Potter Hill Mill Historic Green Mixed Use Village in Rhode Island


There has been a mill at the Potter Hill site since before the Revolutionary War.

Historic Timeline

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.

From 1762 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.

From 1775 to 1794: George Potter, with the help of his three sons, George Jr, Joseph, and Nathan, operated the grist mill, saw mill, fulling 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 Jr died.

From 1801 to 1810: Joseph and Nathan Potter ran the mills and shipbuilding operations. Approximately 10 to 15 boats, primarily 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.

From 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 site.

In 1843: Mill was sold to the E & H Babcock and Co., which was owned by Edwin and Horace Babcock.

From 1843 to 1870: E & H Babcock and Co operated the complex as a woolen mill. During this period, Peleg Clarke, a noted architect and builder 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.

In 1889: J.P.Campbell & Company sold the mill to the Campbell Mills Company.

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.

From 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.

From 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.

In 1955: Swift River Woolen Co. sold the mill to the Westerly Woolen Company.

From 1955 to 1958: Westerly Woolen Company operated this facility as a woolen mill. The mill was abruptly closed by the 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 entrance.

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Recent Timeline

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 complex.

Examples of some of the major tasks accomplished during this period are provided below:

  1. Engineering & Surveys: conducted forensic engineering building surveys, completed wetland, topographic and property boundary surveys, & conducted preliminary septic system engineering analysis
  2. Environmental Sampling & Reports: completed Phase 1, Phase 2 and Site Investigative Report (SIR) environmental tests & reports
  3. Site Debris Removal: completed requested removal of shoreline and inland debris
  4. Security Fence: completed installation and repairs to greater than 1200 feet of perimeter security fencing
  5. Architectural Analysis & Designs: prepared preliminary engineering and architectural designs for the restoration of this complex.
  6. Historic Research and Applications: conducted historic building and site research and prepared historic register and historic tax credit applications
  7. 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 Commission (FERC)
  8. Westerly Town Co-ordination: presented preliminary architectural concept plans to the Westerly Town Manager, Planner, Solicitor, and Planning Board; discussed zoning issues with Town Zoning Official to obtain town zoning position, signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Town of Westerly (Nov 2006) to erect perimeter security fencing, submitted environmental Site Investigation Report (SIR), briefed Westerly Planning Board, and cleaned up shoreline and NW property debris, and completed all MOA commitments.
  9. State of Rhode Island Co-ordination: presented preliminary architectural concepts and economic objectives to RI EDC personnel; Participated in RI Innovation Factory event, participated in RI Historic Tax Credit workshop; discussed RI Governor’s Hydroelectric and Renewable Energy Initiatives with energy staff; presented development plans and needs to RI Senators; coordinated with RIDEM on environmental testing and fish passage issues related to the hydroelectric project.

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Illustrated Timeline

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Historic Timeline

Recent Timeline

Illustrated Timeline



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