History of North Providence, Rhode Island

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History of the State of Rhode Island with Illustrations

Albert J. Wright, Printer
No. 79 Mille Street, corner of Federal, Boston.
Hong, Wade & Co., Philadelphia 1878.

The History of North Providence.

pp.  187 - 188.


In the first settlement of Providence, its territory was very extensive, and thus remained until 1731, after which its boundaries were, from time to time, materially curtailed.  In the year 1730-31, the original town was divided, and Smithfield, Scituate, and Glocester were cut off, and incorporated as separate and independent towns.  In 1754, its area was diminished still further, by the incorporation of Cranston; and again, in 1759, the town of Johnston was established.  In 1765, a petition was presented to the General Assembly, at the February session of the above year, for a still further division of the territory, and the separate incorporation of the town of North Providence.  Action was, however, deferred to the next session, in the following June.

At that time, an act was passed granting the prayer of the petitioners, save in respect to the name.  They had desired that the new town be called Wenscutt.  The assembly desired, however, that the new name should be North Providence.  The following is the preamble of the act of incorporation: --

'Whereas, a large number of the inhabitants of the northern part of the town of Providence, preferred a petition, and represented to the assembly, that there are within the limits of said township, upwards of four hundred freemen; that those who dwell in the most compact part, are altogether merchants and tradesmen; and that far the greater part of the petitioners dwell in the more remote part of said township, and are near all farmers, whose interest and business differ from the merchants;  that town meetings have been often called and held in the compact part, upon matters and things which did not, and do not, concern the farmers in the northern and more remote parts of said town; that they, the petitioners, nevertheless, have been, and still are, obliged to leave farming business, and to attend upon said meetings, to prevent things being voted to their disadvantage, which hath occasioned much loss of time, contention, and expense, which ought to be borne by the merchants and tradesmen; all which being very inconvenient they prayed to be set off, erected, and made into a township,' &c.

There appear to have been one hundred and fifteen petitioners to the original prayer, and they represent that, out of the four hundred freemen of the town, about one hundred and sixty reside in the part proposed to be set off.  The General Assembly, upon due consideration, enacted as follows: --

'Be it enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that the said town of Providence be, and the same is hereby, divided into two distinct and separate towns;  and that the bounds of the northern part, hereby set off, begin at the new bridge, near to the hill called Solitary Hill; thence, bounding on Wanasquatucket River, until it comes to the northwest corner of the town's land, at the east end of a place called Forestack Meadow; thence, easterly on a straight line to the middle of the mill bridge; thence, on a due east line until it comes to Seaconck River, so called; thence, northerly, bounding on said Seakonck River, until it comes to Smithfield line;  thence, bounding by Smithfield line, until it comes to Johnston line; and thence, bounding westerly, by Johnston line, until it comes to the aforesaid Solitary Hill; that all the lands included within the limits aforesaid, shall be, and hereby are, erected and made into a township, to be distinguished called and known by the name of North Providence; that the inhabitants thereof shall choose two deputies to represent them in the General Assembly; and that they shall have, hold, and enjoy all and singular the liberties, privileges and immunities, which the other towns in this Colony enjoy, and are entitled to.'

This act of the General Assembly led to no little crimination and strife.  The boundary line, instead of being so run as to separate the farming section of the town from the more compact portion, threw quite a strip of the latter into the new township.  The bitter feud that existed about this time between governors Hopkins and Ward, was thought by many to have influenced the establishment of a new town at this particular time, and of locating its boundaries so as to effect, in a measure, the representation in the General Assembly.  However the case may be, we find that two years afterwards, June 29, 1767, the boundaries were changed, and a small portion reunited to Providence.

Much of the early history of the town of North Providence, or a portion of the town at least, will be found in that of Pawtucket.

In 1874, March 27, the town was divided, and a portion was annexed to the city of Providence, making the tenth ward in that city, and a portion was united to Pawtucket, thus leaving but a small portion of the original territory within the limits of the old town.

The present boundaries of the town are as follows:  On the north, it is bounded by Lincoln and Smithfield; on the east, by Pawtucket; on the south by the city of Providence; and the west, by Johnston.  The surface is somewhat uneven, consisting of moderate elevations, and gentle sloping declivities.  The geological features present a primitive granite formation, and some limestone is found in different sections of the township.  The prevailing soil is of a gravelly loam, interspersed with tracts of a lighter sandy loam, generally easy of cultivation, and quite productive.  The agricultural products are hay, corn, some rye, potatoes, and considerable attention is paid to gardening, and the cultivation of small fruits and vegetables, which find a ready market in the adjoining city.  The keeping of cows, and the sale of milk in the city, is quite extensively engaged in, and is a source of no inconsiderable revenue to those employed in this avocation.

