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Mill Workers' Boardinghouses

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1854, 1855, possibly Thomas A. Tefft with James Bucklin. 34, 38 Whipple Rd.

This pair of nearly identical Greek Revival buildings, four and one-half stories in stuccoed rubblestone, set gable end to the road, with the mill as backdrop in the same material, provide the distinctive image of the village. Zachariah Allen had used the same material in Allendale. Then he had chided manufacturers who wasted money on exposed cut stone except where structural need or hard usage made it expedient, as for windowsills or lintels and door frames. Those who invested in exposed masonry did so, he believed, merely to aggrandize the public image of their factories and themselves. Of the two lodging houses, number 34 (to the left, viewed from the street), which housed male workers, is a perfectly plain box, except for a slight projection of the wall at the gable ends of the attic. A pair of arched windows framed by a larger arch opened into these gable ends (now partially blocked in this building), with a raised frame around it within which flanking piers, primitively capped, simulate support for the arch.

Curiously, however, its companion building for women, number 38, is somewhat more grandly articulated. A projecting base for the ground floor provides a ledge from which piers rise between window stacks, those at the corners being further articulated by rudimentary capitals. Moreover, unlike the uniformly rectangular windows throughout the men's quarters, those around the top story next door are arched. Did Allen intend this modicum of grace as an appeal to his female workers? Or was the change occasioned by functional or (more likely) economic considerations—where plain walls might have been cheaper than piered; or the reverse, where the reinforcement by piers may have permitted thinner walls overall? Or does the more elaborate version represent architectural intervention? Whatever the reason, as early as 1822, Allen had erected a piered store and boardinghouse amidst the plainer walls of family housing in Allendale (see NP).

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Mill Workers' Boardinghouses", [Smithfield, 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, 260-260.

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