Paternalism extends to the church
As the very successful industrialist, Thomas J. Hill, grew older, he turned over much of the actual operation of his mills and foundry to various superintendents and "bosses." One of the most famous of the superintendents was William G. James who controlled the village during much of the late nineteenth century.
This was a time of "paternalism" throughout Rhode Island and Hill's Grove was a typical village in a variety of circumstances. In order to attract workers, the philosophy of the times believed it was necessary to provide the workers with adequate housing, stores, and community services. Most believed that the mill owner was not only obligated to provide these services, but that he should give direction for the social and moral care of his operatives. Mill owners should direct the mill workers much as a father would direct his children, hence the term "paternalism."
Superintendent William G. James was the man most responsible for extending the care and control over the village and was the most influential citizen of Hill’s Grove for many years.
This type of village rule was profitable for the owners for in providing housing, entire families could be utilized to work in the mills. Women and children could perform many of the tasks and most often were hired for very low wages. Discipline and control by the factory managers became easy as the behavior pattern of any family member reflected upon all. Jobs, housing and general well being depended upon co-operation with the superintendent and mill “bosses.” Houses, such as those in the block bounded by Graystone, Thurber, Kilvert, and Cottage Streets, could be built and maintained less expensively by the mills than by individuals. Rent for the houses was often deducted from wages, and maintenance crews could be used to repair, paint, and build when work at the mill was slow. In addition, workers often found that the company store was the most practical place to purchase their goods as transportation was difficult and credit at the store was available. The success of the stores meant that a large quantity of food was needed and in Hillsgrove a company farm prospered as a result.
In addition to the influence the company had over they workers economically by controlling employment, housing, and food, many mill owners and superintendents controlled the workers' political, social and, to some degree, moral and religious lives. In Hillsgrove, Thomas J. Hill and his superintendent, William G. James, were responsible for the success of a temperance society in the village and for creating a Methodist Church, which still stands on Kilvert Street. Hill and his followers were well aware that the church was of prime importance in any mill village.
They realized that supporting the local church was a sound investment as it brought stability and order to the village and fostered a sense of well being and pride. In addition, the church promoted social activities as well as meeting the moral and religious needs of its congregation.
The Hill's Grove Union Evangelical Sunday School
The United Methodist Church on Kilvert Street traces its origins to 1876, shortly after the Elizabeth Mill was erected. The number of villagers by this time had grown and many of them met in the schoolhouse Hill had erected a few years earlier. Hill allowed the group to meet on the second floor of the building to conduct services and to organize a "Sabbath School." This early school was called "The Hill's Grove Union Evangelical Sunday School" and within a few years became affiliated with the East Greenwich Methodist Episcopal Church. The original "Sabbath School" has been converted to an apartment house.
This early picture of the Hillsgrove Methodist Church on Kilvert Street was taken before the coming of the T. F. Green airport. The photo shows the steeple in place on the church before it was taken down during World War II as it was considered too high for air safety purposes at the time.
Find out where the old school was
Put in the nice picture of Kilvert Street and the church