Knight Estate

Warwick’s Villages & Historic Places

By Don D’Amato

Knight Estate

Today, the Rhode Island Mall and the Community College of Rhode Island occupy much of what was once the farm of the Knight family, the owners of the Pontiac Mills and many of the most productive textile manufacturing mills in the United States. These buildings and the modern highway that is East Avenue today is a far cry from the "Knight farm" that occupied the site during the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

The change is so great and overwhelming that even those who used the old East Avenue as a regular pathway have to pause to remember that this section of busy road, with its huge brick and cement stores and modern campus, was once a charming rural countryside. Automobiles, lined row after row in black topped parking lots at the mall and the Community College, have replaced prize short horn cattle in open pasture land. Red barns, hay fields, a half mile of track for trotting horses, and the beauty of a country setting are but a pleasant memory.

Looking back to earlier decades brings many fond memories of the way it used to be. The "Knight farm" once covered over 500 acres and extended along the Pawtuxet River beyond the present Mall, along Greenwich Avenue, then down Tollgate Road and Commonwealth Ave. The large open tracts of land are gone, but the magnificent house and many of the farm buildings remain. From the highway, the Knight's house, and the tall shingle style water tower that stands behind it, can still be seen.

The story of the land, the buildings on it, and the changes in their use is comparable to the story of the growth and changes in Warwick from the 17th to the 20th century. The land changed in ownership from the rural farmlands of some of Warwick's early proprietors, to the early industrialists, to the flamboyant and politically powerful Sprague family, and then to the prominent and wealthy Knights.
It was the Knights who owned the Pontiac Mills as well as the mills at Natick and Riverpoint and who were responsible for so much of the paternalism which dominated these villages. The Knight Estate of East Avenue was a symbol of the wealth and power of this family which dominated for such a long period.
The story of the Knight Estate and the impact on Warwick then and now, will be continued.

This beautiful home, once owned by the Knights, now provides housing for the president of the Community College of Rhode Island. It is located on the once significant “gentleman’s farm.”
Photo Don D’Amato (1991)

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