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Lincoln and Cumberland fit together in the northeast corner of the state roughly as two right-angled triangles, except that they are askew with a few nontriangular jogs and curves and with the Blackstone River making an undulant hypotenuse between them. Lincoln is broad at its southern base and tapers toward the north; Cumberland (a part of which was originally joined with Attleboro and Rehoboth as part of Massachusetts) essentially inverts this shape, being wide at the north and tapering southward. The long evolution of what is now Lincoln from a remote piece of the wilderness fringe of the extensive “Providence” which Roger Williams negotiated from the Wampanoag chief Massasoit in 1636 was part of the evolution of the political identity of Central Falls (see Central Falls introduction). It belonged to the area labeled on the earliest maps of the colony as the “North Woods,” or, more specifically for the locale in which most of Lincoln is located, as “Louisquisset” (a corruption of the phonetic rendering of the Native American name “Loquasquisuck”).

Complaints of neglect and of the travel required to attend town meetings and courts received temporary redress when, in 1731, the sizable new town of Smithfield was split off from Providence—with a territory which included the present Rhode Island towns of Smithfield, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Lincoln, and Central Falls. Then, as the same complaints gradually mounted, Smithfield was partitioned in 1871, and Lincoln (including Central Falls) was separated from it. Finally, in a referendum of 1900, Central Falls gained its independence. This status owed less to the zeal for separation in Central Falls, where the vote was almost even, than to lopsided support for severance from the rest of Lincoln, whose Yankee population was either rural or benefited from the largesse of paternalistic owners in the mill villages and regarded demands for public services in immigrant-dominated Central Falls as an unwarranted drain on town taxes. At last, then, in 1900, Lincoln became officially what it now is.

The earliest substantial colonial settlement of Lincoln around 1680 is, above all, associated with Thomas Arnold, a Quaker, who came to Providence with Roger Williams. His house early disappeared; but his son Eleazer's looming stone-ender house still stands close to the southern boundary of Lincoln near the Mohassuck River as the most familiar image of seventeenth-century Rhode Island. The Arnold family, with Eleazer as its most prominent early member, so dominated the area in the beginning that it came to be called Arnoldia. For his sizable holdings, Eleazer Arnold gave the site for the Quaker meeting house. He was a leading sponsor of Great Road, which passes his house and still approximates in its windings the path of least resistance through the wilderness, with occasional deflections for special interests like Arnold's. Ultimately it provided the principal connection between Providence and Worcester, Massachusetts, during the colonial period. Because the Rhode Island principle of freedom of religion encouraged a reaction against the Puritan form of communitarian settlement, early houses were not grouped into villages as in Massachusetts, but were strung along Great Road, each within its individual clearing, as a number of survivors testify to this day. Other early houses owned by prosperous farmers, even though a little removed from Great Road, also tended to be located within easy access to it.

Close by Great Road, too, is the exceptional community of Lime Rock. Its importance in the colonial economy is evident from a report of 1665 by the governor of New York to the King's Commissioners of Rhode Island: “Here only [in the colonies] yet is Limestone found.” Lime for mortar, plaster, and cement was shipped from here the length of the eastern seaboard. It played a major role in the American building industry through the Civil War, when hydraulic cement began to usurp its dominance. Lime was also a key chemical for tanning and bleaching. The survival of the lime industry here—in continuous operation from colonial times to the present—is extraordinary, though it now primarily produces lime for agriculture, and at last there are signs that the quarries are beginning to give out. Equally extraordinary, however, is the preservation of old farmhouses and their walled fields in the immediate proximity of the works, and of a lovely village as well. This symbiosis of industry and countryside through more than three centuries may be Lime Rock's most significant lesson. Not until around 1990 did the invasion of development housing begin to impinge on this community in a significant way.

