Unfortunately the Natick Mill burned down in 1941 but we include this site on the tour because by 1883 the four original buildings had been joined into a single entity and further extended until it stretched 1,350 feet with a uniform height of six stories. It was Rhode Island's largest single mill structure and one of the largest in the world, comparable in the magnitude of its elongation to the Lowell and Lawrence mills in Massachusetts or those in Manchester, New Hampshire.
If you walk up on the bridge over the river and look downstream you can see what became, by 1886, the largest mill dam in West Warwick, a granite barrier 20 feet high and 166 feet across with an impressive waterfall. On the left side of the dam you see the remains of the 50-foot-wide raceway to the mill that ran along 800 feet and into the mill, where the water flowed through a turbine chamber, then out a 500 foot long, 30-foot wide, granite block tailrace to rejoin the river.
Starting near the bridge you can drive down the hill on the dirt road (Water Street) along the river and past the empty lot and an auto salvage business to get an idea of the size of the site.
This ill-fated mill was started by Perez Peck and others as the Natick Manufacturing Company in 1807. They built the Natick Red Mill, “to manufacture cotton yarn by water-powered machinery,” and in the 1820s and 30s added other mills near the river. They were then bought by the A. & W. Sprague Manufacturing Company. The mills prospered until the 1880s when a series of events caused a forced sale.
The Knight Company bought the mill in 1882 and continued running it in the late 1920s when competition from Southern mills, and depressed economic conditions, resulted in labor unrest and strikes that forced the company into bankruptcy. The Natick Mill, once the pride of the Knights, saw a great deal of rioting in 1922. At one point a machine gun (see picture) was mounted on the roof of the Natick Mill and National Guardsmen manned the weapon and patrolled the streets. Eventually concessions were made and the workers went back to work but in truth, the day of New England's supremacy in the textile industry was over.
The Knights declared bankruptcy in 1935. The mill, which had not operated since 1930, was bought in 1935 by Nicola Zenga at public auction for $10,000. The vacant mill was badly damaged by flames on the night of Feb. 22, 1938 and was eventually torched on the Fourth of July eve in 1941.