Biography of Doctor William Grosvenor

The subject of this biography, was a descendant in the fifth generation from the original purchaser of the Mashamoquet tract. He was the son of Doctor Robert Grosvenor, and was born in Killingly, Conn., April 30th, 1810. He attended the best academies of his native state, and his father, needing his early assistance in the practice of his profession, sent him first to the Chemical Laboratory of Yale College, and afterward to Philadelphia, where, for three years, he had special advantages in connection with the hospitals of the city, and attended the lectures of the Jefferson Medical School, at which he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1830. He immediately became associated with his father in medical practice, and in this connection he continued for four years, when he moved to Providence, and there he spent the ,remainder of his life.

The event which occasioned this change of residence, and thus gave a new direction to the whole course of his life, was his marriage to Miss Rosa Anne Mason, daughter of the Hon. James Brown Mason, of Providence. Her parents had died in her childhood, and Miss Mason was the ward of her uncle, Mr. Amasa Mason, of this city. Doctor Grosvenor came to Providence with the intention of continuing the practice of his profession, but finding himself in the midst of associations and interests connected with business, he soon abandoned his purpose, and engaged in business as a wholesale druggist, with Mr. Edward Chace, the copartnership bearing the name of Grosvenor & Chace. At the end of five years the copartnership was dissolved. He then embarked in the business of ” stocking ” calico printers with the cloth which they used, and in this business he continued till 1860. In 1848 he had been appointed to act in the place of Mr. Amasa Mason, who had become disabled by ill health, in the management of the mills at Masonville, in Thompson, Conn., and on the death of Mr. Mason in 18.52 he was made the administrator of his estate, of which one-fourth part became the property of Mrs. Grosvenor. He also succeeded to the entire management of the manufacturing property of the Masonville Company, of which Mr. William H. Mason then owned one-half, the other half being the property of his wife and her sister, Mrs. Eaton.

He thus entered upon his career as a cotton manufacturer, a career which he pursued to the end of his life, with rare judgment, with singular assiduity, and with brilliant success. His earlier enterprises of business, especially that connected with printing cloths, had been successful, and with the capital thus acquired he soon purchased all the shares of the Masonville Mills, except those belonging to Mrs. Grosvenor. These latter were, in 1868, bought by his two sons. An interest of one-sixteenth was also sold, in 1860, to Mr. Lucius Briggs, the resident manager of the mills, which he retained till 1883. The plant was soon greatly enlarged, old mills were brought together by new connections, new mills were erected, the water power more fully developed, and the productive capacity of the whole was greatly increased. In 1864 Doctor Grosvenor bought what was known as the “Fisherville Property,” and certain adjoining lands to the north of it, extending to Wilsonville, for the prospective advantages which they offered. In 1866 the Masonville Company changed its name to Grosvenor Dale Company, its village being from that time known as Grosvenor Dale, and the Fisherville Company took the name of North Grosvenor Dale Company, with a corresponding change in the name of its village. Two years later the two companies were united, and now bear the common name of Grosvenor Dale Company. New mills have been built and great changes have been made in the condition of both these properties. Additional water power has been acquired and steam power has been superadded. A large reservoir has been created, with dykes and embankments of great solidity and strength, and tenements have been constructed for the operatives employed by the company. The entire property now bearing its name extends over a tract of four miles in length in the valley of the French river, a branch of the Quinebaug. The original mills of which he became the owner in 1854 then contained 7,500 spindles and 180 looms. For the past three years they have had 88,176 spindles and 2,357 looms, the spindles having been reduced in number without diminution of product, in consequence of improvements in their make.

From his settlement in Providence in 1837, Doctor Grosvenor’s life had been almost constantly devoted to active business. The change from professional pursuits to the pursuits of trade is a critical event in the life of any man. With him it had led to almost uninterrupted success. He began his new occupation by giving constant attention to its daily demands, and by making himself master of the principles and methods by which it was to be conducted. In doing this his professional experience may not have been without its advantages. It had formed in him the habit of careful attention to the details involved in the work in which he was engaged, and had taught him to guard against surprises in the condition of markets and the movements of trade. It may thus have done its part to secure the success which he continued to have for the period of forty years almost without drawback or interruption.

His first period of leisure was taken in the year 1860, when, for the benefit of Mrs. Grosvenor’s health, he accompanied her with his elder children on a visit to Europe. The absence was greatly beneficial to them all, and would have been prolonged had it not been for the anxieties and sorrows occasioned by the civil war, which began in the following year. The daily tidings of battle and slaughter, and the spectacle of the two great sections of the republic at war with each other, were doubly distressing to loyal citizens away from their country. He came home early in 1862, as did so many others from every part of the world, to do whatever might be in his power in the service of the country, and especially to be as near as possible to the exciting and distressing scenes which were then engrossing public attention.

On his return he immediately connected himself with the patriotic services which were already in progress in Rhode Island. In the following year he was chosen a senator from the town of North Providence, where he had resided since 1849, and he immediately -engaged in all the movements that depended in any way on the action of the legislature. He was made a member of the legislative committee on finance, and his careful judgment and well-known determination as a citizen of large resources, made him an authority in the financial questions before that body. The whole energy and strength of the state were then enlisted in the service of the country. Taxes were levied in amounts beyond all precedent, and Rhode Island was ready to make every exertion and every sacrifice which the crisis might demand. In promoting all these movements the senator from North Providence was actively engaged during his period of service.

In 1866 he was again chosen to the senate. The war was now ended and the legislature of the state was occupied with new questions, the chief of which were how to maintain the public credit and pay the public debts, which had swollen to large proportions. In addition to these matters of finance were questions as to how the legislature could best provide for those who had been disabled in the war, and how it could best honor the memories of those who had fallen in its battles. In the deliberations and discussions relating to these he took a very active part, and did much in shaping the measures that were adopted. He was a member not only of the finance committee, but also of the joint committee of both houses appointed to select a suitable site for ” a monument to the memory of the officers and men from Rhode Island, either in the army or the navy of the United States, who lost their lives in the service of the United States during the late rebellion,” and to procure designs and estimates for the monument. It was through the agency of this committee that the ” Soldiers’ Monument ” was erected, which now stands. in Exchange Place in Providence.

As has-been mentioned, he became a resident of North Providence in 1849, having at that time built as the home of his family an attractive mansion, on a farm belonging to Mrs. Grosvenor, not far north of the city line and now contained within it. In 1872 he removed to the house which he had bought on Prospect street, in which he passed the remaining years of his life. Long before this date he had given up the immediate care of the large business of the Grosvenor Dale Company to his two sons, Mr. William Grosvenor, Jr., the managing agent in Providence, and Mr. James B. M. Grosvenor, the selling agent in New York. Soon after his early settlement in Providence he had become connected with the congregation of Grace Church. He was for several years a member of its vestry, and was also an active and most helpful member of the committee for the erection of -its beautiful and costly house of worship on Westminster street. He was fond of society and dispensed a generous hospitality, and thus kept alive his interest in the new generations which were taking the place of that to which he belonged. His constitution was always robust, and at the age of seventy-eight years he retained his powers, both of body and mind, almost unimpaired. His death took place with very slight premonition, August 10th, 1888, at Maplewood, New Hampshire, whither he had gone for a brief season of summer recreation. It was occasioned by an acute and sudden affection of the heart and the lungs.

This sketch was prepared for the proceedings of the Rhode Island Historical Society, published in 1889.



Windham County CT,

History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889. Additions and corrections © by

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