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Lonsdale Company Records

Historical note

The Lonsdale Water Power Company, an unchartered corporation founded by the firm of Brown & Ives with Edward Carrington and others, was organized in 1825. The company proceeded to buy up estates and water rights along the Blackstone River in the towns of Smithfield and Cumberland, Rhode Island. In 1831, the company began construction of a mill - later called Lonsdale Mill No. 1- and organized around that mill the village they named Lonsdale in Smithfield. As well with mill villages that came later, Lonsdale included houses, tenements, a school, a church, a store, and an increasing number of services.

In the following year, Mill No. 1 began spinning and weaving cotton while construction was started on Mill No. 2. Later records refer to an "Upper Mill" which pre-existed both of these but which for some reason did not fall into the orderly number succession. Perhaps it fell in a remodeling and renovation project.

The company was chartered as the Lonsdale Company in 1834. The incorporators were Nicholas Brown, John Carter Brown, Thomas Poynton Ives, Moses Brown Ives and Robert Hale Ives (the partners in the firm of Brown & Ives), with Edward Carrington and Wilbur Kelly. The establishment at that time included approximately 11,000 spindles on 230 looms. The agent and mill superintendent was Captain Wilbur Kelly, formerly a master of Brown & Ives ships, who had retired earlier to pursue manufacturing interests. When he died in 1846 it symbolized the passing of the last of the generation of men who had made their fortunes and/or reputations in ovean commerce but who had become significant in the transition to manufacturing.

Lonsdale Mill No. 3, also a cotton manufacturing establishment, began operation in 1834. Unlike some other manufacturing families and firms, Brown & Ives did not venture into the making of woolens or silk. Expansion continued in 1839 with the purchase by the company of half interest in the Phenix Mill Estate. A bleachery and dye works began operation at Lonsdale in 1844. Named the Lincoln Bleachery and Dye Works, this plant was enlarged and improved in 1872 to handle the increased flow of goods generated by the new Berkeley Mill at Ashton. As the Lonsdale Bleachery and Dye Works, it was the main concern of the company when it was sold in 1944. The Hope Estate, a going concern, was purchased in 1844.

In 1850, Goddard brothers, a Providence management firm, took over management of the Lonsdale Company. With the passing of Kelly and Carrington the firm was left solely owned by members of the brown & Ives families and families joined to them by marriage, through the firm Brown & Ives, managed by Goddard Bros. It remained so until the company was sold in 1944.

After its failure in 1855, John Carter brown purchased the Manton Mill, located on the Woonasquatucket River in Providence County. He sold the mill in turn to Lonsdale Company in 1857. Lonsdale Company abandoned Manton in 1876 and removed the machinery to Lonsdale Mill No. 1. The building was sold in 1880.

The Phenix Mill, over which the company had gradually won control, was sold in 1860 to the Hope Company, which was likewise owned by Brown & Ives. Also in 1860, construction began on Lonsdale Mill No. 4, which was located on the Cumberland side of the Blackstone River. The company organized a village around this mill, too, and also called it Lonsdale. The Cumberland village of Lonsdale is known as the "New Village" to differentiate it from the original, "Old Village," on the Smithfield side. Mill No. 4 was mostly razed by the company in 1934.

Mill No. 4 had been organized to manufacture a new, finer grade of cotton goods. This line, named Lonsdale Cambric Muslins, was so successful that the company erected another mill for the same purpose. Completed in 1865, this mill was located in Ashton, Cumberland, on the premises of one of the first estates purchased by Lonsdale Water Power Company. This was the site of the old Sinking Fund Mill, which was renamed Ashton Mill No. 1. The new mill became Ashton No. 2. It was demolished by the company in 1895.

One of the most famous of the Lonsdale Company Mills was the Ann & Hope, located in Lonsdale. Construction began in 1886 on a super-large, super-modern mill to take the place of Lonsdale mills No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 which were found to be badly deteriorated and stocked with machinery that had mostly become outdated. Mill No. 1 was remodeled but No. 2 and No. 3 were stripped of serviceable machinery and abandoned, later razed. The new mill was named for the wives of the two founders of Brown & Ives. Its construction site was found to include a grave thought to belong to William Blackstone, pioneer white settler for whom the Rover and the surrounding area were named. The remains were moved to a new location in front of the mill and a suitable marker was placed. This huge structure, still remarkable for its size, was closed by the company in 1936 and sold in 1942.

In 1919, the Lonsdale Bleachery was renamed Lincoln Bleachery to prevent confusion on the part of customers who would mistake goods bleached and ticketed there for other mills with goods bleached for the Lonsdale Company and its subsidiaries.

In 1924, Goddard Brothers decided to consolidate management of some of their holdings by selling all assets of the Hope, Berkeley and Blackstone companies to the Lonsdale Company. This act brought together the Lincoln Bleachery and Dye Works; Seneca Company of Seneca, NC; Blackstone Company; Lonsdale No. 4; Hope Company, mills at Hope and Phenix; and the Berkeley Company, Ashton and Berkeley Mills. With the exception of the Seneca Company, which was sold in 1941, these companies comprised the Lonsdale corporate holdings that were sold in december, 1944 to Royal Little. The assets were disposed thereafter by the Textron Corporation.