HOPKINTON – On April 5, 1795, Lois (Allen) Nichols and her husband William set out from North Kingstown’s Sherman Farm in their carriage. They were headed toward Boston Neck where they would make their new home. On Lois’s lap was her 17-day-old son Gardner.
Thirteen years later, they removed to Kingston, two years after that to Natick. When the now-teenage Gardner decided to take up the cabinet-making trade, he went alone to Providence where he stayed for just a year before his employer’s business failed and he returned to work on his parents farm.
At the age of 23, Gardner moved on to Exeter where he learned to make wagons. Before long, he was in Tug Hollow making looms. A job as a factory repairman then brought him to Richmond.
In 1824, he partnered with Russel Thayer to purchase an old carding mill, two houses and water privileges at the foot of Mechanic Street in the Hopkinton village of Carpenters Falls, for $2,425. There, Russel conducted the fulling of cloth and Gardner manufactured tools for woolen machines.
Carpenter’s Mills would now be christened with a new name. “I will call this place Hope Valley,” Gardner announced. “Because all my hopes are centered here.”
Russel sold his share of the company in 1835. The buyers were Josiah and Joseph Langworthy, the brothers of Lois Langworthy, who Gardner had married on Dec. 6, 1827. With that, the Nichols & Langworthy Machine Company was born.
The mill was enlarged two years later and became nationally famous for its manufacture of cotton and woolen machinery, printing presses, steam engines and boilers, and steam yachts. The mill included a tall tower with a clock face on all four sides. The clock rang out the hours with a dependable din that could be heard for miles.
In 1840, Gardner built a house for his family, which now included two sons; Amos and Henry, on Mechanic Street. All of his hopes for this valley came true in the ensuing years, although life was not without hardships. On Nov. 29, 1876, his wife died of liver disease. Four years later, he would gift the Hope Valley Baptist Church with a new pipe organ in her memory.
On March 19, 1875, 43 local people got together to purchase a gift for Gardner, a dictionary of the English language, by Noah Webster. On the first page, carefully inked scroll announces, “Presented to Gardner Nichols on his eightieth birthday.” Beneath the inscription is a list of the 43 presenters which includes his sons and other family members, the Burdick and Greene families, the Tanner and Lewis families, the Smiths, Watrouses, Olneys and Langworthys.
Gardner Nichols died of pneumonia on Oct. 13, 1881 in Hope Valley. His friends gathered around his bed as his breathing slowed and it was said that his watch, lying atop his bureau, stopped at the exact moment he died.
His obituary read, “For old and young, he always had a kind word, was always cheerful and ever ready to do a kind deed, either physically or financially.”
Five years later, a terrible flood damaged the mill. In the spring of 1909, nearly all the company buildings were destroyed by fire.
The mill still stands though the machine shop is long gone. The village atmosphere no longer echoes with the call of a clock. Gardner Nichols reposes peacefully in Pine Grove Cemetery. But the 146-year-old dictionary, aged and fragile, still exists - still calling out the names of those who loved its recipient.