The mills here at Riverpoint, where the North and South Branches meet, experienced more fires, floods, construction episodes, strikes and changes of ownership than just about anywhere. The textiles are long gone but now they house beautiful apartments and a health clinic, and have a marvelous textile museum open to the public.
The Greene Manufacturing Company built a small spinning mill here in 1812. In 1816, the company failed, started up again two years later, had a flood damage the dam in 1821 and a fire in 1827, but was able to rebuild and enlarge to operate 3,600 spindles making it, by then, the seventh largest textile operation in Rhode Island.
More mills were built in 1836, 1844 and 1855 and by the 1870s, the site became part of the Knight chain with the famous Fruit of the Loom brand. By the late 1880s it was operating 15,904 spindles and 501 looms producing cambrics, sheetings, and twills from 850,000 bales of raw cotton a year. The lower mill was replaced by a new building later to become the current Valley Queen (now the Original Bradford Soap Works).
A fire in 1919 destroyed the entire upper mill, but it was rebuilt by 1921 and a weave shed on the other side of the river was added.
Sensing the threat posed by southern competition and rising labor agitation, the Knights sold their complete holdings to a New York-based conglomerate in 1920 which continued to use the Knight name. Fourteen months later, their speedups and wage cuts caused a massive strike which actually started here in the weave room. It closed every mill in the valley. The National Guard had to be called in to stop the rioting. Although the mills eventually reopened, the company slid quickly into bankruptcy collapsing in the Great Depression. In 1935 the bankrupt Knight Corporation liquidated the Royal Mill, which at that time housed 94,000 spindles and 2,838 looms employing 1,325 operatives
The complex was purchased for one dollar at a foreclosure auction in 1936 by Saybrooke Corporation of Hope, RI and converted for woolen manufacture, but it failed in 1946. A few tenants struggled to survive but by 1993 the building was practically empty save for a few apparel firms as renters.
Would-be rescuers were few due to the challenges of size, underground oil tanks, lead paint, asbestos and PCBs. In 2004, the town sold the Royal Mill, again, for a dollar. Finally, Streuver Brothers, Eccles & Rouse, a Baltimore developer, used state and federal historic tax credits to convert it into a successful 250-unit Apartments at Royal Mills.
And to top it off, working with the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society a wonderful Royal Mill Heritage Gallery was created in the lower “Turbine Hall” which is a must see! It is open to the public but you should call 401 821-0223 to be sure they are open and can let you in. See the second image in this tour for where to park and how to get there. Also visit the public riverside deck in between the two buildings.
Finally, the 1890 granite building across the street that was the storage shed is now occupied by the Thundermist Health Center.