Image of the Natick Mills in West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Now one of the largest of the Pawtuxet Valley villages, Natick had its origins in the 1807 spinning mill and dye house built by the Natick Manufacturing Company on the West Warwick side of the river. Never completely successful, the company was reorganized in 1815 into three separate units, and throughout the 1820s and 1830s several small, independent factories produced yarn and cloth here.
In 1821, William Sprague of Cranston bought two of the mills and quickly became the leading manufacturer at Natick. Within four years he had constructed two more mills and, in 1852, acquired yet another, thus consolidating most of the small factories at Natick into a single company. By the 1840s, Natick was a well established village with houses lining Providence and Greenhill Streets. Several of the mill companies built housing for their workers, and by 1858 there were 160 units of company housing in Natick. The population, drawn by the opportunity to work in the mills, had reached 1400 by the late 1850s and was served by several stores, some craftsmen’s shops, a school, and a Baptist church on Providence Street.
By the advent of the Civil War, Natick was already a substantial settlement with a population of 1400, settlement with a population of 1400, over half of whom worked at the Spragues’ mills. Into the 1870s the four Sprague mills produced steadily, employing a growing population of French Canadians. In the 1880s, the mills and many houses were purchased by B.B. & R. Knight and added to the already extensive Knight holdings. The Knights added substantially to the mills, creating a huge 6-story structure to produce sheetings and twills. They built a new dam and power system, including a water tower, and constructed several subsidiary factory buildings. The mills operated into the 1920s. They have since been destroyed by fire.
By 1895, well over 3000 people lived at Natick. The large French Canadian population attended St. Joseph’s 1873, an English-speaking Roman Catholic parish. In the early twentieth century, large numbers of Italians moved to Natick to work in the Knight mills and an Italian church, Sacred Heart, was constructed in 1929. One of the finest public school buildings in West Warwick was erected in this village in the early twentieth century, a handsome Colonial Revival structure at 820 Providence Street. Many new workers’ houses were constructed in Natick. The multi-family houses along Providence and River Streets may have been built by the Knights; one of their superintendent’s houses remains at 696 Providence Street.