There has been a mill
at the Potter Hill site since before the Revolutionary War.
In 1762: At
this time, the dam at Potter Hill was owned by Samual Maxson and
John Davis. A grist mill, owned
by Peter Crandall
and located about 1 mile upstream of Potter Hill, was purchased
by John Davis. Davis moved this mill to the westerly side of
the Pawcatuck River at Potter Hill. Shortly after this move, a
saw mill, located
on the eastern side of the river (presently the Hopkinton side)
was also moved to the westerly side at Potter Hill.
to 1775: John and William Davis operated a grist mill, saw mill
and fulling mill at this site.
In 1775: George Potter purchased
the grist mill, saw mill, fulling mill, along with 16 acres and
2 houses from John and William Davis for 800 pounds sterling.
1775 to 1794: George Potter, with the help of his three
sons, George Jr, Joseph, and Nathan, operated the grist mill, saw
mill and a store at Potter Hill. Additionally, fishing and other
vessels were built at this site during this period.
In 1794: George
Potter senior died.
From 1794 to 1801: George
Potter Jr operated the mill with the help of his brothers, Joseph
and Nathan. George
Jr was very active in shipbuilding and cod fishing as far north
as Green Island in the Bay of St. Lawrence.
In 1801: George Potter
From 1801 to 1810: Joseph
and Nathan Potter ran the mills and shipbuilding operations. Approximately
10 to 15 boats,
schooners and sloops, were built each year at this site.
In 1810: Joseph
Potter purchased the mill property from his brother, Nathan, and
from his brother George’s heirs, became sole proprietor,
and started a small prototype cotton mill at Potter Hill.
1810 to1814: Joseph Potter & Sons Co. operated a cotton spinning
and dressing mill at this site. According to local folk lore, it
is said that Joseph Potter produced the first pound of cotton cloth
in Westerly. In 1812, at a cost of $9000, the cotton factory yarn
and cloth production capabilities were expanded. Boat production
continued during this period and 2 sloop rigged gunboats, No 91
and 92, were built at this site for the war of 1812.
In 1814: Joseph Potter sold his rights to the mill to the Thomas W. & Joseph
Potter & Co., which was owned by his sons, Thomas W., Joseph,
Henry, Robert T. and William Potter.
From 1814 to1843: Thomas
W. & Joseph Potter & Co. continued the cotton spinning
and dressing mill operations at this
In 1843: Mill was sold to the E & H Babcock
and Co., which was owned by Edwin and Horace Babcock.
to 1870: E & H Babcock and Co operated the complex as
a woolen mill. During this period, Peleg Clarke, a noted architect
in the region, was hired to design and construct the beautiful
3 story stone mill building using locally cut, Westerly pink granite.
It is believed that this building was completed in 1847. E & H
Babcock & Co. owned, in addition to the main granite, brick,
and wood mill buildings, two stores and a boarding house for mill
workers slightly south and west of the mill. These building are
depicted in 1870 Biers Co. Atlas.
In 1870: E & H Babcock & Company
transferred ownership of the mill to the R & A Babcock Company,
which was owned by their relatives.
From 1870 to 1885: R & A
Babcock Company operated the facility as a woolen mill
In 1885: R & A
Babcock Company sold the mill to the J.P. Campbell & Company.
From 1885 to 1889: J.P.
Campbell & Company produced fine cashmere
yarn and cloth at this mill. The first available graphic record
of J.P. Campbell & Company buildings is a Sandborn insurance
map, dated 1885. During this period, the complex of mill buildings
was expanded once again. There were now three buildings across
the river used for mill worker housing. Business during this time
period was good and the mill prospered and employed many workers.
During this period, the mill employed approximately 200 people,
over multiple shifts, from Westerly, Hopkinton, and surrounding
towns. It is believed that many of these workers lived in the mill
boarding houses for 6 nights each week and then traveled home to
visit relatives for the 7th night. During this period, a large
two story wood warehouse and a two story wood carpenter's building
were constructed near the northeast corner of the complex. In the
1888 Davidson Manufacturing Book, the mill is describes as producing “fancy
cassimeres” with 11 sets of carding machines, 56 broad looms,
3200 spool spindles, 3 boilers, and 6 water wheels for power generation.
1889: J.P.Campbell & Company sold the mill to the Campbell
From 1889 to 1902: In 1891 Davidson Manufacturing
Book indicates that the Campbell Mills produced “kerseys,
cassimeres, etc” during this period using 11 sets of carding
machines, 56 broad looms, 3200 spool spindles, 3 boilers, and 6
water wheels for power generation.
In 1902: Campbell
Mills Company sold the mill to the Pawcatuck Woolen Mill Company.
1903 to 1930: Pawcatuck Woolen Mill Company
operated the complex as a woolen mill, manufacturing wool yarn
and cloth. It is believed that the mill produced a fine wool cloth
for men’s clothing. Once again the mill went through an expansion
phase. At some point between 1903 and 1907, a 125 horse power steam
engine was installed to augment the water powered machinery in
the mill. The fire control systems at the mill were upgraded during
this time period when a new 250 gallon Worthington fire pump was
acquired and installed. In 1903, the dam at Potter Hill was rebuilt
and in about 1907, the large dry/wet finishing building is constructed
on the east side (river side) of the weave building.
