The Mill at Shady Lea, situated on the Mattatuxet River, stands today as a tribute to all those men and women who worked hard throughout the past contributing to the fortunes of the mill dynasties and the economy of early America.
The Springdale Factory/Shady Lea Mill – An Ownership History
The east part of the mill was built in the late 1820s by Esbon Sanford to manufacture a fabric that was cross between burlap and the dungaree fabric of today called Kentucky Jean. Sanford was one of the early pioneers of the textile industry in North Kingstown and was also involved in the beginnings of the Annaquatucket and Narragansett mills. In 1832 Mr. Sanford sold out to Edward Tillinghast. From its inception, right up until its purchase by Rodman Manufacturing in 1871, the mill was known as the Springdale Factory. In 1836 the mill again changed hands and was bought by Christopher Allen who sold to his brother Charles in 1840. Charles manufactured flannels, linsey-wooleys and cassimeres until 1856. From 1856 to 1867 the mill was owned by a group of investors headed by brothers Royal and Walter Chapin; Walter Chapin was a well-known General in the RI Militia. The Chapin’s also were the founders of the Chapin Mill at the corner of Brown St. and Boston Neck Road in the village of Wickford. During the Civil War, under the direction of General Chapin, woolen blankets were made for the Union Army at Shady Lea. From 1867 to 1871, the mill was owned by a woman named Mary Ellsworth, who ran it with the assistance of her husband Alexander and son Albert, who was an accomplished bookkeeper. Mary Ellsworth must have been a remarkable person, as it was very unusual for a woman to be the owner of such a large business in the middle of the 19th century. In 1871, the mill was purchased from Mary Ellsworth by Robert Rodman, and used primarily as a location where warps were set up for final weaving in Rodman’s other mills. It is believed that it was he who expanded the building to the west. Albert Ellsworth stayed on working for Rodman and continued as the mill’s bookkeeper. It was the Rodman’s that began calling the mill Shady Lea Mill. The mill stayed in the Rodman family until 1952 when Rodman Manufacturing closed up shop due to competition from textile mills in the south.
The Springdale Factory/Shady Lea Mill – a Description
The text of the following advertisement, placed in the Providence newspaper in April of 1856, offers a wonderful description of what the mill was like during the many decades fabric was being woven there:
“The Springdale Factory estate will be sold at auction on Thursday May 22, 1856 at 11AM. It is situated in North Kingstown about 3 miles from the Stonington Railroad and contains 30 acres of land, factory building, steam engine, water power, etc. The main factory building is 95 ft long X 28 ft wide with two stories and an attic, with addition 96 ft long X 40 ft wide – one story with attic, used as a dye house, dry room, fulling, finish and engine room. The machinery consists of 1 picker, willower, waste duster, card grinder, shears grinder, twining engine, 2 sets of 48” wool cards, 40 looms set for cassimere with change gear and selvage motion, 4 jacks,1060 spindles, 1 dresser, 2 rotary fulling mills, 2 washing and scouring mills, 2 gigs, steam box, 2 shearing machines, 1 napper, 1 brushing machine, 2 cloth winders and measures, cloth press and plates, iron heating box, press paper, belting, shafting, etc. with ample preparation for coloring wool or cotton or for piece dying. The buildings are sufficient for 1 or more additional sets of machines. Steam is used throughout for heating. The whole is nearly new and well arranged for manufacturing fine woolen goods. For further particulars apply to Charles Allen at Allenton or to Elisha Potter assignee.”
The Springdale Factory/Shady Lea Mill – What Was Made Here
Kentucky Jean – A very coarse woven fabric made of cotton and wool. This fabric was manufactured for share cropper plantation owners, for use as clothing for field workers. The extremely durable nature of this burlap like fabric attracted western mining suppliers like Levi Strauss, who made sturdy work pants out of it for sale to miners during the western gold rush period.
Linsey-Woolsey – A coarse woven fabric made from linen and wool. Also used in the Negro Goods trade.
Cassimere – A high quality woolen fabric used for men’s suiting and women’s skirts and dresses. It generally was made as a twill; a woven fabric with a pattern of diagonal parallel ribs.
Flannel – A soft woven fabric with no nap, made from finely carded wool.
Warps – A fabric is made of two lays of yarn, the warp which runs longitudinal throughout the fabric and the weft which is the yarn woven back and forth perpendicular to the warp. Large scale broadcloth manufacture requires 100’s of warps many hundreds of feet long to be set up on a warp beam and rolled up precisely with out crossing or tangling, ready to be placed upon a loom and woven with a weft. Setting warps is a time-consuming and exacting job. Warps set up at Springdale Factory/Shady Lea Mill during the Rodman era, were transported to either the Silver Spring Mill just up stream on the Mattatuxet River, or the main mill at Lafayette, which utilized the Shewatuck River, for final weaving into fabric.
The Springdale Factory/Shady Lea Mill – The Reisert Years
In the mid 1950s the mill was purchased at auction by Ambrose B. Reisert. Until the mid 80s it housed King Fastener Co which manufactured metal staples and staple machines that sold around the world. When Mr. Reisert sold King Fastener to Parker Manufacturing Company, the mill remained under his ownership and was empty for a few years until the idea was introduced to design a place for artists and artisans creative people could work. As the word spread throughout the artist community of RI, people came from all over. They picked out their spot and measured it by the number of windows. My Dad, Andy Reisert, would make a mark and a wall was built. That was the beginning of what stands today. There are now over 40 studios. All have been renovated with beautifully refinished hardwood floors and freshley walls. In the summer of 2007 four new studios were added The are a work of art in themselves. All renovations have been done by Faith Contracting. Joe Lopes and his crew, who are talented artisans in their own right have much to feel proud about. We have replaced the roof, upgraded the road and parking lots, and completed a water diversion project. We continue to replace the old windows and re-point the bricks as money provides. It will always be a work in progress.