The sisterhood of enterprising villages
The village of Hill's Grove came into existence as a result of Thomas J. Hill's building of the Rhode Island Malleable Iron Works in 1867. The Statewide Historical Preservation Report K W 1 of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission informs us that a village of forty nine inhabitants had grown up around the plant and Hill hired carpenters French and MacKenzie to build a number of 1 1/2 story double homes for the employees of the Iron Works. Oliver Payson Fuller tells us in his 1875 History of Warwick, "The village is not large, but is on the increase, several tasteful dwellings having been erected within the past year or two, and is entitled to a place in the sisterhood of enterprising villages in the town of Warwick."
A railroad depot
In addition to the Malleable Iron Works and the company houses, O. P. Fuller tells us, "A short time after the works were started, a tasteful depot was erected, costing about $3000, of which the railway company paid half...." The railroad alluded to by Fuller was the Stonington Railroad line which opened between Providence and Stonington, Conn. in 1837.
Now, there is a great deal of discussion concerning the building of another depot in Hillsgrove that would be truly modern and in keeping with the improvements in rail travel for the 21st century. It is interesting to note the conditions that existed in the early period and compare them with today. In describing the journey between Boston and New York, the Historical Preservation Report K W 1, written in 1980 notes, "...travelers rode the Boston and Providence Railroad to Fox Point in Providence, ferried over to the Stonington terminus on the west side of the Providence River, and rode the Stonington line to Connecticut, where they then boarded a steamer for New York...." At a later date, a central terminus was built in Providence and the Stonington line was continued to New York.
The railroad line helped Warwick to grow during the early nineteenth century as it encouraged the development of land adjacent to it. Old areas, such as Apponaug, benefited and new areas, such as Hillsgrove, became important. The railroad eventually became the New York, Providence & Boston line and then merged into the New York, New Haven & Hartford system in 1893.
By 1875, Thomas J. Hill's abilities as an industrialist and a leader were already well recognized. Hill not only was very much aware of the advantages of the railroad depot near his iron works, he also was quick to adopt steam power for his new textile mill.
Fuller describes the Malleable Iron Works as manufacturing a "multitude of different articles....of all sizes and shapes, from garden rakes and coffee mills to the larger pieces used in connection with cotton and woolen machinery." The original works burned in August 1918 and almost immediately was rebuilt. The new structure is described in the Statewide Historical Preservation Report K W 1 as having a "noteworthy 2 story, flat roofed, brick and stone central block." The report adds that this section was designed by the Providence firm of Jackson, Robertson and Adams and has features patterned after those on Colonial and Federal period buildings.
Elizabeth C. Kenyon becomes Mrs. Hill
Hill's connections with and appreciation of Warwick as an industrial site were enhanced in 1869 with the marriage of Hill, who was then a widower, to Miss Elizabeth C. Kenyon, daughter of John H. and Ruth Kenyon of Warwick. In addition to the R.I. Malleable Iron Works, Thomas Hill is famous for the Elizabeth Mill, named in honor of his wife. This mill remains a Warwick landmark and has been a Leviton enterprise until recently.
A number of the 1 1/2 story double homes built by carpenters French and MacKenzie for the employees of the Iron Works stand today along Kilvert Street.
Photo Don D’Amato 2008