Until the twentieth century, West Warwick was part of Warwick. Its intensive industrialization and the increasingly polyglot composition of its immigrant work force, however, set the western portion of the town apart from the rest of it. Well into the twentieth century, the eastern part of the town was predominantly farms, suburbs, and seaside cottages, mostly inhabited by those who considered themselves “native stock.” What was then a Republican-dominated state legislature feared that an independent industrialized West Warwick would elect Democrats; so not until 1913 did West Warwick split from Warwick.
The north and south branches of the Pawtuxet River wind in a tortuous Ythrough the center of West Warwick—substantially determining its curious shape, in fact—until the river crosses into Warwick. This principal fact of West Warwick's geography has also been the principal determinant of its economic and cultural life. Together with the mills spread all along the Blackstone and its tributaries in the northern part of the state, those lining the Pawtuxet and its tributaries accounted for the bulk of Rhode Island's once vaunted textile industry. Nowhere do they cluster as tightly as they do in West Warwick and on a short stretch of the river immediately upstream of its northwest corner, where West Warwick meets Scituate and Coventry. From Hope, Jackson, and Fiskeville in Scituate and Arkwright and Harris in Coventry, the mill towns arc across upper West Warwick along the North Branch (Phenix, Lippitt, Clyde, Riverpoint, and Natick) and south along the South Branch (Arctic, Centerville, and Crompton).
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