Image of the Ashton Mills on the Blackstone River in Cumberland, Rhode Island.
The Ashton mill and the brick workers’ houses were built in 1867 by the Lonsdale Company, according to the Rhode Island Historical & Preservation Heritage Commission. The Lonsdale Company, which was owned by Brown and Ives of Providence, had been operating mills in Lincoln as early as 1831 and moved into the “new” village of Lonsdale in 1860. The Lonsdale Company built the Ann and Hope Mill in 1886, and it also built “comfortable brick cottages with modern conveniences” in Lonsdale, according to a commission report on Cumberland.
Cotton fabrics were produced at the Lonsdale Company mills in Cumberland, in the villages of Lonsdale (which was in Lincoln and Cumberland), Valley Falls, Berkeley and Ashton. The Lonsdale Company folded in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.
But “in the late 19th century, Lonsdale was one of the most prosperous and thriving manufacturing communities in Rhode Island, where mill workers were said to enjoy better than average living conditions,” the report said. “At Lonsdale, Berkeley and Ashton, other Lonsdale Company villages in Cumberland, many workers owned their own homes.”
The Ashton Mill workers’ houses “are noteworthy for their simple form and dense arrangement,” according to the commission report.
The Lonsdale Company also contributed money to build the historic St. Joseph Church in Ashton, which was dedicated in 1890. The parish was first established in 1872 to serve the Roman Catholic mill workers in Ashton and Berkeley.
The first European settler in the area was William Blackstone, who left Boston in 1635 and settled in what today is the Lonsdale section of Cumberland, according to the historical commission report.
“Here, with his family, servants, and a library of about 200 books, he devoted his life to study and agriculture,” the report added.
At the time, the area was part of Plymouth County. Cumberland later became part of Attleboro until it was annexed to Rhode Island and renamed for the Duke of Cumberland in 1747.
Today, the neighborhood surrounding the Ashton mill complex is a mix of historic housing and newer developments. Houses and commercial businesses line busy Mendon Road, which leads north to Woonsocket and south to Valley Falls.