The remarkable Lymansville Mill

The remarkable Lymansville Mill

The Lymansville Mill, situated along the banks of the Woonasquatucket River in North Providence, has recently been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The designation is long overdue and well deserved as this cotton mill was one of the earliest mill constructions in America becoming operational in 1811, just 21 years after Samuel Slater revolutionized the industry with the 1790 completion of the Slater Mill built along the North Providence banks of the Blackstone River. While not the first mill built in America, the Lyman Mill, as it is now called, is prominent for many other significant and noteworthy achievements.

The mill's founder, Daniel Lyman, was born in Durham, Conn. in 1756. He was commissioned a captain in the Continental Army while still a student at Yale College and participated in many key engagements including the Battle of Ticonderoga. He was the first to greet Comte de Rochambeau and his French troops upon their arrival in Newport on July 11, 1790. Two years later he married Mary "Polly" Wanton of Newport and settled there after the war. Although working as a surveyor for the port of Newport his primary vocation was the practice of law. Polly had lived in what is now the oldest house still standing in Newport; the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard house. This 1697 structure was inherited by Harriet Lyman, the second daughter of Daniel and Polly's 13 children, who had married Benjamin Hazard, a prominent Newport lawyer and 31-year state legislator thus accounting for the name by which the house is now known.

In 1802, Lyman was appointed to serve as Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a position in which he served for the next 14 years.

In 1807 however, in preparation for his eventual retirement from the bench, Lyman began to purchase large tracts of land in North Providence along the banks of the Woonasquatucket River. He purchased 80 acres in all. In 1808 he took a county seat in North Providence and a year later was granted rights to build a dam along the Woonsasquatucket River. On July 1, 1809 he and several others organized the Lyman Cotton Manufacturing Company on River Road, the former name of the street better known as Woonasquatucket Avenue. Shortly thereafter the group started construction on a mill that became operational some 20 months later in 1811.

Aside from the distinction of being the oldest mill built within the current boundaries of North Providence (as established on March 27, 1874 with the annexation of a significant portion of land to Pawtucket and Providence) the Lyman Mill is celebrated for other noteworthy attainments.

To provide power to the mill the manufacturers formed a company to build reservoirs upstream to store water for use during the summer's dry months. This was a new and innovative technique, and the experiment proved so successful that it served as a model that was replicated farther down the Woonasquatucket in several mills whose construction was inspired by the successes at the Lymansville mill. These included Zachariah Allen's mill at Allendale (1822), Israel Arnold's Centre Mill in Centredale (circa 1813) and the Greystone Mill developed in 1813, but made vibrant by father and son team, Richard and James Anthony after their purchase of the mill in 1816. The model was also duplicated on industrial rivers throughout America and the world.

Lyman's innovations in the use of water led to additional advances in technology including the Lyman Mill's use of the first water-powered loom used in the manufacture of cotton. This technological innovation was an amended version of the British power loom invented by Britain's Edmund Cartwright and first used in America by Francis Cabot Lowell. It increased manufacturing output on a previously unimaginable scale. The technology was first offered to Samuel Slater for use in his mill along the Blackstone, but was inexplicably rejected by him. Daniel Lyman was the first in Rhode Island to understand the significance of such an innovation and the first to invest in its use at his Lyman Mill.


North Providence

Editor's Note: Caranci is Rhode Island's Deputy Secretary of State and a local historian. He has published two books, the first is a history of North Providence that includes a chapter on the Lyman Mill. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the Heritage Harbor Museum and the Heritage Hall of Fame and is a member of the R.I. Colonial Charter 350th Anniversary Commission and its executive committee.