Providence, a booming city of the industrial revolution, was home to scores of successful industrial mills. Now, nearly two centuries later, many of the mills remain a significant part of the Providence landscape-abandoned, useless, and falling apart. Many of these currently under utilized mills, including National and Providence Worsted Mills of Olneyville, have recently been added to the National Registry of Historic Places, acknowledging their importance to the history of American cities. Renewed commercial interest in the mills has burgeoned of late, as private developers seek to turn these huge run-down spaces into mixed-income housing, artists' lofts, offices, and other commercial space. In many cities, revival of the mill spaces is strongly linked to the desire to redevelop downtown areas. Though some fear the increased gentrification of poorer urban neighborhoods, many mill revivals are promising new job sources, some opportunity for lower-income housing, and more commercial traffic to less developed areas. The National and Providence Worsted Mill, of which Rising Sun is a part, is undergoing such changes now.
Rising Sun Mills is part of a larger complex of mills built between 1881 and the 1930s. The ten-acre, 13-building National and Providence Worsted Mills complex sits on two blocks in the Olneyville neighborhood. Relatively simple in design, the buildings have a timber-frame construction and flat or slightly sloping rooftops. The load-bearing red brick walls allow for more continuous room in the interior for factory equipment. The buildings had different functions, from storage of raw and finished materials to yarn production to cloth production. The height of each building ranges, but the two tallest ones stand at four tall stories. The large arched windows allow more daylight into the expansive interiors, and the dark brick smoke stack still stands as a testament to its industrial past.
The general aesthetic of the mill complex is anonymous, following standard principles of contemporary factory design. However Rising Sun stands out because it is among the first complexes of its kind to undergo major renovations, and therefore serves as a model for the future of many of Providence's historic factory buildings.
Established in 1875 by an English immigrant named Charles Fletcher, the 1867 Rising Sun Mill became the first building in Fletcher's yarn factory, Providence Worsted Mill. The operation began in a an old stone mill called Rising Sun Mill around which the brick factory campus expanded. The original Rising Sun Mill eventually burned down but its name was resurrected for the most recent housing conversion that is taking place on the property. Over the years, Providence grew to be the leading manufacturer of worsted cloth. Worsted produces a smooth and polished fabric, ideal for coats, cloaks and military uniforms. Another of Fletcher's mill complexes, the National Worsted Mill, merged with the Providence Mill in 1893 to become the National and Providence Worsted Mills. Around the early-1890s, the company employed 750 workers from Providence and surrounding areas and was one of the largest consumers of wool in the nation. National and Providence became the American Woolen Company in the mid-1890s, and production at the mills continued into the 1950s.
The Rising Sun Mills are currently slated for redevelopment with Struever Brothers and the Armory Revival Company. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse , based in Baltimore, specializes in adapting historic property for contemporary use. The plans for the $56-million Rising Sun Mills project include 142 loft apartments at mid-market prices and 125,000 square feet of commercial office and retail space. This project is the first major upper income targeted housing development to brave the area. Many community groups are worried that developments of this source may raise property taxes for nearby residents, potentially forcing the neighborhood's low income residents out of affordable homes and jobs. In November the Providence City Council approved a $5 million real-estate tax break, which included conditions meant to encourage Struever Brothers to assist in the development of affordable housing in the Olneyville and Valley neighborhoods (in coordination with the nonprofit Olneyville Housing Corporation), provide jobs for "community hires," and assist local businesses with an emphasis on involving Minority Business Enterprises and Women Business Enterprises.
Contextualizing Rising Sun: Other Mills
The legacy of Providence's Industrial heritage can be found in vacant buildings, as well as buildings that have found another life.
Some Providence Mills Currently in Use:
Some Other Mills Slated for Revitalization:
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