Potter Hill Mill Site
Potter Hill Mill Building
The main mill building on this site was built in 1843, and constructed mostly using Westerly pink granite. The mill expanded in 1885 by adding 2 buildings for the 200+ workers to fulfill their roles manufacturing wool textiles. The mill closed in 1958, and in 1977 was the site of a massive fire that destroyed most of the buildings. Many of the granite walls remain intact, however, the floors and ceilings have completely collapsed.
The Town of Westerly has allocated $400,000 of ARPA funding for the demolition of the existing buildings. It is unclear how much, if any, of the granite that forms the main structure can be reclaimed or repurposed, but it will be taken into consideration as the planning process continues.
The land on which the mill buildings currently exists is being considered as a site for recreational, educational, and historic components to improve and increase public use. Any improvements to the site will be ADA accessible.
Potter Hill Dam
Reducing flood risks and improving fish passage on the Pawcatuck River
Last rebuilt in 1903, the Potter Hill dam is in disrepair and poses flood risks to properties and residents who live along the river. A team of engineers, scientists and community partners are evaluating a set of potential solutions not only to address flood risk but restoring migratory fish runs on one of Rhode Island’s most prized rivers.
Public Safety and Resilience
The Potter Hill dam and raceway are failing, its water control gates are inoperable, and the dilapidated Potter Hill mill is falling into the river. Remains of the mill are also a significant public safety hazard, and the raceways associated with the dam are intricately linked with the mill.
The risk of dam failure poses a challenge to the community, and the risk will only increase as intense rains increase in frequency and coastal storms are predicted to become more powerful.
Fish Passage Restoration Offers Federal Funding Opportunity
In 2020, the Town of Westerly received a $100,000 grant, the first phase of a multi-year funding award from the NOAA Restoration Center, matched by the Town of Westerly, TNC and other potential sources, to study fish passage improvements and flood mitigation, including full or partial dam removal. Engineers and scientists have assessed the dam, analyzed sediment samples, and investigated potential changes to properties along the river, bridges, wetlands, and other environmental features and infrastructure. Further analysis, investigation and data gathering will continue as the project progresses.
A Wild, Scenic & Healthy River with Benefits
The Potter Hill dam is the last major barrier to migratory fish and impediment to public water recreation on the Pawcatuck River. Reconnecting the river will complete a two-decade effort to benefit recreational boating, improve water quality, and open habitat for spring-returning adult river herring, American shad and young eel. Herring and eel are key forage fish for striped bass, bluefish, osprey, seabirds, and other fish and wildlife, and American shad are prized sport fish and seafood. Restoring a healthier river also means greater recreational uses: swimming, fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, and eco-tourism. Site improvements can also improve public access. A healthy environment goes hand-in-hand with a healthier economy.
Community Outreach and Involvement
A community outreach strategy is currently under development, and will be implemented to seek community input with questions, concerns, and comments the public may have regarding the Potter Hill Mill project. This engagement process will include the Town of Hopkinton.
Questions, comments or concerns can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
NOAA Story Map: Reopening Rivers to Migratory Fish in the Northeast
We hope you enjoy this story map released by NOAA featuring the Pawcatuck River and the Potter Hill Dam. Photos of the two areas may be viewed by scrolling on the right-hand arrow to Photo Clips 6-9 in the "Stewardship and Tourism" section within the "Supporting Fish & Communities" Section.