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Phillipsdale Factories

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1883–1884, Richmond Paper Company; 1900–1902, 1926–1928, Phillips Electric Company–Washburn Wire additions; 1930–1936 and later, other wire companies. 293 Bourne Ave. 1899, Glenlyon Bleachery, Hilton and Jackson(?), J. W. Bishop Co., builders. 1 Noyes St.
  • Phillipsdale Factories

The factories are best viewed from a parking area a little north of the intersection of the railroad tracks and Bourne Avenue. The brief tenancy of the Richmond brothers, Franklin and Charles, belies the significance of their venture. They moved from Providence to set up a new operation under exclusive license to use a pioneer Swedish patent for the manufacture of wood pulp paper by the sulfide process, after earlier American experiments were abandoned. The sulfide process eventually revolutionized the industry by enormously increasing paper supply while decreasing cost—and, as is now sadly apparent, also diminishing its life, as testified by the disintegration of whole libraries of modern books and journals. The cost of building the plant and developing its technology, however, led to bankruptcy and Phillips's succession. Although difficult to discern today, the Richmonds' brick plant, elaborately corbeled and initially supported by heavy timber framing (as it mostly still is) exists within Phillips's peripheral accretions. Buildings in a near-symmetrical layout originally housed the process, beginning at the river with a three-story block which was originally floorless in order to contain a row of silolike vats in which wood chips stewed in sulfuric acid to a near pulp, thence through the manufacturing process, to finishing, storage and office facilities up front. There a stubby tower (once with a high pyramidal cap) provided for stairs and corporate identity.

Eventually, two major wire manufacturing firms succeeded Phillips-Washburn: Kennecott Wire and Cable around 1935, then Okonite around 1950. Shortly after taking over, Kennecott built the warehouse building, which runs along the end of Bourne Street. It is a familiar free-span industrial type, but uncommon in Rhode Island. The exterior wall is nothing more than a one-story brick base, above which a curtain wall of metal sash hangs from an interior frame. A series of light steel trusses, slightly bowed at the top to accommodate the curve of the roof, butt against every fourth vertical of this window wall. They span the entire width of the building. Halfway up the window wall, the principal horizontals mark the tracks on either side, along which the carriage of a huge bridge-beamed, wall-to-wall crane slides beneath the latticed girders within this luminous gridded space. Laconic, elegant, and heroically scaled: such industrial architecture inspired Mies van der Rohe toward the intensification of these qualities in his metal and glass architecture later in the century. Finally, the buff brick Glenlyon Bleachery across the street more self-consciously attempts a monumental image for its factory in the high quality of its brickwork, the generous proportioning of windows to wall, and the somewhat mixed, but knowing, Renaissance detailing of its forceful entrance tower. An architect must have been involved here, possibly Hilton and Jackson, who designed the company housing.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Phillipsdale Factories", [East Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-EP5.

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