The Rockville community of Millis is situated at the southern edge of town along the banks of the Charles and developed ca. 1818-1825 around a cotton mill. (A scythe and edge tool shop, 1780, was the community’s first industry.) This mill is believed to have employed the first lace loom in America. Rockville experienced a growth spurt with the construction of a felt mill, "The Rockville Mills", in the 1870s.
The felt was made from rags ground up; the fiber was then carded and mixed to separate the good fibers from the bad. It was then formed and pressed to the thickness needed, depending on what it was to be used for. It was then dried, measured, rolled or folded in a finishing room. Due to the combustible substance of the operation’s material, i.e. wadding felt and fillers, the Rockville Mill burned and was rebuilt several times.
It eventually became known as “The Waite Felt Mill” to reflect a change in ownership, manufacturing felt for different purposes: a lightweight felt used for shoulder pads in suits, a heavy felt for saddle pads and for use in athletic equipment. Operations were extended further by adding the manufacture of beaver, a desirable textile of the times.
On February 1, 1899, the American Felt interests leased the mill but it closed down in 1911. The American Felt Co. of Boston purchased the entire operation in March of 1912, making felt for all conceivable purposes, even experimenting with substitute felt leather until changing times and industrial conditions caused them to dispose of the buildings, land and water privileges to the town of Millis in 1920.
Transportation to and from the Rockville community was primarily by road, although, for a brief period between 1853 and 1864, a less convenient and often intermittent option of rail travel was available. The Medway Branch Railroad offered roundtrips between Medway through the Rockville area to North Wrentham (now Norfolk), where passengers could connect with the Norfolk County Railroad to Boston (or, for a very short time at its beginning, to Blackstone.) The good folk of East Medway (Millis) were offered stage connections to the line at Rockville. Travelers could take a handcar from Rockville to Medway when the trains weren’t running (apparently a common occurrence), which must have been an exhilarating trip during a 19th century New England winter. Understandably, passenger traffic was insufficient to keep the line profitable, it eventually went bankrupt, and the rails and stock were sold in 1864.
Many charming, older homes (two built in the 18th century) and structures (a chapel and a fire station) exist in Rockville (17 are listed by the Massachusetts Historical Commission on their MACRIS site), making Rockville an ideal candidate for a historic district. Federalist architecture at Rockville ranges from one high-style cottage with Gothic details (ca. 1820-25) to double workers' houses with endwall chimneys (ca. 1818-25). Scattered elsewhere in town are two-story, hip-roofed houses, examples of which have varied plans; at least one stone house (ca. 1750-75) exists with shallow overhangs at the second story and gables, a type commonly associated with Connecticut. The Victorian Gothic style chapel was built in 1877.