Among the wooded hills and winding Pawcatuck River in the northern part of Charlestown is the small, former manufacturing center of Shannock, shared with the Town of Richmond on the river's opposite bank. The houses and various structures are sited close to the street line with white picket fences, mature trees and stone walls. Shannock owes its existence to the upper and lower falls on the river, where in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries several saw, grist and woolen mills were established. These were small operations serving only the local area.
Shannock's first two mills appear to have been saw mills at the upper falls, today's Horseshoe Falls. These mills existed before 1759, when they were willed by Jeffrey Babcock to his son Abraham, and may have been in use as early as the 1730's. In 1771, Joshua Clarke bought the two mills and soon added a woolen mill nearby where he manufactured blankets for the colonists fighting in the American Revolution. Other early mills nearby included a saw mill erected before 1815 on the upper side of upper falls and a grist mill at the lower falls, operated by Jesse Wilcox in 1828.
The real growth of manufacturing in Shannock took place with the construction of the New York, Providence and Boston Railroad through the area in 1837. The railroad, which became part of the "Shore Line" from New York to Boston in 1858, passed through the village, permitting the economical shipment of raw materials and finished goods.
With the coming of the railroad, larger factories were constructed on both falls. John T. Knowles built a cotton and woolen mill on the lower falls. It was subsequently enlarged by George Weeden and sold in 1875 to A. Carmichael and Co. The Carmichaels built a beautiful estate called "Riverview" on the Charlestown side of the village overlooking the river on the hill where in 1636, years before the colonists had established themselves in the area, the Narragansett and Pequot Indians fought a fierce battle for fishing rights.
However, it was the Clark(e) family that had the largest impact on Shannock. Along with the early mills begun by Joshua Clark and his son, Perry, Simeon Clark constructed a large stone mill in 1848, powered by the Horseshoe Falls, where he developed the manufacture of cotton yarn. Eventually the factory was expanded and mill worker housing, stores and a community hall were constructed. In 1918, the Clarks built a model village, Columbia Heights, for their workers. Constructed on the old Card farm in Charlestown, it was hailed for its innovative design in providing modern worker housing on a level never before seen.
Simeon's son, George Herbert Clark, along with his son, George Perry Clark, continued the operation under the name Columbia Narrow Fabrics Co., until it closed in 1967. Five generations of the Clarks and their families were instrumental in the evolution of this unique South County village, which today still exhibits much of the original visual appeal of the past.
A fine collection of historical photos of Shannock Village is available on driftways.com.
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