Yet it is also true that countryside and industry comfortably coexisted in most of the rural Rhode Island towns into the twentieth century. Where mill villages were relatively small and either scattered or clustered, this balance is not so surprising. But by the second half of the nineteenth century, Lincoln and Cumberland contained some of the largest textile operations in the country along the hypotenuse of the Blackstone, which they shared. The coming of the large mills to Lincoln and Cumberland, in fact, at first rather strengthened than spoiled the predominant rural character of these towns. Now the local farmers depended less on transporting their surpluses south to the industrial and commercial cities of Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Providence or (later) north to Woonsocket. Alternate markets existed close at hand, in the mill villages of Manville, Albion, Ashton, Berkeley, Lonsdale, and Saylesville, from north to south along the Blackstone.

By the mid-nineteenth century, three groups of entrepreneurs—two families and one consortium—came to dominate these mill villages in the rural stretch of the Blackstone between Woonsocket and Central Falls. Headquarters for two of them and the flagship plant of the third existed in a tight triangle of villages near the southeast corner of Lincoln—Valley Falls, Lonsdale, and Saylesville. This cluster included the Valley Falls headquarters factory of the brothers Samuel and Harvey Chace at the northern border of Central Falls (see CF10), which spilled across the river into Cumberland. Two years before their incorporation as the Valley Falls Company in 1856 they had acquired the mills at Albion and at Manville, also major operations for their day. Before the Chace incorporation, in the early 1830s, a consortium of Providence families, united by business and marriage ties, had founded at nearby Lonsdale the flagship plant for a corporation which also used the village name as the corporate label. Moses Brown had led his family from merchant trading into textile manufacturing in the 1790s in Pawtucket; Nicholas Brown, in the next generation took the lead in extending the family's commitment in this direction. First he participated in a successful mill on the Blackstone just over the Massachusetts border. Then he combined with his brother-in-law, Thomas P. Ives, and later Thomas's daughter Charlotte R. Goddard, to establish the Lonsdale Company. This corporation subsequently built mills at Berkeley and Ashton. In the early 1840s, two brothers, William and Frederic Sayles, emerged from small mill operations in northwestern Rhode Island to establish their headquarters south of Lonsdale. They named their village Saylesville. By the early twentieth century the Sayles Corporation was a textile colossus, with mills in Rhode Island and in the South, together with several locations in between.

So the Providence group that included—in order of their incorporation—the Brown family, the Sayles brothers, and the Chace brothers together came to control all the large mills on the Blackstone between Woonsocket and Central Falls. The corporate headquarters for the Sayles and Chace organizations and the flagship operation for the Brown consortium (which had its corporate headquarters in Providence) were all located within a short carriage drive of one another.

One other aspect of these Blackstone mills is of special interest to the architectural pilgrim. Brick construction for both industrial buildings and workers' housing was far more uniform in these villages than elsewhere in Rhode Island. Especially was this the case with the Lonsdale organization, where brick became the company standard—most of all in the towns it built on the Cumberland side of the river (see under Cumberland). One immediately expects that this preference for brick was due to influence from Massachusetts, where brick housing was much more common than in Rhode Island—and this may be the case, the more so as Nicholas Brown had initiated his industrial enterprise on the Blackstone across the border in Massachusetts. But the labor force in the Lonsdale Company remained exceptionally English and Scottish through the 1870s. There is evidence to suggest that housing typical of the British Midlands industrial area provided a familiar image the mill owners cultivated. Although initial costs for brick were higher than for clapboard construction, greater permanence and low maintenance may also have been factored into the choice. In any event, brick housing resists the blandishments of the re-sider, as it also makes such alterations as picture windows and prefabricated bow windows more complicated. Hence, much of the mill housing in Lincoln, and even more in Cumberland, is among the best preserved in the state.

As the glory days of Rhode Island's textile industry faded in the 1920s and 1930s, some of the most violent encounters between dispossessed workers and scrimping owners occurred in the Blackstone River mill towns, but especially in Saylesville, where the National Guard was called out in 1934 to quell the rioting. The idled mills preserved for several decades the shell of the long-time symbiosis between industry and a declining agriculture in both Lincoln and Cumberland. But as mills shut down, so the farms withered in the face of the centralization of agriculture in larger units elsewhere in the country. Yet adversity prolonged the image of what had been in Lincoln and Cumberland until well after World War II. Since then, suburbanization has transformed them.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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