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Richmond shares river boundaries with Charlestown to the south and east and with Hopkinton to the west. On the Charlestown side are the Usquepaug and the Pawcatuck. Along the whole of the Hopkinton side is the Wood, a fast-moving river with scenic stretches that make it a favorite with canoeists. Whereas the flow of the Usquepaug and Wood rivers in Exeter is limited, the volume of water farther south provided power for good-sized factories. Hence Richmond's boundaries are dotted with mill villages which straddle town lines: Kenyon, Shannock, and Carolina on the Charlestown border; Wyoming, Hope Valley, Woodville, and Acton on the Hopkinton border. For travelers' convenience, most of these villages are included under Richmond, which contains the cores of most of them—although of course it would be a waste of time not to cross the river at each of these places in order to cover what is on the other side. Such village overlap across these three town boundaries, together with the dispersal of both village and rural population, has recently encouraged joint operation of such town services as schools under the awkward but unifying regional designation of Chariho.

These mill villages are truly such, most clustered around a single medium-sized enterprise, with extensive open space between one village and the next. They do not at all resemble the bigger mill towns in northern and central Rhode Island: not those on the Blackstone, along the boundary between Cumberland and Lincoln; even less such ribbons of manufacturing as line the Blackstone in Woonsocket, Central Falls, and Pawtucket and the Pawtuxet in West Warwick; not even the concentrations to be found on the various rivers of much more rural Burrillville. The earliest gristmills tended to give way, especially on the Wood River, to iron manufacturing for household and farm implements, which in turn mostly gave way, especially after 1840, to textile operations. By the 1930s, most of these were defunct. Many of the plants are now in ruins, although a few continue in operation. For the rest, Richmond was agricultural. As was true of its neighbors, its population peaked around 1870, then declined until the 1920s, finally increasing until the 1960s saw the number of inhabitants climb above its 1870 level with the spotty suburbanization of a town which still contains threatened areas of open space.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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