191114ind History

The remains of the old Davisville Mill can be seen through the trees in a wooded area on the northeastern corner of Davisville Road in North Kingstown.

To the unaware, the trip down the hill from busy Davisville Road to the little hollow next to the Hunt’s River seems like a short one, but to those who know, it’s a journey that spans hundreds of years. You see, down there next to the river, unknown and unseen to the hundreds of folks who fly by in their cars and trucks on the busy road each day, lies the remains of the Davis, Reynolds, & Company Mill; built in 1847 and demolished in the 1950s. The site had already been in continuous use as a mill of one kind or another by the Davis family for 150 years when the mill building was constructed. Joshua Davis, the patriarch of the family, built a grist mill on the site in the late 1690s. The mill eventually evolved into a wool carding mill where local folks would bring their wool in to be carded by machine instead of the laborious and time-consuming “old-fashioned” hand carding method. Later, Joshua’s sons, Ezra and Jeffery, expanded upon this by enlarging the mill and setting up a home spinning and weaving industry which ran concurrently with the mill. Local folks would bring their wool to the mill to be washed and carded and then take it back home and spin it into yarn. They would then bring it back to the mill to be dyed and then take it home again and weave it into fabric which they would then sell to the Davis brothers. Things went along like that until the mill was destroyed by fire in the middle of the 1840s.

The new 1847 mill was built by partners James Davis (Ezra’s son), Henry Sweet (Ezra’s son-in-law) and Albert Reynolds (Ezra’s nephew). It was built to be a traditional mill where the process of fabric milling went from wool to cloth uninterrupted. Instead of working at home on hand looms, the partners hired the local folks to run the many machines they purchased for the mill. Workers were housed in a boarding house and various tenements which were constructed along Davisville Road. A number of these many buildings were later demolished to make way for the magnificent homes of the three partners and their families, as the milling operation later moved to the Old Baptist Road site. The Hunt River Mill site also included a company store as well as the mill, soap house and dye house. The mill operated continuously until 1873 when it was closed due to a nationwide economic panic. It reopened in 1875 under the management of George Reynolds (Albert’s uncle) who was at that time running the mill at Sand Hill (Chadsey Road area). The partnership of Davis, Sweet and Reynolds subsequently reopened operations at their new Old Baptist Road site. Eventually the mill became the property of William Davis Miller, a Davis descendant, who decided in the 1950s to dismantle the then abandoned mill building for safety reasons. He sold off the big hand-hewn beams and donated the main drive gear to Sturbridge Village for their mill machinery display.

As you stand there dead-center in the remains of the old mill you enter a time warp. It’s easy to imagine Ezra walking down the hill from the Davis homestead ready to begin the day at the mill. If you listen hard enough the sound of the wind rustling through the trees almost sounds like the quite clacking of a distant loom; the river sounds now just as it did then, the one constant over the many centuries. The mill site is a place of spirits as well as a spiritual place. It is a memorial to the myriad souls who worked there over the countless decades. It may be true that a trip to Slater Mill in Pawtucket can educate and inform a person about the mill experience, but a trip to the old Davis Mill site can connect you to the very heart and soul of what a mill was all about.

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

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