Great Road History

Historic Great Road - Moffet Mill
Historic Great Road – Moffet Mill
Courtesy Blackstone Valley Tourism Council

The area which presently encompasses the town of Lincoln was included in Roger William’s original purchase from the Narragansetts  around 1636.  A year later this land transaction was confirmed by deed, and the English began to settle on the land between the Blackstone and Pawtuxet Rivers.  The woods or “outlands”  north of Providence were initially used intermittently for hunting, fishing and harvesting of marsh hay for cattle feed.

In 1661 Thomas Arnold, a member of Roger Williams’ original party, bought a tract of land in southern Lincoln, near the present day Lincoln Woods.  The first one to settle in this area was his son Eleazer, who moved to Lincoln in the early 1680’s.  In 1683 the Colonial government authorized the construction of the Great Road along the route of an old Indian path, the Shawomet Trail, and through the Arnold land.  The road, which ultimately extended from Providence to Mendon, Massachusetts, was designed to connect the growing town of Providence with the agricultural hinterlands.  The road soon became a major transportation route for travelers between Providence, Woonsocket and Worcester, and a number of taverns and hotels, including the Arnold Tavern, were built along the road to accommodate daily coach traffic. Numerous homes and farmsteads were also built and a small community was developed in Lincoln.

The lime deposits at the head of the Moshassuck River in Lime Rock constituted the most important mineral resource in the area.  The mining and processing of lime for use in mortar began in the late 1660’s at Dexter’s Ledge, and represented one of the earliest industries in the United States.  Thomas Harris also opened a quarry at Lime Rock in the late seventeenth century, where the stone was mined and burned.  When treated with water, the slaked or hydrated lime was used in the manufacture of glass, paper, and whitewash, leather processing, sugar refining, and as a neutralizer for acidic soils.  By 1750 Thomas’s son David Harris had also bought mineral rights from his brothers and turned his lime deposits into a major industry.  Soon thereafter, eight kilns were in operation, burning lime from the North, Middle and South Hill quarries.  The lime production sparked a number of active support industries, including quarrying, coopering, and hauling.

The Great Road served as the primary route for transporting the products of the growing lime industry.  In 1738 the town of Smithfield passed a Highway Act which provided for surveyors and six days a year of mandatory service from the town’s able-bodied men to maintain the road.  By the end of the 18th century, however, the circuitous and often difficult terrain traversed by the route prompted local businessmen to seek an alternative.

The Louisquisset Turnpike was chartered in 1805 to provide a shorter link between Providence and the developing Lime Rock settlement.  The turnpike company was allowed to set shares and charge tolls to pay for construction and maintenance costs.   The Turnpike soon replaced Great Road as the major route for lime products to Providence, but since it terminated in Lime Rock, the Great Road remained an important thoroughfare north of the village.  The creation of the Blackstone Canal and River Road in the 1820’s and 1830’s further directed traffic away from Great Road.  By the 1870’s, with added competition from the railroads, the road was relegated to the status of a country lane.

Prepared by the Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc.

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