An overview of mills in South Kingstown

Indigenous communities knew and revered local rivers and streams for millennia before Europeans arrived in the area now known as South Kingstown. After the 1658 Pettaquamscutt Purchase imposed changes in land use, water-powered mills of numerous kinds began to dot the landscape.

Grist mills still in operation (producing corn meal from Rhode Island Flint Corn) include the 1703 Samuel Perry Grist Mill in Perryville, and the 1696 Kenyon Grist Mill in Usquepaugh. Biscuit City and other locations also had grist mills prior to 1800.  

The Saugatucket River powered a fulling mill (for processing wool) at that time.  Rowland Hazard (1763-1835) became a partner with owner Benjamin Rodman (1725-1821?), in 1802. Hazard, an innovator with ties to southern markets, reportedly installed in Peace Dale the first carding machine in any Rhode Island mill in 1805, and a power loom in 1813. His sons Isaac Peace Hazard (1799-1874) and Rowland Gibson Hazard (1801-1888) introduced additional power sources and developed a large and thriving enterprise.

The Rodman family, notably Daniel Rodman (1805-1880) and Samuel Rodman (1800-1882), who were related to the Hazards, also prospered in the town’s 19th-century textile industry, with mills in Rocky Brook, Wakefield, and Mooresfield.

These operations, like many in Rhode Island, produced kersey woolens and Kentucky jean cloth, also known as slave or Negro cloth, for southern markets. After the Civil War, some mills did not survive. The Hazard enterprise was able to diversify; the family sold it in 1918.

Some additional locations with 19th-century textile mills in South Kingstown included Usquepaugh, Glen Rock, Green Hill, Perryville, and South Ferry.  Not all these buildings survived, but some mills, and a significant amount of mill workers’ housing, remain standing in repurposed use today.

Jessica Wilson

Local History Librarian, South Kingstown Public Library

References:

Bossy, Kathleen and Mary Keane. Lost South Kingstown. Kingston RI: Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, 2004.

Rhode Island Historical Society Finding Aid for Peace Dale Manufacturing Company.

Wilson, Jessica. “Joseph P. Hazard’s 1825 Peace Ville Map”. SKPL History Blog, July 2020.

1852 Snapshot of South Kingstown Schools

South Kingstown’s Committee of Public Schools’ Annual Report for 1852 shows 21 schools in town, educating 462 boys and 354 girls. Wakefield, Kingston, and Peace Dale, had the most students. The smallest districts were listed as Perkins and Dugway. School lasted 4 months of the year or less. Teachers’ monthly wages in some cases included board, and ranged from $14 to $40/month. 4 districts had more girls than boys: Kingston, Sugar Loaf Hill, Perryville, and Usquepaug. The town had no high school at this time.

The Neighborhood Guild opened in 1909

Dedicated September 11, 1909, and presented to the Town as a memorial to John Newbold Hazard (1836-1900), the Neighborhood Guild, located at one end of the Village Green in Peace Dale, held classes of all kinds then as it does now. The top floor originally served as apartments for Guild workers. Still in vibrant use today, The Guild houses South Kingstown’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The 1894 Washington County Court House

After two years of construction, the “new” Washington County Court House in West Kingston held its first session in January, 1895. A drawing, diagram, and description of the building appeared on page 4 of the Narragansett Times of December 7, 1894. The Court House remained in use for nearly a century.

This Court House was preceded by the “old” Court House in Kingston (now the Kingston Free Library), and was followed by the McGrath Judicial Complex on Route 1 near Wakefield.

The 1894 building is now the home of Court House Center for the Arts, founded in 1988.

Image from the Narragansett Times, December 7, 1894, page 7

The Narragansett Times, 1855-1980, searchable online!

Thanks to the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the South Kingstown Public Library now offers a free searchable database of 125 years of the Narragansett Times.

Looking for family history? Researching a past event? Just type in a keyword to find news, obituaries, wedding announcements, sports, and more. Pictures and advertising are included–each issue is complete.

You can access this digital resource from any computer.

For an overview of how to use it, check out this video on the Library’s Youtube channel.

The Hazard Memorial Hall School, 1941-1954

Did you or someone in your family attend elementary school at the Peace Dale Library?

South Kingstown experienced a significant rise in population at the start of World War II as work opportunities brought families to the area. As a result, existing school buildings became overcrowded, especially in elementary grades. Both the Neighborhood Guild and the Hazard Memorial Hall (as the Peace Dale Library was commonly known) were tapped to meet the need for classroom space.

The Library’s collection of Annual Reports of the School Department (missing a few years) and the digital Narragansett Times database show that the school at “Memorial Hall” operated during school years 1941-42 through 1953-54. As many as 84 students attended at any given time but the numbers varied from year to year.

Lunch was handled differently in different years. In 1943-44, a lunch room opened in the Memorial Hall School.  Anecdotal information has suggested it was located in the present-day Children’s Room. Hot lunch would be prepared in the Peace Dale School kitchen and brought over. In some other years, children were asked to go home for lunch.

Between 1941 and 1948, the Superintendent’s office was also in the Hazard Memorial.

The following chart provides a snapshot of some years of the school, based on School Department reports in the Library’s collection.

SCHOOL YEARGRADESSTUDENTSTEACHERS
1941-42K9Jean Gardner
 121Jean Sutton
1943-443-429Marjorie Black
 5-627Flora Oatley
 7-822Frances Randall
1944-453-424Marjorie Black
 5-627Flora Oatley
 7-824Frances Randall
1947-48220Mary Laffey
 3-424Flora Oatley
 6-828Frances Randall
1949-503-424Lena Rose
 5-629Flora Oatley
 7-831Frances Randall
1951-524-521Anna Brison
 613Flora Oatley
 7-833Frances Randall

Further information could be extracted from a year-by-year examination of the Narragansett Times. Each September, the paper would list school information. The last year “Memorial School” appears there is 1953. In September 1954, it is not listed.

Jessica Wilson

Did someone in your family receive a “World War” medal like this?

This is one of 300 medals presented to South Kingstown and Narragansett soldiers in appreciation of their service in World War I.
Designed by Caroline Hazard, the medals came on a blue ribbon and featured a star, 5 scallop shells, and an anchor on one side, and a wreath of laurel leaves and oak leaves on the reverse. The inscription reads “South Kingstown to her Crusaders, 1917-1918” (or may say “Town of Narragansett”). A bar has “World War” on the front, and each veteran’s name engraved on the back.
Paid for by a Town allocation of $1000, the medals were cast in bronze by Gorham and presented at a “Welcome Home” event on July 10, 1919.
Festivities that day included a parade from Wakefield to Narragansett. Dignitaries walked the route with the soldiers and two Civil War veterans. A ceremony followed with speeches, music by the Wakefield Military Band, and a poem by Caroline Hazard. A dinner and dance were held that evening at the Narragansett Casino.
Care was taken to contact and invite every service member who could be reached. About 25 still on their way home or in service overseas sent regrets.
Most local soldiers returned, but at least 12 did not. Those names appear on the South Kingstown and Narragansett World War I Memorials.
We hope this will be helpful if you find one of these medals among your family’s keepsakes. We would love to know if you have one!