At the entrance of the Kelly House is a common icon, the pineapple,
used frequently as a symbol of hospitality and signaling returned ship members in the early seaports of New England.
The banner is displayed currently
at the Kelly House as a connection with that early tradition. The
Kelly House represents the historic tradition of blending millwork with farming
traditions and also gives us a dynamic look into our
changing methods of transportation. The entire infrastructure demonstrates the
movement patterns of Indian paths becoming roads, cart trails to the Lime
Industry, stage coach routes and turnpikes, then the construction of the Canal,
followed by the Providence to Worcester Railroad, trolleys, the automobile and
state highways and now the bike bath. Reusing
the canal with kayak/canoes and walking along the bike path relives our earliest traditions. The
dramatic arch bridge, the Ashton Viaduct, depicted below is an awesome display of the range of
In 1809, Simon Whipple, upon whose farm the Kelly
house is located entered into an agreement with six others to dam the River at
Pray's Wading Place and build a small textile mill, under the leadership of
George Olney. This pursuit was based on the similar larger scale operation, the
Slater Mill, in Pawtucket started more than fifteen
years earlier. This small textile mill began operation in 1815.
Captain Wilber Kelly was a
captain involved in successful commercial exchange with China on a ship named Ann
& Hope. This ship was owned by the Providence merchant firm, Brown and
Ives. Sea Captain Kelly purchased land along the River, built a modest but
sturdy home for his son, Christopher, which has now been restored as the Kelly
House under the auspices of the R.I. DEM.
started a cloth mill and searched for a way to compete with English
goods using the water power of the River. But the transportation by horse and
wagon or oxcart was very limited. Over the next few years, the Olney textile mill,
known as the Smithfield Cotton and Woolen Factory, the Kelly mill and almost all
other small mills along the River, began having financial troubles competing
against cheap goods from England after the Napoleonic Wars. Transportation costs
were very burdensome as the horse and wagon was slow and couldn't carry much
However in 1823, Kelly purchased the struggling Olney
Mill, also known as the Sinking Fund Factory, and became a strong proponent and
leading figure in the vision of building a canal link from agricultural
Worcester, Massachusetts to the Port of Providence. Edward Carrington, a
China and South American Trade merchant was also a strong proponent of the Canal
idea which would allow much swifter, less expensive transport of mill
goods to Worcester and Boston.
The history starts to come alive when presented
by a knowledgeable local historian, Albert Klyberg, who lives right nearby and whose love
of the history and environment evolves into further historical importance.
And within eyesight of this small, modest home and its gardens is a beautiful arch bridge,
the Ashton viaduct (seen below), to gaze upon along the canal and the River. The bike path across the canal hosts
a nearby, small parking lot for easy access, too.
Klyberg explains how Kelly was hired by Brown and
Ives to purchase much land under the company name of Lonsdale Water Company with
about four miles of parcels on both sides from Ashton south to Scott's Pond.
This began the mill villages of Berkeley, Lonsdale, and Ashton - all in
Even larger was the canal construction - allowing
boats to rise almost 450 feet upstream through a series of locks from 1828-1848
when eventually, the faster transportation of a railroad took over. Investors of both
transportation modalities, the canal and railroad, were often the same mill
owners since the benefits of moving goods quickly and cheaply were
Mill products changed with the times from cloth
to other textiles to a more recent fiberglass product up until the 1980s. Owens
Corning Fiberglass made materials for the Navy during World War II and then for
commercial products or aeronautics. Labor always included men, women and a large
number of children from throughout the mill villages scattered throughout throughout the communities of Ashton Mills, Quinnville, Albion, and
Mannville. The old mills are mostly intact, from beautifully refurbished to
stylish elderly homes to vacant and in disrepair but hopeful for new life
in the near future. The River surges past these mills with some
offering fly fishing, bird watching and ubiquitous scenic treasures and sounds.
These areas are still very visible as a living
lesson in history. The mill houses lined in brick around the large mill complex
along the River, repeated throughout these numerous communities. The land from
flood plain meadows to industrial brown fields now returned to recreation and
parks land is a historical cycle.
Nearby, the retail Slater Fabric Mill and even more gargantuan Ryco Mill for knick-knacks, sewing
materials, and home decor items cannot be paralleled! The nearby Ashton mill, Ann & Hope, became a
sprawling marketplace and currently houses outlet stores and it is known that Sam Walton took a careful look
at the expansive operation before launching his Walmart chain nationally. The
plans for a renewal in the Ann & Hope factory leans towards affordable
housing in the near future, according to a report released in summer 2003.
Blackstone Daily/ Discover The Valley