COVENTRY — Several early Arkwright and Harris mill relics, each with their own story to tell, have ended up at the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society.
The objects – a bell, a scale, a cart and a painting – were moved over the weekend from the Arkwright Mill to the historical society’s headquarters in Crompton, where they will be on display for years inside the new building addition.
“I’m glad these are preserved,” Jerry Tellier, president of the historical society, said Saturday, standing next to a bell whose chimes were once heard throughout the area. “These are unique items.”
Most of the items donated to the historical society last week date back more than a century to Arkwright’s heyday as a hub of textile production.
Founded in 1810, Arkwright became in 1883 Interlaken Inc., a manufacturer primarily of bookbinding cloth. Interlaken then absorbed the neighboring Harris Manufacturing Company.
Today, the Harris Mill has been renovated into an apartment complex. And at the Arkwright factory, where fabric was once produced, various print media and paper products finally began to be produced.
Until June 30, the building was occupied by Sihl Inc., a maker of things like film and photo paper. After acquiring another business, the global company closed in Coventry last month with plans to relocate production.
The building will be sold and the various machines inside will be transported and shipped elsewhere. As for those pieces of history that now live at the historical society, Joe Bettencourt, an entrepreneur who has worked at the plant for almost 20 years, wanted to make sure they would stay close – so he spoke to Stephen Conlon , vice president of operations at Sihl, and extended his hand to Tellier.
“It all works, because with the new addition, we have a great place to show this stuff,” Tellier said of the historical society’s recent 24-by-30-foot addition. “Who knows what would have happened to him?”
For Bettencourt, whose family history is closely linked to that of the local mills, bringing the history of Arkwright Mill to life by preserving these elements is a way of also honoring his own heritage.
“These mills, they were so important to the community,” said Bettencourt, whose son worked alongside him at Arkwright Mill. “They were a place of work, they provided housing, they had company stores…entire villages were created because of mills.
Once used to summon workers, the bell which is now kept at the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society had its first home at Harris Mill, where it remained for over 100 years.
“The bell symbolizes the mills here in the valley, as they called the mill workers to work,” local historian Donald Carpenter said of a black-and-white photo of Harris Mill’s bell tower. hand. “And before they even had fire stations, they would ring the mill bells loudly if there was a fire.”
Cast by Hooper and Company around 1855, the bell was later used at the Fiskeville Fire Station. It eventually ended up at the Interlaken factory loading dock, Carpenter said, before being displayed at the Arkwright factory across the street.
Carpenter, who was once employed at the mills himself, still remembers hearing the bell ring at 3 p.m. each day, marking a shift change. He said he was “thrilled” by the plan to put the bell on display at the historical society.
Also among the items to be moved on Saturday was an original piece by Maxwell Mays, the late Coventry artist.
“It’s an important piece of history,” Tellier said of the painting, which until the building closed hung inside the Arkwright Mill. Tellier added that he plans to display the painting on one of the walls of the historical society annex.
Commissioned in 1990 for Arkwright’s 180th anniversary, the painting depicts the village in overlapping periods. Three mill buildings that made up the Arkwright and Interlaken companies stand on either side of the Pawtuxet River, and rows of mills line the streets; a train crosses the lower corner of the painting, white smoke billowing from its chimney.
A counterweight scale once used to weigh textiles has also been moved to the historical society, as has an old wagon recently refurbished by Bettencourt and his son, its wheels and handle sandblasted, its wooden casepolite.
Tellier’s hope is that future generations will see each of these recent additions to the historical society’s collection and that their curiosity about the Pawtuxet Valley’s past will be aroused.
“Kids today don’t know what a mill is,” Tellier said, standing among objects steeped in local history. “Eventually the younger generations will hopefully pick up on it – that’s why the historical society tries to preserve things like this.”