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“Foster-Glocester”: this euphonious territory serves local weather forecasters on TV and radio as the “inland” comparison for conditions along Narragansett Bay. In this sense the towns are popularly linked, becoming a shorthand for the northwestern portion of the state. More substantial similarities also link the two towns, although there are differences between them, too—the first being that, when in 1731, the area of the Providence “outlands” was divided into separate towns, what is now Foster was part of Scituate, while what is now Glocester also included Burrillville, to the north.

Although Foster and Glocester have similar geological and soil conditions, Glocester has more extensive areas of relatively good soils. This advantage made the proportion of planting to livestock raising considerably higher in Glocester than in Foster during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when both were primarily agricultural. On the other hand, Foster had an advantage over Glocester in the number of turnpikes which passed through it. Because Scituate and Foster stand due west of Providence, four major east-west turnpikes crossed them by 1820. Being farther north, Glocester really had only one (except that the Hartford Pike barely nicks its southern boundary in crossing northern Foster). But Glocester's single turnpike is a key east-west artery, now Putnam Pike (Route 44), which runs diagonally across the middle of the town. Although it existed as a wagon trail as early as 1722, it was an effort to improve a stretch of this road that called forth, in 1764, the “Society for establishing and supporting a Turnpike Road from Chepachet Bridge in Glocester to the Connecticut Line.” The seven-mile West Glocester Turnpike (as it was then called) which resulted became the first private toll road in New England—and was later extended eastward to Providence.

Unlike Foster, Glocester did have a significant regional transportation hub: Chepachet, just north of the center of town. Moreover, though most of Glocester's waterways, like Foster's, originated within the town and were generally too small for mills of any size, the flow of the Chepachet River was sufficient to make Chepachet village a mill village of consequence during the nineteenth century. In addition to the usual rural types of mills which initially clustered in the village, textile factories began operation in 1810. By 1848 they had come under the control of Henry White (later “and Son”), who expanded on what he acquired. The addition of mills to its existing colonial economy as a center catering to local farmers and turnpike travelers brought a prosperity to Chepachet which resulted in a number of buildings of considerable architectural interest, many of which survive.

As in Foster, doldrums followed the steady decline of agriculture during the nineteenth century, the fields returning to woods. A fire destroyed most of the White holdings in Chepachet precisely fifty years after the founding of the company. They were never rebuilt. Eventually into the moribund town came the Sunday tourist, encouraged by the trolley line from Foster to Burrillville, but only briefly, from 1902 until 1924, when the line was severed by the Scituate Reservoir. Then the automobile began to take over. Increasingly (much more than in Foster), a summer population began to cluster in the woods and around a number of ponds, many made by dams from vanished industry. And especially after 1960, as everywhere, suburbanization occurred in patches throughout the town.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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