In 1930: Pawcatuck
Woolen Company sold the complex to the Swift River Woolen Company.
1930 to 1955: Swift River Woolen Company operated
the complex as a woolen mill, manufacturing wool yarn and cloth.
(It is believed that the mill produced a fine wool cloth for men’s
clothing.) No major buildings were constructed during this period
of ownership. Like its predecessor, little is known about this
company except that this mill manufactured wool yarn and cloth.
On July 12, 1955 there were 275 workers employed by this mill.
1955: Swift River Woolen Co. sold the mill to the Westerly Woolen
From 1955 to 1958: Westerly
Woolen Company operated this facility as a woolen mill. The mill
was abruptly closed by
new owner, Mrs. Helen Cottrell, after only three years of operation.
During this period, many textile mills in Rhode Island and in adjoining
states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, closed and relocated to
states such as North and South Carolina. The labor and other operating
costs in these southern states were significantly lower than costs
experienced in New England states.
From 1958 to 1992: Westerly
Woolen Company retained ownership of this property. Basic maintenance
of buildings and routine yard work were performed. In 1977, a fire
of unknown origin, destroyed one large 2 1⁄2 story and one
smaller 1 story wood mill building close to the dam and the mill
back to top
In 1992: The
mill owner, Helen Cottrell, died and the executors of her estate
prepared to sell the mill. At this
time, a small group in Westerly was encouraging the town to use
an old 1981 court order against the mill owner to have this historic
landmark demolished. Several builders and a local granite company
expressed interest in purchasing the facility to salvage wood,
brick, and stone materials, such as the beautiful pink granite
in the large, 3 story stone building. In opposition to this planned
action, over 700 people from Westerly, Hopkinton, and surrounding
towns formed the “Association for the Preservation of the
Potter Hill Mill” and signed a petition opposing these demolition
plans. They delivered this petition to the Town of Westerly. The
stated objectives of this association was to prevent the Town of
Westerly from demolishing this historic mill complex, to prevent
this mill from being purchased by companies that wanted to take
it down and salvage material, and to encourage people interested
in restoring and preserving this mill complex to purchase the property.
In addition to this group, other organizations, such as the Slater
Mill Historic Site and the Westerly Land Trust, sent letters expressing
support for the preservation of this mill. The 1991 Westerly Comprehensive
Plan also identified and suggested protection for the town’s
historic and cultural resources. The Westerly Town Council approved
a resolution recognizing the mill as a historic site that should
be preserved. Renewable Resources, Inc was interested in purchasing
the property to preserve the buildings and to restore the hydroelectric
capability at this site. Prior to purchasing the property, Renewable
Resources officials met with Town of Westerly officials and obtained
their assurances that the town would not attempt to exercise this
old 1981 court demolition order.
In 1992: The estate of Helen Cottrell
sold the mill to Renewable Resources Inc.
From 1992 to Present: In
preparation for the restoration and construction phase of this
effort Renewable Resources Inc. has been actively
working on many fronts to complete the necessary historical, engineering,
architectural, environmental, hydroelectric energy, and related
federal, state and town permit and approval documentation. There
have been some periods of unavoidable delay, such as the 2 year
period from 2002-2004 when the reconstruction of the bridge over
the Pawcatuck River at Potter Hill prevented access to the mill
Examples of some of the major tasks accomplished
during this period are provided below:
- Engineering & Surveys: conducted forensic
engineering building surveys, completed wetland, topographic and
property boundary surveys, & conducted
preliminary septic system engineering analysis
Sampling & Reports: completed Phase 1, Phase
2 and Site Investigative Report (SIR) environmental tests & reports
- Site Debris Removal: completed requested removal
of shoreline and inland debris
- Security Fence: completed installation and
repairs to greater than 1200 feet of perimeter security fencing
- Architectural Analysis & Designs: prepared preliminary
engineering and architectural designs for the restoration
of this complex.
- Historic Research
and Applications: conducted
historic building and site research and prepared historic
register and historic tax
- Hydroelectric Engineering
and Applications: prepared preliminary hydroelectric drawings and engineering
estimates; prepared and
submitted preliminary hydroelectric plans and permit application;
awarded preliminary permit by the Federal Energy Regulatory
- Westerly Town Co-ordination: presented preliminary
architectural concept plans to the Westerly Town Manager,
and Planning Board; discussed zoning issues with Town Zoning
Official to obtain town zoning position, signed a Memorandum
(MOA) with the Town of Westerly (Nov 2006) to erect perimeter
security fencing, submitted environmental Site Investigation
briefed Westerly Planning Board, and cleaned up shoreline
and NW property debris, and completed all MOA commitments.
- State of
Rhode Island Co-ordination: presented preliminary
architectural concepts and economic objectives to RI
Participated in RI Innovation Factory event, participated in
Tax Credit workshop; discussed RI Governor’s Hydroelectric
and Renewable Energy Initiatives with energy staff; presented
plans and needs to RI Senators; coordinated with RIDEM
on environmental testing and fish passage issues related
to the hydroelectric
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