautiful, stained glass windows. The central window, which contains the figure of a woman "in rich coloring and graceful drapery", was given in memory of Robert Knight's mother, while the two smaller windows on either side were in memory of his children. The Knight family worshipped here on a regular basis and many parishioners came to see the family and to be seen by them. Margie Bucheit, writing in the Warwick Beacon in 1974, notes, "the Knight family...had their own section in the back of the church with a private entrance."
No pew rental
All Saints Church was one of the few nineteenth century churches that did not charge a pew rental. The custom of the time and the necessity to raise funds made this a common practice. All Saints was the exception as this rent free pew system was possible because the lion's share of the church's expenses was paid by the Knights. This included a portion of the clergy's salary as well. Bucheit tells us, "...the rector received half his pay from the paymaster at the mill and stood in line with the workers to receive his check." In addition to his salary, the rector also received certain "fringe benefits." Cole says that there was a "robing room...to the north of the chancel...a cosy and comfortably arranged apartment for the rector of the parish."
Along with the church building, the Knights had a 60 by 40 foot Parish House added to the church. Cole explains, "Here all the parochial activities are to find rooms for their work. A door opening from the church, leads to two class-rooms, beyond which is a Sunday school room." On the upper level were rooms that could be used by church organizations or for study, and in the basement Cole adds, "are dining-room and kitchen, showing that the social side of life is not to be neglected."
For those who were not of the same faith, the Knights made other provisions. They provided room on the third floor of the company store for a school and allowed various buildings to be used as dance halls, men's club, and a library.