In Pascoag, once the largest of Burrillville's woolen manufacturing villages, generations of the Sayles family, going back to the end of the eighteenth century, were the mill owners. Wool manufacturing in this area began with Daniel Sayles's mill in 1814, augmented by other mills under various members of the family, until Albert L. Sayles came to head the dynasty in 1853, and dominated family operations during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Under his leadership, a large mill known as the Sayles Mill, or more popularly as the Granite Mill for the forceful presence of its masonry walls, was built in 1865 (and enlarged, along with a mill office, in 1880) at the principal intersection in town, Main and Grove streets. The Granite Mill provided the economic as well as the visual focus for a line of mills along the Pascoag River, into which the Clear River flows at the neighboring village of Bridgeton. During the last decades of the nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth century, however, an extraordinary number of fires destroyed six mills within a radius of a mile and a half. Most were never rebuilt. Others foundered for economic reasons, until, finally, only the big Granite Mill remained, among the handsome cut-stone masonry mills in the state. It operated into the middle of the twentieth century. Eventually, it, too, closed. Abandoned for a number of years, it was also slated for conversion to elderly housing, when—in a too-familiar finale—another of Rhode Island's stone mills was lost to arson in 1981. A small, derelict stone warehouse building is all that remains from the complex. The centers of Pascoag and Bridgeton are topographically much more picturesque than that of Harrisville because of the precipitous banks worn by the flows of the Pascoag and Clear rivers through these merged villages. But compared to Harrisville, the center of Pascoag especially presents a disorderly appearance; the nineteenth-century wooden and brick commercial buildings along Main Street, winding beside the river, are interesting, if dilapidated. Likewise dilapidated and much altered mill housing from various epochs of the village's history on the adjacent slopes south of the river offers some rewards for the architectural tourist and, one hopes, someday for at least modest refurbishment, because the village possesses considerable character. The most interesting architecture in town today, however, tends to be located north of Main Street on the slopes and plateau made by the wear of the rivers. There mill owners, supervisors, town businessmen, and professionals concentrated their houses, although mill housing also exists for those who worked the mills in both villages.
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