The principal waters of the town are the Seekonk River, that washes its eastern border, and the Wansquatucket River, that flows along its western border, and separates it from the town of Johnston.  These streams afford some valuable sites for manufacturing purposes.  Formerly, there were several quite extensive cotton manufactories situated within the limits of the township, but, after its division, a number of these establishments were included within the city limits.  The history of those that yet remain within the town, will be found under the appropriate head of the town's manufacturing interests.

The population of the town of North Providence in 1870, was 20,495; but in 1875, after its division, its population was reduced to 1,303.  The total number of acres of improved and unimproved farm lands was, in 1875, 2,273, with a total valuation, including buildings, of $296,100; average value per acre, $130.27.


The cotton manufacture was early introduced, and formed an important feature in the town's industry.  The splendid water-privileges were thus converted into channels of remunerative industry, and a vast amount of capital was employed in the successful operation of these extensive enterprises.  After the division of the town, several of the larger mills fell within the limits of the city of Providence, and cannot now properly be termed among the town's manufacturing interests.

Allendale Mill was built in 1822, by Zachariah Allen, for a woollen mill.  Several additions have been made to the original mill, until it has reached its present magnitude.  This mill is still operated by the Allens, and contains 8,792 spindles and 176 looms.  It furnishes employment to some one hundred and twenty-five operatives, and is operated in the manufacture of cotton goods.

Centerdale.  The first business enterprise at this place was that of a powder-mill, but at just what date it was started we have been unable to ascertain.  It continued in operation for some years, when it was blown up.  This occurred about the year 1798, and in the explosion two persons were killed and several injured.  At this time, there was but one dwelling in the village, and that is still standing, back of the store, and opposite the depot, and is at present the property of F. M. Beckwith.

The manufacturing site here was first used for a saw and grist mill.  They were erected about the year 1800, by Israel Arnold.  After  a few years, or about 1820, Mr. Arnold added a thread-mill, which he operated until 1822, when he sold a half-interest to Jonathan Congdon of Providence, and they then tore away the old saw and grist mill, and erected a stone mill, 40 x 32 feet, and operated it in the manufacture of cotton cloth, using the old thread-mill for a weave-shop.

The property was sold in 1827-8, to Richard Anthony & Son.  They built an addition, 80 x 40 feet, three stories in height.  They continued the manufacture of cotton goods, operating fifty looms.  In 1837, the mill was sold to Joseph Conliff, and in 1850 it was destroyed by fire.  Mr. Conliff rebuilt in 1853, the same size as the former mill, and in 1859 he sold a half-interest to Amos Beckwith, and three years later, Mr. Beckwith purchased Mr. Conliff's interest, and the property is now in his possession.  The mill contains 124 looms and 8,000 spindles, and gives employment to 100 operatives.

The first store in the village of Centerdale was opened by Richard Anthony & Son.  Luther Carpenter succeeded them, and is at present engaged in a general mercantile trade.  The first hotel was built by James Angell, and is still standing, and known as the 'Centerdale Hotel'.  There is no church at present in the village.  In 1832, a church was built by the Baptists, but it subsequently passed into the possession of the Episcopalians.  It was abandoned some time thereafter, and is now used as a public hall.

The first livery was started by Edward Capron, who began the business in 1833, and is still engaged in this avocation.  A carriage-factory is in operation, and several of the other mechanical industries are well represented.

The village has a fine library, having been in successful operation for the past few years.  The organization is known as the 'Union Free Library and Reading-room.'  It was thrown open to the public in July, 1870, and was formerly dedicated at that time.   Prior to this, the young people of Centerdale and vicinity had given entertainments, in the way of theatricals and other amusements, for the benefit of the institution.  The first entertainment was given October, 1868.  The ladies aided in the enterprise in many ways, and deserve much of the credit for the establishment of this laudable enterprise.

In April, 1869, the society was organized, and the following officers elected:  President, Dr. John O. Budlong;  Secretary and Librarian, Frank C. Angell;  Treasurer, George W. Remington.  In the spring of 1870, the building for the use of the society was completed.  The town, in the way of appropriations, has aided the society from time to time.  The rooms are carpeted and furnished in a suitable manner.  The society receive from the State a certain appropriation for the number of volumes contained in their library.  There are eight hundred and seventy-five volumes of the standard works of the day in the library, and it is opened Tuesdays and Saturdays for the benefit of the public.

Grey Stone Mill.  This site was first used for a cotton factory, which was erected in 1813 by Daniel Angell, Olney Angell, Peleg Williams, and Matherson Latham.  The mill was of stone, and was erected upon what was then known as the Coomer farm, and contained about twenty looms.  The firm became financially embarrassed and failed in 1816, and the property passed into the possession of Richard Anthony, who operated it in the manufacture of cotton cloth.  In 1835, Joseph Wescott purchased the mill, and enlarged it.  He took the roof off, and moved the walls out, making its dimensions 80 x 32 feet, in which he operated fifty looms.  The mill was subsequently sold to Dr. Wilds, about 1858, who built an addition, 30 x 40 feet, and three stories in height.  The next owner was Z. Whipple, who purchased the property in 1862, sold the looms, and manufactured yarns.  On the 1st of December, 1872, the mill was destroyed by fire.  A Mr. Campbell then purchased the site, but soon after sold to Mr. George Campbell, who erected a paper-mill, which was in successful operation until February, 1877, when it was destroyed by fire.  The site is now owned by the White Bros. of Chepachet.

