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Royal Mills (Greene Mills)
The most impressive view of this mill, which straddles the Pawtuxet, is upstream from the highway bridge, where mill walls in random stone and brick, together with an overhead walkway, tightly frame the dam spillway. The masonry buildings are what is left of an old plant which dated back to pre–Civil War operations—and ultimately to a vanished wooden cotton mill which began operations in 1812. Before the war the principal product of this plant was “Kentucky jeans” or “negro cloth,” a rough twill which was mostly shipped to the South for slave clothing and was something of a Rhode Island specialty. The gradual drop in demand for this cloth after the war placed the plant in a precarious economic situation and enabled the omnivorous B. B. & R. Knight organization to take it over in 1884–1885. After enlargement and modernization, the product shifted to cambrics and sheeting. Fire swept away most of the existing plant in 1919 and forced substantial rebuilding in brick under the engineer responsible for most of the redesign of Knight-acquired mills. Architecturally, the best single building in the complex may be a slot-windowed warehouse across Providence Street from the mill, in random masonry with brick trim for loading doors and corbeled cornice. For the rest, the ensemble is more impressive than the individual parts. (The area to the north of the warehouse contains a scattering of much knocked-about, small-scale, mid-nineteenth-century industrial buildings of superb masonry construction.) Knight operation of Royal Mills continued until 1935. Since then, Royal Mills has housed multiple tenants in leased spaces.
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