190829ind Cranston

Robert Rodman was just 23 years old when he married Almira Taylor in 1841, and though it is believed they began their life together in a humble property on Pendar Road, it wouldn’t take long for the future mill mogul to expand his lifestyle as the pair eventually purchased their mansion on Shady Lea Road, pictured above

The year 1841 was an auspicious one for young Robert Rodman. The 23-year-old not only married Almira Taylor in April, he also signed a long term lease with his new father-in-law William Taylor to take over the Taylor-owned mill at Silver Spring. The marriage of Rodman to Taylor joined the three major mill-owning families in the area into one powerhouse which would dominate the industry locally. The faith that the elder Taylor and his wife, the former Mary Sanford, placed in  Rodman was well rewarded, as Robert took the lease of this small mill and eventually turned it into an empire with which he was able to provide for his young wife’s needs quite nicely.

It is thought that Rodman brought his young bride home to this fairly simply (by Rodman standards) home which he had built near the shore of the mill pond created for his enterprise. It is located on present day Pendar Road, was built around the time of his wedding, and is a simplified version of a house which was located next door to Rodman’s childhood home in the Wakefield area. The house is now known as the mill superintendent’s house as that it what it became as Rodman’s empire grew and he moved into his first mansion house located nearby on Shady Lea Road.

Although exact dates are unknown, it is thought that the Rodman family moved into the Shady Lea Mansion sometime around the end of the 1850s to as late as 1860. His two and a half story mansard-roofed home, complete with bay windows and a wonderful veranda, as well as a splendid granite-posted picket fence which surrounded the meticulously landscaped yard, was framed by splendid specimen trees, some of which still exist today. Robert Rodman’s stay in his first mansion was short-lived though. By 1863 he was building his new (and more well-known) mansion near his now main place of business, the Rodman Mill on Ten Rod Road. His empire was expanding exponentially as the Civil War began. He had more war-related orders than he could fill with the mills he had at hand, so he began to expand the Lafayette Mill, as it was known, as fast as he could. He also increased operations at the Silver Spring Mill, which he eventually purchased outright from his in-laws. A little later he acquired the Shady Lea Mill from Walter Chapin, who had also done well during the war making blankets for the Union Army. Coincidentally, operations at this mill had begun in the early part of the century by the family of Rodman’s mother-in-law, the Sanfords, who had in turn sold it to Chapin.

Robert Rodman needed someone he could trust to run his two mills in the southern part of town. That job fell to his third son Charles who, along with his brother Albert, took charge of the mills around 1870. Charles moved into his father’s former mansion, set conveniently between them, at about the same time. Charles and his family lived in the home until around the turn of the century and the house is known as the Charles Rodman House in honor of the man who spent his many years in it. Sometime soon after moving in and taking charge, Charles supervised the construction of the picturesque livestock barn which has been a landmark for generations of beach-goers and sightseers traveling Route 1. It is thought that the barn was used to house the horses, mules, and other livestock necessary to operate the two mills, as well as the Rodman family’s personal horses and livestock. The barn and mansion were part of the Rodman Empire until its end in 1952.

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

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