Lyman's Mill.  This site was first used for manufacturing purposes about the year 1807.  A small mill was built here at this time, by a company of which Judge Daniel Lyman was one of the prominent members.  At this time there was in the mill but one mule and two spinning-frames.  There was only one house in this neighborhood at that time, at least only one furnished.  Among the first families to move into the immediate neighborhood is said to have been Benoni King, a Mr. Potter, and Michael Kelley.  The mill is now owned by the White Bros. of Chepachet, and operates 3,500 spindles in the manufacture of double and twisted yarns, employing some thirty-five hands.

Woodville.  The Sun Dyeing, Bleaching, and Calendering Works are located at this place.  They were started in 1869 by Richard Partington & Co.  The works are now operate by Mr. George Bridge in the finishing of cotton goods, and employ seventy operatives.

Secret Societies.

Roger Williams Lodge, No. 32, A. F. A. M.  A charter was granted for the above institution in May, 1876, and the following were its first officers:  M., Thomas Wilmarthy;  S. W., A. W. Harrington; J. W., C. P. Walker;  Treasurer, J. Halsey Angell;  Secretary, Frank C. Angell;  S. D., R. W. Harris;  J. D., James Smith;  S. S., George F. Angell; J. S., W. F. Allison;  Marshal, J. V. Dawley, Jr.; Chaplain, G. E. Olney; Tyler A. S. Angell.  They hold their meetings in Masonic Hall, at Centerdale, Saturday before the full of the moon.

Enterprise Temple of Honor, No. 26, was instituted Aug. 3, 1871, with the following-named officers:  W. C. T., Charles P. Walker;  W. V. T., Arnold Hawkins; W. R., Frank C. Angell;  W. A. R., Moses Claffin;  W. F. R., George F. Angell;  W. Treasurer, George Cozzens.  Hold meetings Friday evenings in Railroad Hall, Centerdale.


A commendable degree of interest has ever been manifested in the educational interests of the town of North Providence.  The prosperity of every community largely depends upon the proper educational training of its children.  Ignorance is a dangerous element in all society, and the only safety and stimulus to true progress is in the proper cultivation of those notable attributes implanted in the minds and natures of the young.  The town of North Providence, in 1839, expended for school purposes $1,215.38, while, in 1875, the expenditures reached $2,365.15.

Within the limits of North Providence, four miles from the city, is a district which has been called, from time immemorial, 'Fruit Hill'.  A hill though it be, it bears rather the appearance of an extensive upland region.  It was early settled, and its historic sites are pointed out by antiquarians.  Having long had a meeting-house, a school-house, and a public house, it was called a village, even when its houses could be counted upon the fingers.  Its situation is delightful, its climate healthy.

The old Fruit-Hill estate, whose history dates far back in the last century, was purchased in 1835, and made the seat of an educational institution, styled, at the outset, Fruit-Hill Seminary, and, subsequently, Fruit-Hill Classical Institute.  Its old hall, that had been devoted to public gatherings and various convivial entertainments, became a school-room, and its numerous apartments were given up to students.  The honor of bringing about this change belongs to the family of the late Dr. Solomon Drowne, whose youngest son, the late Henry B. Drowne, acted as agent.  As the agricultural school at Pawtuxet had just then been given up, its furniture was transferred to Fruit Hill, and public favor and patronage followed the rising institution.  Fruit-Hill Seminary met a popular demand, and proved successful.  Students came thither from far and near, so that, at times, its accommodations were inadequate.  The school, acquiring reputation for thoroughness and discipline rather than for refinement, its privileges were sought especially for boys supposed to require great watchfulness and care.  On its catalogue the Southern States and the West India Island were liberally represented.  Its curriculum embraced the ancient and modern languages, as well as the studies deemed an essential preparation for the active duties of life.  From this hall of learning scores of youth were sent to colleges, and hundreds to the counting-rooms and various business pursuits.

During its palmy days, the seminary was recognized as one of the efficient institutions of the State.  On its semi-annual examinations, its spacious and commodious hall was gayly trimmed, and thronged with visitors from Providence and the surrounding country.  But the hall, and stately old mansion, that were full of life for more than a quarter of a century, have gone the way of all the earth.  The seminary, however, lives in the memory of many of its students, who adorn and dignify the learned professions, magisterial posts, and various offices of trust.  Mr. Amos Perry, a graduate of Harvard University, became the proprietor of the estate, and the principal of the seminary in 1837, and was succeeded in 1840 by Mr. Stanton Belden, a graduate of Yale College, who thenceforward sustained the institution till its close in 1861.

These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project.
Transcription 2004 by Beth Hurd
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