Millville transforms itself into simple, quiet community
Boston, Providence commuters now live in former mill town
By Teri Borseti, Globe Correspondent, 3/04/2000
The community, which wasn't incorporated until 1906, has seen hard times over the years, but recently it has reinvented itself as a simple, quiet community.
Powered by the Blackstone River, Millville was home to a number of wool mills, one of which eventually was purchased by US Rubber Co. when it was one of the largest boot manufacturers in the world.
Irish and Canadian immigrants worked in the mills for generations, but after the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Depression, most of the mills shut down.
Mill owners, no longer wanting to maintain the mills, petitioned the state to release the water from the town dam. When the state complied, the water level dropped so low that it rendered the town hydrant system useless, and insurance companies refused to insure Millville properties.
The town, which was bankrupt, became a ward of the state from 1932 to 1944, when it regained the right to conduct its own affairs.
The economy began to improve after World War II, but before the town had a chance to refurbish and renovate the old mill buildings, a number of them burned down.
Laure Berhelette, town clerk and president of the J.G. FitzGerald Historical Society, said fires have plagued the town for the past two centuries.
In 1897, a large fire destroyed a large hotel, a barber shop, a bottling works company and several homes. Berhelette said that whether the mills were made of wood or brick, the oil-soaked floors made them susceptible to fire.
The most recent fires took place in 1977, 1978, 1993 and 1994, leaving the town without a single mill today.
"Millville was a popular destination for single men who needed jobs. Since they had nothing to do after work there were quite a few bars in this town around the turn of the century, but they're long gone now too," said Berhelette.
There was a time before automobiles and malls became popular that two trains, the Boston-Hartford-Erie and the Providence-Boston, stopped in Millville daily, she said. The Bowen bus line also provided public transportation to Woonsocket until the 1950s.
Today the most convenient routes used by commuters to Boston, Worcester and Providence are interstates 90, 395 and 495 and state routes 122 and 146.
Now Millville is mainly a bedroom community for Providence and Boston, but real estate broker Lenny Desjardins said new construction is beginning to draw people who work within Route 495 in the high-tech and computer industries.
"A Milford developer recently bought a large parcel of land and is planning to build 43 houses there. They'll probably be four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath Colonials with two-car garages on an acre of land, and they'll go for between $225,000 and $250,000," said Desjardins, who has been selling properties in Millville and surrounding towns for 28 years.
DesJardins, also a builder, said he's in the process of building a three-bedroom ranch house near the town's modest center. When it's completed, the house will list for $159,000.
Before the Depression, he said, the population was about 3,500. After the mills closed, or burned down, the population dropped off to about 1,800 and stayed that way for years. Today the population is back up to 3,110 and climbing.
"It's a nice, small town and people who live here want to keep it that way. We have a low crime rate and good schools and services and that's it," said Desjardins.
A new elementary school recently opened and last year a group of residents, with the help of some money from the town, built a playground for young children in the center.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 3/04/2000.
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