Harrisville is a unique mill village that preserves the scale and setting of the numerous mill villages that were built on waterpower sites throughout New England prior to the Civil War, during the early stages of America’s Industrial Revolution. Today the village retains its two early textile mills together with a range of related buildings – boarding houses, workers’ cottages, owners’ houses, a store, meeting house, school, dams and mill ponds – in an isolated rural setting free from highways and automobile related sprawl. Of the many small mill villages that developed in New England in the first half of the nineteenth century, Harrisville alone has survived in its original form due to the continuous successful operation of the Cheshire Mills form 1852 through 1970. Harrisville’s significance as one of the best-preserved industrial communities in America was recognized in 1977 with a National Historic Landmark designation.
For 150 years the textile industry provided a livelihood for the town, and to some extent, the neighboring hill farms. In 1970, the bankruptcy of the Cheshire Mills threatened the future of the entire town. In response, townspeople and preservationists made one of the first successful efforts to protect the architectural and functional character of an entire historic village by forming Historic Harrisville, Inc. (HHI). For forty years Historic Harrisville has continued to renovate old mills and mill-related buildings to attract new businesses that keep the town working and generate sufficient income to maintain the buildings. The architecture of the village’s housing and its economic mix are protected through Historic Harrisville’s direct ownership of affordable units and deeded preservation covenants on mill-related houses. Easements on open land protect the rural setting from sprawl that would undermine the well-defined settlement. The mills and mill-related buildings owned by Historic Harrisville are home to various small businesses and manufacturers, artists, writers, a daycare center, a textile retail store, the post office, and affordable housing. Historic Harrisville also owns and operates the Harrisville General Store.