Thomas Hill creates a new village in Warwick
In 1875, when Oliver Payson Fuller wrote his excellent, informative History of Warwick, he commented, "To the east of Pontiac, a couple of miles on the Stonington railroad, a thriving little village has sprung up with the past ten years, in connection with the establishment of a new branch of industry."
He was referring to Hill's Grove, an area that was then becoming important as the home of the Rhode Island Malleable Iron Works, established by Thomas Jefferson Hill in 1867. During the next century, Hill's Grove would be changed to Hillsgrove and became more famous for the Elizabeth Mill (1875) and the State Airport (1929 31). Today it is at the center of Warwick's fast developing industrial area.
The Rhode Island Malleable Iron Works
Fuller's 1875 narrative tells us that the area was named for Thomas J. Hill, the president of the ironworks. He says that Hill purchased about 800 acres of land in the vicinity and that his factory employed 100 hands. The nineteenth century author tells us that Hill, along with his Superintendent, Smith Quimbly, and his agent, Samuel W. Kilvert, was able to build "...a fine brick edifice with a front of about 247 feet by 60 feet with an L, used as a molding room 165 by 60."
Thomas Jefferson Hill
Hill became one of the first of the great "captains of industry" in Rhode Island. His story vividly portrays the spectacular rise of the self made man. He was born in 1801, the year that Thomas Jefferson became president. His blacksmith father, an admirer of the great Virginian, proudly named his son Thomas Jefferson Hill, and very early tried to instill political ambition in the young boy.
By the time Thomas was fourteen years of age he was already working full time in his father's blacksmith shop. "The long hours and the heavy work paid off," according to Mr. Hill, who lived to be ninety years of age and attributed his long, vigorous life and remarkable stamina to this part of his boyhood.
Success in Providence
After serving as an apprentice in a machine shop, Thomas Hill moved to Providence in 1830. He hoped to take advantage of the newest innovations of the Industrial Revolution and further his career. He worked in, and became part owner of, the Providence Machine Shop which was connected with the steam cotton machinery owned by Samuel Slater. By the time he was 33 years old, Hill was able to buy out some of the owners and acquired a 2/3rds interest in the shop. In 1846, he became the sole owner and under his management the Providence Machine Shop became the largest and most complete establishment for the manufacture of cotton and woolen machinery in New England. Using the machine shop as a base, Hill was able to expand and extend his fortune. Among his vast holdings, in addition to the R.I. Malleable Iron Works and the Elisabeth Mill in Hill's Grove, Hill also owned the Lee Mills in Conn. and the Peckham Mill in East Greenwich.
Mr. Hill’s Holdings
According to Men of Progress, a series of biographical sketches compiled in 1896, "In 1859 he bought the Peckham Mills at East Greenwich, R. I., and ran the plant for a time as the Bay Cotton Mills, afterwards giving them to his two sons." The report also notes that, "He organized in 1866 the Providence Dredging Company and in 1867 the Rhode Island Malleable Iron Works, and in 1874 he organized the Providence Pile Driving Company, which built the Crawford Street bridge...."
The very modern Garden Hilton Hotel has been built on the site of the old R. I. Malleable Iron Works. Fortunately some of the old building has been preserved and the plan is to eventually make a restaurant in that section.
Photo Don D’Amato 2008