Arnold Mills Tour Review
|No Current Tour PDF||Google Map|
|Other Tour PDFs||2001|
|When I took the tour|
|Date||Aug 31, 2009|
|Time||2:00 pm to 3:00 pm|
|Walking Distances (miles)|
|See the About
page for help
|Parks, Cemeteries & Other||0.4|
This was the least enjoyable of the tours I took in 2009. Since taking the tour I’ve researched the situation and it makes sense now but at the time I was confused and disappointed. I’m going to write up the tour as I experienced it and add the new information at the end of the review.
The map in the tour brochure indicated that I should park by tour stop number one, Amos Arnold’s Mill. The tour brochure has the following description:
Today, only a grain storage shed, now restored, remains from the old Arnold Mills. Behind the storage shed, you can see the stone foundation of the gristmill (c.1745-1962). The sawmill (c.1734-1862) was located on the west end of the dam across the river. The millrace-the fast moving stream that powered the mill-now runs under the parking lot to the site of the machine shop.
The map and description had me expecting to find a restored grain shed with some signs and paths pointing me to the views of the other ruins. When I arrived on a nice Monday afternoon I was confused seeing this:
From my car it appeared to be an antique shop that was not open on Mondays or possibly abandoned. There were no signs of any kind that I could see other than the name Pentimento on top of the building. The bridge on Sneech Pond Road was clearly closed to traffic although it did appear to be open to pedestrians. The mailbox opposite the building looked like it was at the driveway of a private residence.
Not seeing any signs or other indications of the historical sites it didn’t feel right to park in the Pentimento shop’s parking area and the road didn’t seem an appropriate place to park either. So I decided to drive to the bridge from the other side of Sneech Pond Road hoping there might be some parking that looked appropriate. Coming to the other road entrance from Route 120 (Nate Whipple Highway) I was encouraged by the BRVNHC sign (photo at top of page).
Driving down the narrow road I soon discovered that this was an even less appropriate place to park my car for the tour. The homes down by the bridge hugged the road giving me the feeling that if I parked here I would be in the way of the residents. Rather than give up and go home I decided to head down the highway to the Methodist Church (tour stop #5). Since the church is adjacent to a cemetery I figured there would be some public parking there.
When I arrived at the church I found that the side of the parking lot adjacent to the cemetery had a RI historic cemetery sign. This made me feel comfortable that this was a good place to park my car and walk the tour. Since I was beginning a long way from the brochure start point I decided to improvise the tour.
Following the sidewalk east along the highway I walked to the Sneech Pond Road entrance with the BRVNHC sign. Here I crossed Route 120 to see tour stop six, the Arnold Mills Schoolhouse, just past the fire station on Arnold Mills Road. There are no crosswalks on Route 120 and the traffic is fast so this is not something I would recommend for most people.
As the photograph shows it’s a rather unremarkable building. The brochure mentions the Friends Meeting House (c. 1810) , and the Cumberland Grange (c. 1895) being just down the road. I walked a little over a tenth of a mile farther down Arnold Mills Road but didn’t see anything interesting so I headed back to Route 120.
Before heading back across the highway I walked up to the bridge over Abbott Run. There is a decent view of this small river from the bridge so I crossed the highway here to view the upstream side as well. Next I headed back to the Sneech Pond Road entrance with the BRVNHC sign.
Walking down SP road is tour site number four in the brochure, the homes here include the Amos Arnold house. Unfortunately I could not determine which is the Arnold house because most of the homes don’t have historical building signs. This narrow street with its varied house architectures made for an enjoyable stroll down to tour stop three, the Abbott Run Bridge.
Just before the bridge I saw Pawtucket Water Supply Board no trespassing signs on a house and the land upstream of the bridge.
On the downstream side of the bridge the sidewalk was open so I walked across getting a nice view of the river. The bridge is a fine example of the riveted steel, timber decked bridges installed all over New England in the late 19th century. This Pratt pony truss style bridge with nice Victorian details in the guard rails was built by the Boston Bridge Works in 1886.
