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Lippitt Mills

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1809–1810, Mill No. 1. 1830, Mill No. 2 (bleaching). 1865–1871, other buildings. Dam rebuilt, 1889. Main St. at Wakefield St.

To understand the nature of the most ambitious textile mills in Rhode Island at the threshold of the Industrial Revolution, Slater Mill in Pawtucket ( PA15) and this one are the obvious starting points. Whereas Slater Mill (1793) is a museum, Lippitt Mills may be the oldest American textile mill still in industrial operation (and, what is more, until around 1980, in continuous textile production). By comparison with the near-domestic scale and mien of Slater Mill, this represents a jump in size and a sharpened typological distinction between early industrial buildings, which tended to use domestic and institutional prototypes, and the more specifically “industrial” aspect of a specialized mill type which was just then beginning to be defined. Originally planned for two stories plus a trapdoor monitor story in the roof—then a new feature for lighting the attic spaces of industrial buildings—the Lippitt mill was lifted another story during the course of construction. Its right-angled siting to Main Street places its belfry on the gable roof at the entrance end of the mill (as at Slater), more in the manner of eighteenth-century institutional buildings than the projecting stair-towered belfries in later mills, which are typically centered between flanking walls. Here the stairs were originally inside the building (the brick tower on the north side being an obvious addition). The open, octagonal belfry itself, miraculously preserved, shows the attenuated elegance of the Federal style, which is also more appropriate to institutional than industrial buildings. A stack of loading doors, topped by a hoist down the front of the building, unfortunately removed in a 1984 reconstruction, once animated this elevation, and provided vertical reinforcement to the belfry on the roof. Although the wooden interior construction with post supports and plank flooring was apparently altered around 1830 to improve fireproofing, this too remains essentially true to the original. It was built for spinning only, as was usually the case for textile mills of this period; the Lippitt organization initially farmed out weaving to home industry, some of it, innovatively, to inmates of the Vermont state prison.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Lippitt Mills", [West Warwick, 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, 327-328.

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