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Condominiums and Offices (Allendale Mill and Company Store)

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Allendale Mill and Company Store
1822, Zachariah Allen (designer), John Holden Greene (builder). 1844, storage buildings near tail race. 1864, engine room, south side. 1880, masonry addition. 1910, brick addition. 1988, conversion to condominiums. 494 Woonasquatucket Ave.

The original (1822) four-story masonry mill is among the historically significant mills in the state. In the technology of the textile industry, it is important as the site of the first use of power looms for the manufacture of broadcloth, and the first mill to use a rolling process to impart a glossy finish to cloth. Traditionally considered to be the first use of slow-burning wood construction (see WO15), it is now viewed as merely a pioneer exemplar of a mode of wood interior construction emphatically championed by Zachariah Allen as a means of reducing constant mill losses by fire. When his substantial efforts to create fireproof construction here and in other of his factories led to no reduction in Allen's fire insurance rates, however, in the 1830s he organized a consortium of industrialists to self-insure against fire. The Allendale Mutual Insurance Company took its name from this place, although its headquarters building is in Johnston ( JO10).

Allen's contribution to building and manufacturing technology aside, however, the 1822 portion of this mill is an example of the early masonry type, with massive walls of stuccoed random rubble masonry, domestic-sized windows, and (originally) six-over-six sash. Projecting in front is a compact tower (long missing its original cylindrical wooden belfry) and, at the ridge of the roof, a unique dormered monitor (which seems to have been early altered from the narrow slit of a trapdoor monitor to increase light in the top story). It is not as pretty a mill as its contemporaries in cut stone; but Allen specifically ridiculed owners who wasted money on cut stone for factories when rubble walls surfaced in stucco would do.

The upstream (north) end of the mill, mentioned in Henry-Russell Hitchcock's Rhode Island Architecture (1939) as a memorable image, is unique, although somewhat spoiled by careless window changes. It is best viewed from the bridge between the mill and its dam, to the north of the factory. The stepped and angled profile of the dormered roof combines with bulky, stepped buttressing at the corners of the building to make an intensely shaped image in both silhouette and three dimensions, its masonry mass relieved only by two widely spaced tiers of paired windows. These corner buttresses were not, as is customarily assumed, installed to dampen the vibration of the machinery inside, but to dampen a freakish sympathetic vibration induced in the wall structure from the frequency of the waterfall—a mystery which Allen himself eventually solved. A third buttress midway along the river wall completes the only example in Rhode Island of a building correction for vibration. Close by is a fine example of the almost vanished craft of large-scale drywalling for the tail race.

Together with its two additions, the three sections of this mill clearly reveal the typical progression of the factory type toward bigger units, larger windows, thinner walls, wider spans in column placement, and greater uniformity in membering as machines increasingly took over from hand craftsmanship, and the eventual shift from masonry to brick as the dominant walling material for the nineteenth-century mill. Steel framing, let alone reinforced concrete structures for factory buildings, came slowly to the United States. The 1910 addition is still timber supported. Although steel reinforcing hardware became more widely used over time, “slow-burning” wood construction was so highly regarded by American insurers that it persisted in much factory design well into the twentieth century, long after it was anachronistic in most of Europe. It is these tall, open timber interiors, with their industrial grime sanded away, which attract a generation enthralled by “loft living,” although studio spaciousness, let alone loft spaciousness, tends to disappear when spaces are, as here, conventionally divided.

Broad, gambrel-roofed workers' houses (c. 1824) ranged across the mill front, until demolished for apartment parking. Allen's company store (1822), in stucco-covered rubble masonry like the mill, but piered, still stands immediately to the north of the factory. It has been noted as among the earliest extant Greek Revival buildings in the state, although with such a rudimentary portico of piers and pediment that, were it in brick, its “Greek” aspect might disappear.

North of the mill along the river, in various states of preservation, are several gambrel-roofed workers' houses of the type which also once existed in front of the mill, as well as other types of housing (for example, 500, 512, 518, 522–524, and 535 Woonasquatucket Avenue, all c. 1824). Allen laid the houses out with the provision of space for subsistence gardens. At 530 and 542 (c. 1850), two-story Greek Revival houses, originally identical, with a rhythm of simple two-story pilasters running around the clapboard walls, served as boardinghouses for single workers. They repeat the pilasters of the store, perhaps indicating that this treatment, in Allen's mind, gave greater dignity to community buildings.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Condominiums and Offices (Allendale Mill and Company Store)", [North Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 164-165.

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