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Walking Tours: Providence - Pawtucket - Chepachet - Upton - Uxbridge - Worcester - Millville Lock - Four walks along the Canal - Saundersville Walking Tour NE Village
Harrisville, RI, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984:
The 3/4 mile walk in Harrisville starts at the footbridge of the 1857 Harrisville Dam and Falls. The roar of the river might be quieted if rain has not recently fallen, but when the mill was in operation, the flow was carefully controlled by gates and gears, still seen in spots. From the 1902 granite barrel-vaulted bridge, you can see the Clear River above the dam which fills Harrisville Pond. This River originates at Wallum Lake in Douglas and enlargens as tributaries join. At Oakland Village, the Chepachet River joins and soon becomes the Branch River. It then flows northward and joins the Blackstone River in North Smithfield and then moves south towards Narragansett Bay. These rivers connect the history of the old mill villages, thriving manufacturing centers to the diverse communities they have now become.
The Stillwater Worsted Mill Complex now houses various businesses after the textile manufacturing ended in 1972. In 1894, a fire consumed some of the mill buildings, but owners Job Steere and William Tinkham rebuilt them. Boston architect built the largest mill, the #4 which was a reinforced concrete building to prevent fires.
New Yorker Austin Levy acquired the Stillwater Mill complex in 1912 whereupon he built a 1930s Town Building Project yielding cultural arts space at The Assembly and a nearby library to enhance the town village. The Village Players were a box-office success for many seasons at the Harrisville Theatre in the Assembly. Levy added to the quality of life for his workers with pay raises, access to cultural events, paid vacations, profit sharing, affordable housing and more. Levy also built the Harrisville Post Office in 1950 diagonally across from the Library. Levy confounded the federal government when he tried to turn the Post Office key over to bureaucrats who in turn, had to get Congressional approval to accept this gift as it was the first time a private citizen had donated or built a Post Office for the government.
Turning left at the corner of Main Street brings you to the 1840s Stillwater House at 176 Main Street, initially a tavern that eventually became a boarding house. It became a community center and dance hall when the Stillwater Company purchased it in 1919. The House has now been rehabilitated into apartments. Nearby at 173 Main Street, which is now apartments, used to be the 1837 Central Hotel run by the Stillwater Mill and then called the Loom and Shuttle Inn after 1919. Salesmen on business trips, especially with the Stillwater Mill, used to use this as a stopover before heading back to New York, Providence or Boston. The back ell was used for horse stalls and the second floor had a dance hall.
Heading north on Main Street now, you'll see the "First Universalist Church" at 134 Main, built in 1886. During Levy's Town Buildings Project, this Victorian Church was restyled to more closely look like the typical, white painted New England church. Fancy architectural details and trim were removed before painting. This 1933 remake was also given to the 1878 Berean Baptist Church down on Chapel Street to your left.
Harrisville has the look and appeal of a planned New England community thanks to benefactor Austin Levy. He worked hard to create a model manufacturing center and a model town. His fortunes grew along with his textile empire reaching into Greenville, Glendale, Mapleville, Nasonville, Virginia and Connecticut. A modest statue to Levy can be found just past the First Universalist Church, back a few yards from the street. A multi-million $ philanthropic foundation , the June Rockwell Levy Foundation, continues in his wife's name to benefit the communities he loved.
The 1845 Joseph Clark House at 116 Main Street is a perfect example of a petite temple form of the Greek Revival architecture. These new gable ended buildings built in the 1850s were the coveted ideal with their Parthenon-like porticos attached to the gable end.
The Town Office Complex was also part of the 1930s Building Project though Burrillville was created in 1806 since Glocester was too far away to travel for town meetings. Most compelling to see is the wall mural of Burrillville found in the chamber room. Note also the attached building, the Ninth District Court building built in Levy's Building Project.
Scattered throughout town are many examples of the one and a half story duplex-type mill house which attracted both foreign born and native workers. By 1875, the population had risen to 605 residents.
Across from St. Patrick's Catholic Church are some benches to rest while perusing Harrisville Pond and recollecting about the past. Not only is this an attractive place but it is the center of another historically significant era - utilizing the manmade pond for spinning waterwheels, washing wool, dying cloth or creating steam. At the parking lot was once a wood-frame church which has been lost to the 1938 Hurricane.
Interesting Facts: On August 19, 1944 His Royal Highness, the Duke of Windsor visted Burrillville and rode through town on Mr. Levy's Packard.
Harrisville, was originally known as Rhodesville for Captain William Rhodes (1743-1823). It was one of 14 villages of Burrillville but it changed names when Andrew Harris purchased the land in the early 1800s. Harris built a cotton mill and William Tinkham of nearby Harmony purchased the mill in 1856. The mill growth was significant in the next few decades, especially during the Civil War boom period.
James Burrill was born in Providence in 1722 and graduated from Brown University at the age of 16. He rose to the US Senate after having served as the State's Attorney General for nine years. In 1806, Burrillville was so named in tribute to this respected politician whose might never have even visited his namesake.
(Information taken from the Walking Tour brochure composed by Worcester Historical in partnership with NHC.)