Elizabeth Mill - an important addition

By 1875, Thomas Hill's enterprises were becoming the models for Rhode Island's expanding businesses.  In addition to his Providence Machine Shop, Providence Dredging Company, Providence Pile Driving Company, Peckham (or Bay)  Mill in East Greenwich, and the R.I. Malleable Iron Works in Hillsgrove, Hill built the handsome, large brick structure which still stands at 745 Jefferson Boulevard, near the center of Warwick's rapidly expanding industrial area.

Thomas J. Hill builds a village

When Hill purchased the land in Warwick's central plain, it consisted of little more than woods and flat lands and not an important part of the early nineteenth century town.  Thanks to Thomas J. Hill, by the late nineteenth century, it was a flourishing village with its iron works, textile mill, a major railroad station, a large school, a lovely church, company store, fine houses, and splendid farmlands and orchards.

Steam power

In 1869, after being twice a widower, Hill married Elizabeth C. Kenyon of Warwick.  He named his 1875 steam-powered textile mill in Hillsgrove in her honor. Hill took advantage of the great demand for textiles created by the Civil War and combined that with the new technical knowledge regarding steam driven engines.  No longer confined to the river for water power, Hill could build on less expensive land and take advantage of the Stonington Railroad to deliver raw materials to his factory and finished products to his customers.

A beautiful mill

The three story, brick Elizabeth Mill was very large for its day.  It measured 324 x 70 feet and had an extension of 80 x 28 feet added later.  One of the building's most recognizable features is the 4 story, panel brick tower.  Originally, the tower had a mansard roof, which was removed during one of the many renovations and alterations of the mill.

During the nineteenth century, the mill employed 265 operatives and had 20,000 spindles.  Its chief manufacture was fine yarn thread.  The mill brought so much prosperity to the small village which grew up earlier around Hill's R. I. Malleable Iron Works that it was necessary to build additional housing behind the mill and along Jefferson Boulevard.  Within a short time, a company store under the management of Benjamin C. Sweet was added to the Hill enterprises.

Hill's Grove, as it was called during the late nineteenth century, developed during Thomas J. Hill's  later years.  He was sixty two years old when the Iron Works was built and seventy when the Elizabeth Mill came into being.  Hill, already a very wealthy man, became the village benefactor in the fashion of many paternalistic mill owners.

Paternalism in Hillsgrove

In addition to hiring the carpenters, French and MacKenzie, to build homes for his workers, Hill paid $4000 for the construction of a two story school house.  The second floor of the school house was used as a hall for religious meetings until 1887, when a new church was built with Hill's financial assistance. 

By 1880, Hill, who served as president, vice president, and trustee of two major banks in addition to running his mills, decided to turn a great deal of the actual supervision of his plants over to his sons and superintendents.  One of the most influential and colorful of the Hill superintendents was William G. James who ran both the Elizabeth Mill in Hillsgrove and the Bay Mill in East Greenwich.

    Hill’s largess extended to a two-story school house.  As this was a time of paternalism, mill owners such as T.J Hill felt the necessity to provide religious and moral guidance to the workers.  As a result, the second story of the school house was used  as a church until one was built in 1887. The building that originally housed the "Sabbath School" and the Hill's Grove School still stands today and has been converted to an apartment house.
Photo Don D’Amato 2008

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