Near the other side of the bridge I caught a glimpse of the dam behind the Pentimento shop. This little glimpse made me want to get a good view of the dam, mill ruins and pond. Despite my desire for a better look at the site, the uninviting appearance of the shop and the no trespassing signs around the bridge made me uncomfortable with trying to get closer.
Leaving the bridge I discovered that the mailbox which I had thought marked a driveway next to a fenced off residence was actually for the Pentimento shop. The fence is part of a boardwalk built for visitors to get a good look at tour stop number two, the Metcalf Machine Shop Ruins. As the photo on the left shows, the boardwalk is not in great condition. Some of the planks had been replaced in the center at some point after construction but others were damaged. I cautiously checked out the board walk and found it was safe, only some of the tail ends of the boards were rotted. The ruins were easy to view from the boardwalk although as the brochure says there isn’t much left of the machine works.
After visiting the ruins I headed back across the bridge, up Sneech Pond Road and back along the highway to the Methodist Church. This 1827 building is more modest in its architectural style than a stereotypical New England church. The beautifully cared for landscape enhances the simple beauty of its understated architecture.
Since I’d completed the tour in only 35 minutes, I decided to add a visit to the Arnold Mills Cemetery. This 2.3 acre cemetery adjacent to the church has some nice mature trees and old family plots surrounded by granite post - iron rail & gate fences. The monuments range in age from the 19th to the 21st century. Markers in this cemetery show more diversity of style than any other small cemetery I’ve visited in the valley. Styles include simple engraved fieldstones, a classic marble domed tablet civil war soldier monument and pillars, both simple and elaborate.
As I said at the start of this review, this tour left me confused and disappointed. The National Park Service Walking tour brochure appears to have been produced June 2001, eight years before my visit. That’s plenty of time for many things to have changed in Arnold Mills.
The first item I researched was the Pentimento shop at tour stop number one, Amos Arnold’s Mill. Searching the net I found some information in the 2007 edition of “Rhode Island Off the Beaten Path” by Robert Patrick Curley. Pentimento antique shop is the restored grain storage shed for Amos Arnold’s Mill. It has a deck in the back overlooking the river dam, the mill foundation is behind the shop and it is open Wednesday through Saturday.
With this new information I figured I would just go back on a day the shop is open to check out the site. That was until I found a Valley Breeze newspaper article [no longer online], it says the Pentimento shop is now owned by the Pawtucket Water Supply Board. I haven’t found any information about the PWSB’s plans for the site but I hope they will preserve this historic location and allow the public to visit the grounds. When I travel near here in the future I plan to stop by to check the status of this property.
The Valley Breeze article is about an attempt to set up an Arnold Mills Historic District. The area is on the National Register of Historic Places but that doesn’t protect an area. Only a state or local historic district can protect an historic area from changes by property owners. Not being a local historic district also explains why the historic buildings didn’t all have identification signs.
Google searches also found some photos of the Abbot Run Bridge uploaded one month before my visit, but since removed from flickr. I hadn’t found them before my visit because at that site the bridge is called the Arnold Mills Bridge. This pointed me to a blog for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation with more information about the bridge closing (no longer online Jan 2023). I hope the RI DOT doesn’t tear down and replace the bridge with a modern concrete and steel structure. The bridge could be restored like the Rawson Road Bridges or better yet to my mind, they could permanently make it a walking only bridge and restore the entire deck to timber only with pedestrian access to the whole surface.
This was the least enjoyable of the seven walking tours I took in 2009 although it was still a fun day. It is encouraging that there is an effort to get a local historic district setup. With the co-operation of the Pawtucket Water Supply Board, the RI DOT and landowners who can afford it, the town could end up with a nice historic district and recreation area in the future.
Some time in 2010 I plan to visit another site mentioned in the NPS tour brochure, the old Monastery and Nine Men’s Misery Monument. I’ll have to stop back by Arnold Mill’s and check out the mill site and see if the conditions have improved.