Prosperity and Expansion
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Pontiac Mills, owned and operated by the B.B. and R. Knight Company, continued to prosper. Their handsome brick mill was built in 1863 and had a capacity of 20,000 spindles. This was considered very large at the time and placed the Knights in competition with the Spragues as leading manufacturers in the Pawtuxet Valley. Very significant during this period were the changes that came about in the ethnic make-up of the village and the increased paternalism on the part of the Knights. Before the 19th century ended, however, the new immigrants who came to work in the mills were beginning to exhibit an independent spirit and brought their own values and identity to the village.
Within the next decade, the Knights added a company store, a new bleachery, a number of new company houses, and railway tracks. Oliver Payson Fuller, in his History of Warwick, published in 1875, says, "In 1868, the new public highway leading from this village to Natick, was laid out, and in 1873, the company obtained a charter from the General Assembly to lay rails alongside this road from the Hartford Railroad to their village, for carrying freight and passengers...." Fuller adds, "The rails have been laid, and railway communication established between this village and the rest of the world." This apparently, Fuller tells us, was due to a "...private telegraph...in operation between their office in this village and their headquarters in Providence...."
The English Immigrants
This expansion eventually changed the ethnic makeup of the village. The first mill hands at the Pontiac mills were from surrounding farms, but soon it was obvious that more workers were needed. During the 1860s, large numbers migrated to Pontiac from the heavily industrialized areas of England. Many were from Lancashire and were accustomed to the paternalistic mill villages there. As they had in England, most British immigrants worked at the mill, lived in mill houses, read the mill newspaper, traded in the mill company store, and attended Episcopal Church Services arranged by the mill owners.
Irish and French Canadians
Due to harsh economic conditions in Ireland and Eastern Canada, many Irish and French Canadians found work in the Knight owned mills and many found their way to Pontiac. Most of these immigrants were Catholic and found their churches in nearby Apponaug or Natick.
The Swedish Immigrants
As the expansion of the mills brought about the need for more labor one group, immigrants from Sweden, made a very dramatic impact on Pontiac. Margie Bucheit, writing for the Warwick Beacon in 1974, states, "The first Swede to move into the area was Andrew P. Magnuson from Hossna, Sweden. He came with his wife, daughter and two young people." As might be expected, most of those immigrants came to work at the mill and lived in company housing. Bucheit tells us that these houses, "...had no heat except for the stove and no central plumbing...." Once the Swedes came, she says, "A new housing section was built...When they (the Swedes) moved into the area, the Anglicans moved into the new facilities leaving the old ones to the Swedes..."
The Swedish immigrants in time built their own houses, traded frequently at C. A. Johnson's grocery store, and built churches of their own. Many of the houses along King Street and Reed Street are excellent examples of the fine dwellings built by these immigrants. The one at 126 King Street was built in 1875 by Svante Anderson, a carpenter, not long after he came from Sweden. He raised his family here and witnessed the growing Swedish community as more and more immigrants came to work in the mill. His great-granddaughter, Shirley Larson Whitney notes that four generations of her family have lived in this house. She says that when Svante died, his wife Frederika sold the house to their daughter, Ida Sofia Anderson Larson and her husband John, her grandparents. In 1917 Harold N. Larson and his wife Blanche, Shirley's parents, purchased the house when Ida died. Shirley and her husband, norman Whitney became owners of the house in 1966 and Shirley has lived there until recently.
Like most residents of Pontiac, the Andersons traded with C.A. Johnson's store on King Street. Many had an account at the Johnson store and enjoyed the wide variety offered by the grocer. Johnson's advertisement said he delivered goods "Promptly, Free of Expense."