Ashton and Berkeley Mill Villages
Mendon Road, now Route 122, has been a major thoroughfare on the east side of the Blackstone River since colonial times. With power from the Blackstone River and transportation from the Providence & Worcester Railroad, it also became home to two of the Blackstone River's largest nineteenth century mill villages - Aston and Berkeley.
Located in Cumberland, Rhode Island, Ashton's major growth began when the Lonsdale Company, owned by the Providence mercantile firm Brown and Ives, built a large mill complex along the river in 1847. From the George Washington Highway Bridge, you can get a bird's eye view of the entire complex including the large mill building and sturdy worker housing. The mill, now abandoned, was powered by water and steam and was located in close proximately to the Providence & Worcester Railroad tracks. Worker housing, now in private hands, was located across the street from the mill. Churches, commercial buildings, schools and supervisor's housing were located up the hill on the high ground along Mendon Road.
A mile or two south of Ashton, the Lonsdale Company built the mill and village of Berkeley. Built five years after Ashton, the Berkeley mill is also located near the railroad tracks at the base of the hill. Worker housing was set on top of the hill with a handsome schoolhouse in between. It is easy to see how a workers could spend their entire day, perhaps much of their life, in the quarter mile distance between the mill and the outskirts of these villages.
The profitability of the Ashton and Berkeley Mills prompted the Lonsdale Company to build a new and bigger factory in Lonsdale. That mill, now the Ann & Hope Discount Store, was the largest textile mill in New England when it was finished in 1886.
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