Image of the Phenix Mill and the rear of the Baptist Church located in West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Set in the northwest corner of West Warwick, the village of Phenix had its origin when a dam and a cotton mill were built here by the Roger Williams Manufacturing Company in 1810. Following an 1821 fire, the mill was rebuilt with an improved water-power system on a site between Main Street and the river. Like so many early milling ventures, this newly named Phenix Manufacturing Company failed, and in the 1830s the mill was purchased by Crawford and Zachariah Allen, noted mill planners and builders. Between 1839 and 1867 the mills were purchased by the Lonsdale later, Hope Company--the corporate successor of the old Providence merchant house of Brown & Ives. The Lonsdale Company already had wide experience in operating textile factories both in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Thus, early in their history, the Phenix Mills were tied into a corporate system which coordinated purchasing, production, and marketing for several mills.
As in the other villages, housing for mill workers was constructed in Phenix. The houses at 776-78 and 780-82 Main Street c. 1822 are typical--plain, functional dwellings--and may be the oldest houses of their type in West Warwick. The first house of worship in Phenix was built for a Sabbath School Society in 1827; by mid-century, there were three Baptist meetinghouses. In 1857, one of these was sold to a Roman Catholic parish serving an immigrant population. By 1850, Phenix was a well established village with mills, mill housing along Main Street and the side streets north of the river, many private residences especially on the former Atwood estate, broken up in 1825, churches, two banks, and a post office.
Before the Civil War, Phenix probably had a population of fewer than soo. while it was not the largest of West Warwick’s villages, it played an important role as a commercial center, its stores serving a wide population from nearby farms and villages. Phenix’s role as a center for shopping left a distinctive mark on the village in commercial buildings, such as the mid-nineteenth century store at 735 Main Street and the Spaulding Block c. 1845 et seq. at 9 Pleasant Street. In addition, successful merchants constructed handsome and relatively sophisticated houses in the village. Especially notable are the Brown House c. 1840 at 19 Fairview Avenue and the Spencer House 1847 at 2 Ames Street. This last is one of the finest Greek Revival houses in Rhode Island and was built for William Spencer, one of the village’s leading citizens--an undertaker, a builder of stores at Phenix and Lippitt, the local postmaster, and president of a bank.Source: Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission- Historic and Architectural Resources of West Warwick, Rhode Island: A Preliminary Report