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Georgiaville Mill Complex

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1813, dam and first mill (mill demolished). 1828, 1846, additions. 1853, Zachariah Allen's mill, possibly Thomas A. Tefft, architect, and James Bucklin, builder. 1865, tower. 1871, enlargement. 1880, brick warehouse; 1970, reinforced concrete addition. 1987 and later, conversion to apartments. 15 Higgins Ln.

The principal building of the mill complex incorporates as adjuncts two of the earlier mills, all in stuccoed rubblestone. Although its formal front faces north, toward the mill court, where a later owner added a tower (originally mansarded, now flat-roofed), the south front, toward one of the principal approaches to the village and toward Allen's projected green, is the more visible of the two. There Allen's designer (possibly Tefft) concentrated his aesthetic effects. Notwithstanding the serious damage to this elevation by the incongruous addition in 1871 of a top story in brick, the original intent is evident. The center of the building projected as a piered wall, topped by a broad pediment with a stepped triplet of arched windows (sliced off at either end into a “gabled dormer” when the fourth floor was added). (The piered centerpiece of the mill matches the treatment of the women's boardinghouse. Hence another hypothesis: was the men's boardinghouse erected first in a simple vernacular for use initially as a barracks for construction workers, and the women's dormitory then built to the higher architectural standard of the factory centerpiece?) From this piered and pedimented seven-bay centerpiece, plain walls extended ten bays in either direction, with a simple cornice molding under the eaves and cornered by crude pilasters. Pediments similar to that on the south elevation also capped the end walls. As built, it was the most ambitious of the Greek Revival mills, with the barest suggestion of Italianate influences which were just then coming into vogue, and more self-consciously designed for aesthetic effect than the Allendale mill, as, it seems, was the village at Georgiaville. In his Rhode Island Architecture, Henry-Russell Hitchcock described the original building as possessing “something of the grandeur of a baroque palace and the solemnity of Greek Revival public buildings.”

The architectural ambitions evident in the mill, the use of piers for visual effect, and the nascent Italianate influence in the arched windows at points of compositional climax all suggest the influence of Thomas Tefft as designer and James Bucklin as builder. As yet no documentation proves it, but Tefft's Cannelton Mill (1848–1849), still standing in Cannelton, Indiana, and shown in a drawing by Tefft at Brown University has similar features. A drawing in the Zachariah Allen Papers at the Rhode Island Historical Society proves that Allen laid out the machinery floors. In the Georgiaville factory Allen continued his inventive ways by introducing long, hollow wooden shafts (instead of many individual pulleys), which turned three revolutions per minute faster than current speeds. Along these he spaced the belting to run his machines. Widely noticed at the time, the system was little followed. After Allen's 1857 bankruptcy, a series of textile and machine tool entrepreneurs operated the plant until its conversion to apartments in 1989. A village once dedicated to production is now given over to bedrooms.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Georgiaville Mill Complex", [Smithfield, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-SM31.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 260-261.

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