"There are no good jobs in the foundry...."
The Hillsgrove section of Warwick at the present time is a mixture of some of the oldest and newest buildings in the city and is the center of its industrial base. When Warwick was divided in 1913, most of its industry was lost to the Town of West Warwick. Even after Warwick became a city in 1931, it had little or no industry.
The impact of I-95
A major change came to the area when it became obvious that I 95 was coming through Hillsgrove in 1966 and that there would be access ramps to Jefferson Boulevard providing the section with a main artery to customers all along the Interstate Highway. As a result, on Jefferson Boulevard, the area's main artery, there are very modern, late twentieth century office and industrial buildings not far from the nineteenth century mills and houses. This has provided the City of Warwick with a modern industrial base in much the same manner that T. J. Hill provided the Town of Warwick with a new industrial area in the late nineteenth century.
The sweet and the bitter
At one time, the village existed because of the Elizabeth Mill and the R. I. Malleable Iron Works. Today, a number of the mill houses remain despite the modernization and development of the area. In addition to the early mills, there are enough mill houses and residents of the former village to bring back memories of life at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many can vividly recall how the village looked as they were growing up and they speak of both the pleasant and the difficult aspects of life in the village. While they can recall with nostalgia the pleasant trips made to C. C. Sweet's General Store across from the Hill's Grove Post Office (now Sandwich Junction), they also remember the long hours and the hard work at the mills.
Life in the foundry
In a 1992 interview, the late Joseph McKeon, who had lived in the village all his life, recalled working a twelve hour day in the foundry for 30 cents an hour. He learned to understand what his father, Andrew, who was a "moulder" at the foundry and made all the samples by hand, meant when he said, "There isn't a good job in the foundry. Even Mr. Block, the chemist, has to get up at 4 a.m.".
Pleasant memories of swimming in "Pitsey's Pond", of going to Norden's Strawberry Patch (now Strawberry Field Road), and playing baseball in the field across from the mill, were matched by remembrances of the tyranny of the factory whistle in the foundry. Whistles indicated when to get to work, when to start, when to go to lunch, and when to stop working.
While the iron is hot
In the foundry, the whistle also blew at "heat time" to let the workers know the iron was ready. The iron, which began heating at 4 a.m. when the chemist arrived, was usually ready at 3:30 p.m. At the sound of the whistle, the unskilled workers lined up for one of the most difficult tasks in the foundry. As the molted metal came out of the furnace, the workers had to "catch it" with their large ladles while the iron was hot. They then would "carry the iron" to where they would be instructed to pour it into molds. These men were on "piece work" and received 5 cents for each ladle they carried and poured into the molds. Burns were common and the difficult work would continue at a steady pace until all the iron for that day was used. This practice was prevalent in the old 1867 mill which burned, and in the 1918 mill which replaced it.
During the depression years of the 1930s, the competition for employment was so great that often men were selected on the basis of their athletic prowess, as the R. I. Malleable Iron Works was very fond of its baseball team.
The mill houses
Many of the workers lived in company housing near the mill which took the rent from the worker's wages and assumed responsibility for painting and maintaining the houses and property. The houses were two story duplex houses with "back to back" apartments. Some of the newer ones, located mostly in the area called "dogtown," had dormer windows on the second floor. There were duplex outhouses to the rear of the house, and there was a common well half way between each house.
When the Elizabeth Mill closed and sold its houses to individuals in 1926, there was no electricity or inside plumbing. Once the houses were privately owned, there were usually significant changes made. One of the first was usually to utilize the long pantry in each house to put in a modern bathroom. In many others, owners built porches, additional rooms, and added various modifications, depending on individual tastes and needs.