190418ind History

The property located at 1401 Tower Hill Road in North Kingstown still retains many of its valuable historical architectural features from when it was built in the 1700s.

Back in 1762, entrepreneur Joseph Taylor decided to dam the Mettatuxet River in order to construct one of the area’s first fulling and carding mills. In doing so he set in motion an enterprise which existed on the shore of the mill pond he created, Silver Spring Pond, that has lasted for nearly 200 years in one form or another. The pond was named for the peculiar habit of an existing natural spring which constantly threw up mica chips along with its clear cool water. His dam and its associated waterfall, which has been rebuilt and reinforced many times, is still a joy for all to behold nearly 260 years later. The dam is a living artifact, testifying daily to one of the colonist’s earliest attempts to harness the power of the area’s many streams and rivers.

Loyal readers, if you are anything like your humble columnist once was, you don’t have a clue what happens at a carding and fulling mill, so I’ll take a little break from our tale to pass on what I found out about this mysterious and ancient enterprise. After a bit of head-scratching and a lot of research I have ascertained that the farm folk of the day would bring good Mr. Taylor the wool they had sheared from their sheep and he would clean, comb, and card it to prepare it for eventual spinning into yarn on the many family spinning wheels which existed at virtually every home in the region. After the yarn was spun and it was woven into cloth, it would be brought back to the mill for fulling. Fulling is the process of shrinking and thickening woolen cloth by a combination of moistening, heating, and pressing. This gives the cloth more body, insures that it retains its shape, and makes it thicker, and that’s our lesson for the day. Now, back to the story.

The Taylor’s ran their mill at Silver Spring for many years. The photographs above show two houses which are, by virtue of their estimated construction date, more than likely Taylor homes. The earliest and closest to the pond, 1401 Tower Hill Road, was built around the middle of the 1700s and may be the family home of Joseph Taylor. This unique and rambling colonial-era home is a testimony to its durability of construction and still retains many of its valuable historical architectural features. Just to the north of this home stands the two and a half story central-chimneyed home which has been greeting passersby on Tower Hill Road since its construction at the end of the 1700’s. It still retains its enormous central chimney, as well as many 19th century 12-over-12 windows. The house’s foundation is constructed from hand-cut stones similar to the ones used to build the dam and sluiceway at the nearby pond. It may be a later Taylor home. The Taylors, with extraordinary timing, sold their mill to J.D. Williams in 1823. I say this because in 1824 the mill was swept away by a massive flood which roared down the Mettatuxet River, destroying all in its path. Williams rebuilt the mill and retooled it into a weaving mill where he manufactured coarse woolen goods. Williams sold the mill to the Hazard family in 1832, who in turn sold it to Christopher Allen in 1835. In 1841 the mill became one of the earliest pieces of the Robert Rodman empire when he purchased it from Allen.

This is where the story gets interesting. In 1945, Robert Rodman sold the Silver Spring Mill, pond, and all the surrounding lands and homes to the husband of his cousin Louisa Rodman. Nineteen-year-old Louisa had just married 40-year-old Daniel Hiscox, a man of wealth who lived at the corner of the present day Hamilton-Allenton and Boston Neck Roads. Louisa left her South Kingstown home and moved onto the Hiscox Estate (as it was then known) with her new husband. Life went along well enough for the newlyweds. They were blessed with the birth of a daughter, Susan, in 1849, and the mill thrived under Daniel’s guidance. At some point during this timeframe Daniel also purchased the Narragansett Mill, which was located on the Annaquatucket River in the vicinity of the present day Razee’s Motorcycle establishment. But sadly, as it often does, tragedy struck the Hiscox family in 1854 when Louisa died giving birth to their second child Daniel Jr. The grieving husband was struck again three short months later when his namesake, too, joined his wife in death. The monument which the elder Daniel placed upon the grave of his wife and son can still be seen today farther down Hamilton-Allenton Road and is, in my estimation, perhaps, the most beautiful in all of North Kingstown.

Daniel was now left a widower with a five-year-old daughter to raise and two mills to run. How he managed to do it we can only guess, but he carried on and continued to be successful. That is, until 1861, when tragedy struck again and little Susan, now twelve years old, became an orphan. Daniel was dead at 56 years of age and was buried next to his young wife. Not only was Susan instantly an orphan, she was instantly a mill owner, as her father’s estate passed down to her, his only heir. This was truly an unusual situation, and presented a unique problem for Hiscox’s many business partners. For in an age when women just didn’t meddle in the affairs of business, these four men, Albert Pierce, Gideon Reynolds, Nicholas Spink and Robert Rodman, were now contractually bound into partnerships with a little girl and, although the scene may have never played itself out in such a fashion, it is almost irresistible to imagine these four captains of North Kingstown’s industry sitting around in the library of Rodman’s home, which cigars clenched in their teeth, discussing a solution to the vexing question of “what to do with the Hiscox girl?”

They arrived at a solution,  however, as the historic records show that it was as unique as the situation was. For two years later, in 1863, Pierce and Spink found themselves petitioning the Rhode Island General Assembly to have a bill passed declaring Nicholas Spink as Susan Hiscox’s legal guardian. All went as planned and Spink dispersed the assets of Daniel Hiscox and sent Susan off into her future with the enormous sum of $20,000, making her nearly a millionaire by today’s standards.

The mill itself eventually ended up back into the fold of the Rodman Empire, as he purchased it from Gideon Reynolds in 1868. Just prior to this transaction the mill building that Williams had constructed in 1824 burned. Rodman rebuilt it and retooled it again for the manufacture of a fabric known as doeskin. The mill remained a part of Rodman Manufacturing operating well into the twentieth century. Even after the mill’s closure the Rodman family held onto the property until the disbandment of the company in 1954. The mill building itself was demolished about that time. But that waterfall, the beautiful pond behind, and these two fine homes live on to remind us of what this place once was.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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