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Preserve America is a national initiative in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; the U.S. Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities; and the President's Council on Environmental Quality.

Preserve America Community:
Tiverton, Rhode Island

Tiverton (population 15,260) is located in the easternmost portion of Rhode Island, northeast of Newport, and has been a popular spot for settlement for hundreds of years. Tiverton, Rhode IslandOriginally settled by the Pocasset Tribe of the Wampanoags, who appreciated its relatively mild climate, abundant wildlife, and rich shellfish beds, the land was purchased by Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony in 1629. In 1680, King Philip’s War erupted between the colonists and the Native Americans, who joined with King Philip in fighting the colonists.

Shortly after the war, Plymouth Governor Josiah Winslow sold the lands to Edward Gray and seven other Englishmen. By 1694, Tiverton was incorporated as a township under British rule, becoming part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As early as 1710, the Four Corners area was measured and bounded by an 80 acre mill lot, including the mill owned by Joseph Taber. Thirty building lots were measured and the nucleus of the village of Tiverton Four Corners was formed. In 1746, by British Royal decree, the town of Tiverton, along with Little Compton, Bristol, Warren, and Cumberland, were brought within the jurisdiction of Rhode Island.

Starting its life as a community mostly built around fishing and farming, Tiverton also developed some industry related to those pursuits. One of its major industries was the production of menhaden fish oil, used as both a dietary supplement and in the manufacture of other products. This remained one of the town’s major concerns until about 1900. Also, starting as early as 1811, cotton and woolen mills were built and put into operation. Oddly enough, the site of the earliest mill set up in Tiverton is no longer in Tiverton, nor even in Rhode Island. In 1856, the northern area of town, which held Col. Joseph Durfee’s spinning mill (built 1811) as well as the rest of Tiverton’s industrial area, was separated from Tiverton and formed into the town of Fall River, Rhode Island, by the State General Assembly. Six years later, a ruling in a case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court moved the state boundary lines, making Fall River, Rhode Island, part of Fall River, Massachusetts; it also made Pawtucket, Massachusetts part of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

As it stands now, Tiverton is home to a National Weather Service weather station, and exists as a resort town and residential area suburb of the Fall River, Massachusetts area. Part of what makes Tiverton an excellent resort town is its location. The lands around the town include protected wetlands, high bluffs, coastal flatlands, the coast itself, and numerous other areas of natural beauty. The town has focused on preserving both these areas and a number of their historic buildings.

Some of these buildings are part of the Bourne Mill complex, named for whaling merchant and state legislator Jonathan Bourne. The mill was in operation from 1883 to 1961. Though most of the mill buildings have been vacant for decades, the complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. The town of Tiverton has partnered with Braintree-based developer E.A. Fish to restore 10 buildings on the site and reuse them for a mix of residential and commercial purposes. The main mill building will be transformed into upscale rental units. One of the proposed buildings is a restaurant looking across Cook Pond to the Fall River industrial area which is still home to numerous historic mills and is where Durfee once had his mill.

Tiverton provides a Web site and guide for a walking tour of the Historic Four Corners area, also listed on the National Register. Many early historic buildings in the village, including a blacksmith’s, a grist mill, and a general store, are still in use today, though not for the same purposes. The tour guide provides a keyed map of the area, along with historical information.

For more information:
Tiverton, RI homepage: http://www.tiverton.ri.gov
Tiverton Four Corners Walking Tour website: http://www.tivertonfourcorners.com/walkingtour.html
Bourne Mill History: http://www.bournemillri.com/history.html

Posted August 11, 2011

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