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Wanskuck Mill and Village

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Founded for the manufacture of woolen worsteds by three major textile industrialists, among whom Jesse H. Metcalf became dominant, the Wanskuck Company eventually took over other Providence plants, as well as country mills in Oakland and Mohegan (see Burrillville). The focal point of the brick mill ( PR184.1; 1862–1864, 1874–1875; major building, c. 1885), 725 Branch Avenue, which now houses various operations, is its bottle-shaped tower, in which the square plan below tapers to an octagonal belfry, with an ogee-curved copper roof and arched openings in every face, each of which contains a (fast deteriorating) double-arched wooden frame. Such bottle-shaped towers derive from brick steeples and industrial chimneys. In some of these towers the tapered transition is “shouldered” with curved shapes; in others, as here, it is wholly angular and more easily built. Several extant Rhode Island mills have towers of this type. Of all of them, Wanskuck and the Pawtucket Hair Cloth Mill in Central Falls ( CF2) are probably the finest: this one partly for the superb proportioning of the segmental-arched loading doors within their recessed arched field; partly for the handsome circular inset for the oculus at the point of transition, with its bronze letters proclaiming the mill and its date; partly for the commanding scale and shape of the belfry. For the rest, the five-story design is handsomely straightforward. Its plain brick wall is punched with windows silled in granite and capped with segmental brick arches, which miraculously retain their original multi-paned sash. Across the way at 754 Branch Avenue is Wanskuck Hall ( PR184.2; 1881), in minimal brick polychrome with spotty granite trim and widely bracketed eaves, which served for community meetings and as a social center.

Up the hill behind Wanskuck Hall, at 21–28 Winchester and 29–36 Vicksburg streets, is the company's housing ( PR184.3; 1864). Rows of four brick duplexes in granite trim with end chimneys face each of these two streets. Although a few other examples of piered wall construction may be found in what little brick industrial housing exists in the state, no other so consistently employs this kind of wall to frame the openings. Unusual, too, and perhaps unique is the lift of the flank gable into a cross gable over the paired entrances. (The precedent is probably English.) Other nearby streets show less well-preserved wooden housing of various vintages, which is more characteristic of Rhode Island mill housing (but see especially Lonsdale, Berkeley, and Ashton, in Cumberland, for other brick examples). The mill superintendent's house ( PR184.4; 1880, Stone and Carpenter), 158 Woodward Road, is a fine example of high, angular, multigabled Stick Style, with structural framing (or its surrogate) revealed on the exterior, which is covered in a mix of clapboard and shingle. Awning-like shingled hoods emphasize windows toward the street. The peaks of the principal cross gables step out slightly, with medievalizing ornament in their pinnacles under the projected eaves.

As a blunt evocation of English rural precedents, the Gothic Revival Roger Williams Baptist Church, the company church for the village of Wanskuck ( PR184.5; 1866; 1892 addition, Stone, Carpenter and Willson), 201 Woodward Road, could well have been built by mill masons. Before the diffuse addition to the rear, it was quite compact—truly a “chapel” consisting only of the chunky bell tower with its flaring, pyramidal cap and cross-gabled meeting hall behind. Curled over the simplest of pointed windows on both side gables is the church's name in a variant of the bronze letters on the mill tower. The cornered entrance into the western gable seems to have been part of the original building.

Across Woodward Road from the church is Wanskuck Park ( PR184.6; opened 1949), originally the site of the Jesse Metcalf estate. Metcalf's wife, Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf, was the force behind the founding of the Rhode Island School of Design. Their son, with the same name as his father, and a United States senator, succeeded to the house. It was his widow, Louisa Sharpe Metcalf, who gave the property to the city as a park with the proviso that the family mansion be demolished. Wanskuck Park had barely opened to the public before the closing of the mill as a Wanskuck operation in the 1950s.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Wanskuck Mill and Village", [Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-PR184.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 127-128.

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