Stillwater Mills

Stillwater Mill Complex

    Manufacturing has been carried on in Harrisville, RI since the early years of the 1800’s.  Water power was used during that time to run saw and grist mills.  Andrew Harris purchased the water privilege and started the manufacture of spindles and flyers.  A cotton mill was in operation in a building built by Mr. Harris in 1829.   The mill was leased over the years to several different parties but sold to the Emerson brothers in 1853.   Emerson constructed a mill but then sold it to Job Steere and William Tinkham in 1856.

Tinkham Mills in the 1890s

    These proprietors built the dam, lengthened the factory, erected a picker house, dye house, dry house, etc. in 1857.  Cassimeres were manufactured in 1860.  Between that time and 1884, several old shops were pulled down and other buildings erected in their place.  Mr. Tinkham built several large buildings between 1886 and 1889.  The mills were engaged in the manufacture of fancy worsteds with 400 to 450 hands employed.  

    After a major fire in 1894, the buildings were rebuilt and manufacturing continued.  In 1904, the largest concrete fire-proof mill of its kind in New England was built by Mr. Tinkham.  It still stands today and is known as the Clock Tower building.

    In a thesis written in 1935, Lloyd Deacon Black states that the largest company operating in Burrillville is the Stillwater Worsted Company whose headquarters are at Harrisville.  The company began operations in Harrisville about 1912, when it rented the William Tinkham Mill.  The lease was renewed in 1918, once more with the option of purchase.  Tinkham’s son sold the mill and surrounding mill houses in 1920 to Austin T. Levy.

Stillwater Mils Complex
   In 1936, the Stillwater Worsted Co. included not only the large Harrisville Mill but mills in other parts of Rhode Island. ie:  two in Mapleville, one in Greenville, one in Washington, and one in Ashaway. They also owned one mill in East Woodstock, Connecticut, and three mills in Virginia.   

    The arrival of World War One stimulated all branches of industry, and the woolen and worsted manufacturing in particular.  The US government issued orders for uniforms, blankets, and other woolen materials for the use of our soldiers.  The Stillwater Mills manufactured the cloth used for these purposes.

    During the depression years in the 1930’s, Mr. Levy kept the mills running and his people employed.  He stored the finished product instead of closing down the mills until the market recovered.  In Harrisville in 1936, they made worsted cloth for men’s wear and employed 600 workers, both men and women.

    The tradition of manufacturing fine worsted cloth continued throughout World War II when the Stillwater Worsted Mills again made cloth for the uniforms of our soldiers.   In January of 1963, the news of the Stillwater Mills moving its cloth production to Virginia came as a blow to the 250 workers in the mill and the residents of Burrillville as a whole.  It was the end of an Era in manufacturing in Burrillville.

    After that time, several small businesses and/or manufacturers were housed in the  buildings at the Stillwater site.  Fires destroyed some of the brick and wooden buildings over the passing years until eventually the Town of Burrillville took part of the complex for their own use.   Plans were made in the late 1990’s to build a new Town Hall and Library on the site.  

New Library with Clock Tower

    In 2008 the new Jesse M. Smith Library will be open for business.  Plans are to rehab the Clock Tower into housing units.    Progress continues at the old Stillwater Mill Complex in Harrisville, Rhode Island.


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