One of the most important of all the mill villages was located in the Apponaug section of Warwick. This achieved worldwide recognition when it was owned and operated by the B.B. & R. Knight Company. Their trademark “Fruit of the Loom” was well known throughout Europe as a measure of excellence in American textiles.
Not long after the Greenes established their textile mill in Apponaug, a mill was erected in the area now called Pontiac. O.P. Fuller, in his history, notes, “No one of the villages on the Pawtuxet River and its tributaries has been designated by so many different names in the course of its history as the one we have now come to.”
He traces the names back to May 10, 1662, when it was called the “Great Weir,” as many fish, including salmon, shad and herring migrated here and were caught with “weirs” or water traps. As the 19th century brought an increase in the use of the river to power the cotton mills and dams made the natural migration of fish impossible, the weir was no longer in use. Fuller wryly comments, “…the fish took offence…and finally abandoned their old nurseries.” The story goes on to say that later a bridge was built across the river, and the people, “like a drowning man, who is said to ‘catch at a straw’…rechristened the place as ‘the great bridge near the weir.’”
At one time, the bridge was called “Capt. Benjamin Greene’s Bridge.” Capt. Greene gave his land and homestead to his grandson, Benjamin Arnold. The bridge eventually was called “Arnold’s Bridge.” It became especially well known when Henry Arnold, son of Benjamin, “kept a most noted public house” or tavern there. The Arnolds erected a saw and gristmill along the river in 1810. Later, Dutee Arnold’s son, Horatio, erected another mill and “carried on wool carding and cotton spinning…This building was also used for the manufacture of coarse woolen cloth.”
Difficult times came to the textile industry in 1829, however, and the manufacturing operation at Arnold’s Bridge failed. In 1830 John H. Clark purchased the land at auction and soon after bought the remaining mills still owned by the Arnolds.
Clark was very successful, and within a few years the village of Arnold’s Bridge was more often called Clarksville. Clark, in 1832, built a stone factory for weaving and in 1834 constructed a large bleachery. Clark expanded both the weaving operation and the bleachery during the next decade and also operated a company store for his workers. Fuller credits Clark with bringing the name Pontiac to the village.
Clark, a very competent politician as well as a successful mil owner, decided to devote more time to politics. As a result, in 1850, he sold his interests in Clarksville. Zachariah Parker and Robert Knight purchased the mills for $40,000. Within a short time, Knight contacted his brother, Benjamin Brayton Knight, and offered him a partnership. The Knights were able to buy Parker’s share in the mill. This was the beginning of the B.B. & R. Knight Company, which dominated the textile industry in Rhode Island for over 50 years.