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Originally named Rice Hollow and Wakefield, Arctic, one of the three principal West Warwick mill villages lined along the South Branch of the Pawtuxet, received the curious name it has today from the Spragues in the mid-nineteenth century. The location of their mill at the bottom of a hollow that reportedly collected the coldest air in West Warwick suggested “Arctic,” which also rhymed with the names of other Sprague-dominated factory towns at Natick (above), Quidnick in Coventry, and Baltic (in Connecticut). The history of mill operations at Arctic follows a familiar West Warwick pattern: small plants bought up by Sprague in 1852 and aggrandized, passed on to the Knights in 1884 for further aggrandizement, then splintered into smaller and changing operations after 1935, when the Knight firm closed down. But Arctic is important architecturally in another sense. Its location close to the hub of the double arc of mill town, east-west across the top of West Warwick, and north-south through its center, made the commercial district of its merged Main Street–Washington Street the main street for the area from the final decades of the nineteenth century until the advent of major shopping centers in nearby Warwick during the 1960s and 1970s. Although its commercial glory has faded, Arctic remains one of the finest examples of an early-twentieth-century “Main Street” in the state, with the typical holdover of some late-nineteenth-century commercial blocks. Restoration and marketing could give this still lively area a fresh competitive edge. As the commercial center for West Warwick, Arctic also became its town center.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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