Chepachet, the principal town in Glocester, is located where the major east-west highway (variantly known by its original name of Killingly Road or, more popularly, as Great County Road and, west of Chepachet, as West Chepachet Pike before becoming Putnam Pike and Route 44) crosses both the Chepachet River and what was then a lesser north-south road (now Route 102). It grew as a combined agricultural marketing town, mill center, and transportation hub. Especially after the pike was improved toward the west as a private toll road in 1794, Chepachet became a major coaching stop for travel between Providence and Hartford. A number of stores, hotels, and taverns dating back to the early nineteenth century remain.
The mills have fared less well. Although gristmills, sawmills, and, most important, a tannery and a linseed oil mill existed in Chepachet from the eighteenth century, the town's real development into the bustling rural mill center that it became during the nineteenth century and remained up to the twentieth began with the establishment of textile mills. They started in 1809 with a cotton carding mill at the bridge in the center of the town, followed by another mill in 1810, both probably small clapboard affairs. The third of these mills, located in a building of random masonry construction, partially stuccoed, was the Lawton Owen Mill, established sometime between 1814 and 1820. It still stands beside the bridge, suggesting the scale of early operations. Eventually, this grew, through several changes of ownership and name, into the substantial H. C. White woolen mills. It is an indication of the tremendous economic devastation brought to such Rhode Island communities as Chepachet in the twentieth century that, of this substantial complex as recorded in 1870 fire insurance records, only the original Owens block, a clapboard boiler building immediately behind it, and the mill office building on the opposite bank remain. The rest, along with other textile mills downstream and the oil mill and tannery have vanished. Chepachet suffered, too, as agriculture declined in the Glocester area after 1900, and fields returned to woodlands.
Through the first four decades of the twentieth century, the village persisted marginally, becoming a regional center and a hub for tourist travel. Starting in the 1960s suburbanization threatened to alter radically the contained quality of the town and the fabric of its center—already invaded by gas stations, a supermarket, and a fire station in elephantine versions of modern design along Route 44. But local historical and preservation groups have also begun to revive the substantial remnants of the mostly early-nineteenth-century town which remains.
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