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Pony Truss Bridges

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1885, Boston Bridge Works. School St. over the Albion Mill Canal and the Blackstone River

The sizable brick Albion Mill went up by increments on a tight site in a scenic stretch of the Blackstone, where the river is channeled through a narrow valley with steeply rising and wooded banks. Built in four major campaigns over seventy years, it finally reached a length of nearly 400 feet. The scenic potential of the site is enhanced by the broad spill of water over the curved slope of the fine granite dam upstream, as well as by what is probably the finest display of metal pony-truss bridging in the state, its original lacy quality only slightly altered by low safety rails around 1990. One riveted Platt pony truss spans the granite-lined power canal; then, two pin-connected pony trusses, resting on a midstream granite pier, carry School Street over the Blackstone, with the spill over the dam visible through the latticing. They enhance the character of the mill and dramatize the double waterways typical for all old mill sites—the river and the canal off it into the underbelly of the factory.

The size of the mill is hard to grasp because of the perspective views of it forced by the fit of the plant into the length of its narrow site, with its end elevation on School Street. What exists today began with the construction c. 1850 of a five-story section 120 feet long (later augmented by a sixth story), with double scroll bracketing under the eaves and segmental-arched windows, at the center of the long, narrow block. The Chace brothers gained control of the plant in 1854. They nearly doubled its length in 1874 with a second five-story (later six-story) addition, attached to the south end (in the direction away from School Street) of the original structure. The addition uses the same bracketing under the eaves and the same window rhythms as the older section but, in place of the segmental brick arches that cap the earlier window openings, has rectangular windows with cast iron lintels and sills. One of the most forcefully proportioned brick industrial stair towers in the state was also built at this time, on the side away from the river, close to the precipitous rise of the hill. In a wide-faced, looming tower, the segmental-arched loading doors climb between flanking windows to a brick-paneled parapet at the top story which serves as a base for a hierarchical ordering of narrow arches in a 2-3-1-3-2 arrangement by height and size, all closed by wooden louvers. They screen the water storage tank. But also observe how the fifth story (immediately below the level for the water tank) prepares for the finale by also being inset as a panel with a projecting molding course to set it apart from the floors below. It is all topped by a projecting cornice. Unfortunately, manicured alterations to fit its new role as a foyer to condominiums vitiates some of its original force. Successive additions to the north of the original block in 1904 and 1921 (this time toward School Street) show larger, segmental-arched windows with granite trim, and another, thinner tower, this one facing the river. Although well proportioned, it lacks the impact of the other. (The 1904 extension swept away a stone mill from the early nineteenth century.) Finally, to the south are more twentieth-century additions, with walls in the more modern pier-and-spandrel formula and floors spread horizontally, in contrast to the narrow, elongated quality of water-driven mills during the nineteenth century.

The Albion Mill continued in textile manufacturing until 1962, eventually as part of the giant Berkshire-Hathaway operation. After a period as a luggage firm, beginning in 1987 it was converted into apartments, the old wooden sash replaced by plastic similacra. Although more of the rugged integrity of the old mill has been retained than in most such conversions, it is still sad to see this great industrial whale diced into condominium sushi.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Pony Truss Bridges", [Lincoln, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-LI35.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 203-204.

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