Forgotten Industries of Spragueville & Mountaindale

First published in the Smithfield Times, March, 2020 

Forgotten Industries of Spragueville & Mountaindale

By Jim Ignasher    

1895 Map of Spragueville & Mountaindale.
Click on image to enlarge.

     Spragueville is an area of Smithfield with no clearly defined borders located on the Greenville side of town.  It includes the Gallagher Middle School, and extends eastward down Spragueville Road to Mountaindale Road, then follows Mountaindale Road to where it crosses the reservoir at the bottom of Wolf Hill.   On the opposite side of the water is another undefined area that in the 1800s was known as “Mountain Dale”.   One wouldn’t know it today, but there was a time during America’s Industrial revolution that the area was a bustling commerce center.

     Spragueville was settled in 1733 by Abraham Smith who erected a grist mill and two houses.  However, the area is named for Thomas Sprague, a former sea captain who came to Smithfield nearly a century later.  Sometime after 1824 Sprague built a large granite cotton mill which measured 80 by 120 feet, and established “T. Sprague & Sons”.  According to old maps of the town, the mill stood on the north side of Mountaindale Road in the area now occupied by present-day Richard Street.  The mill originally drew its power from the Stillwater River, but in 1870 steam turbines were installed.   

     In 1847 the mill was purchased by Wanton Vaughan who incorporated under “The Granite Mill Company”.   The enterprise later passed to Christopher Vaughan, Esquire, who became the sole proprietor. 

     The mill was part of what was known as “The Granite Mill Estate”, on which property also sat the private homes of the Vaughan family and possibly lodging for some of the workers.  

     The Granite Mill Company was very successful, and by the 1870s had 112 looms and 5,000 spindles in operation.  However the mill fell inactive from 1886 to 1889. 

     By the 1890s the mill was back in operation under the direction of the Mercer brothers.  What ultimately became of the mill is uncertain, but no remains of it can be found today.     

     Another large mill which once existed in the area was the Mountain Dale Hosiery Mill, which as its name would imply, was in Mountaindale.  According to old maps it stood to the south side of Mountaindale Rd. at the base of Wolf Hill.  The remains of this mill can still be seen today.

     The hosiery mill was owned by William Steere of Greenville, and then others over the following years.

     Mills would at times become inactive for various reasons, from low water levels and machinery problems, to fluctuations in cotton prices.     

     On March 31, 1871, the following news snippet appeared in the Woonsocket Patriot.  “The Mountain Dale Hosiery Mill, which has been stopped for more than two years, has been recently leased by Pierce Kane, Esq., of Saratoga Co., New York, and he is now starting it up.  He will make a class of goods similar to those formerly manufactured at the same mill by Wm. A. Steere.”    

     At some point afterwards the property came to be operated by J. P. & J. G. Ray, (Full names unknown), but it appears that the mill once again fell idle, and shortly before midnight on November 1, 1877, it was destroyed by fire.  The loss amounted to $9,000, and the property was not insured.   

     The mill was evidently rebuilt for it and three other large buildings next to it were still indicated on 1895 maps of Smithfield. Today these structures are gone.

     A lesser known Mountaindale enterprise involved a small factory established by Waterman Smith and Thomas Harris in the 1820s, which is said to have been located near the junction of the Stillwater River and Reaper’s Brook.   Smith and Harris manufactured parts for cotton mills such as spindles and shuttles which were needed for the many textile mills being built along the Blackstone Valley.     

     In the days before modern refrigeration people kept food cold with ice, which made “ice harvesting” a lucrative business. In the early 20th century a large ice house belonging to the East Providence Ice Company stood on the shoreline of the reservoir at the bottom of Mountaindale Road.  

     The “harvesting” took place during the winter, when the water froze thick enough to support men and horses.  Ice saws were used to cut blocks of ice which would be brought to the ice house and taken inside by on a conveyer belt.  There workers would pack the ice in sawdust which helped to prevent melting, and the ice house itself was constructed with thick walls also insulated with sawdust.    

     The East Providence Ice Company went out of business sometime during World War II, as did many other ice businesses with the advent of electric refrigerators.

     Today a modern industrial park is located in the heart of Spragueville, but unfortunately the historic factories which gave the area a page in Rhode Island history are gone. 



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