To quote from “The Urban Mill Restoration and Tax Exemption Act”, introduced in February, 2002 by the RI General Assembly:
- WHEREAS, Industrial mill buildings are an important part of the historic fabric and architectural heritage of our state; and
- WHEREAS, Rhode Island’s mill buildings employed one hundred and forty thousand people, more than half of the state’s workforce, at their peak in 1920, and were among the largest and most productive factories in the world; and
- WHEREAS, Many of these buildings today are suited to new residential, commercial, and institutional uses because of their large floor areas, strong masonry construction, high ceilings, large windows, and ability to support heavy floor loads; and
- WHEREAS, Commercial and fine artists have given new life to old mills by establishing new working and/or living spaces in these buildings; and
- WHEREAS, Federal, state and municipal restrictions discourage the indiscriminate demolition of many of these mill buildings; and…
- WHEREAS. Most mill buildings are located in urban neighborhoods that have suffered from lack of new residential, commercial, and industrial investment; and
- WHEREAS, It is the policy of the state to preserve its industrial heritage, and to promote the adaptive reuse of industrial mill buildings… [and] It is the policy of this state to encourage commercial and fine artists to live and work in Rhode Island and in settings that are suitable to their work.
We believe the state said it best in the introduction of their 2002 tax credit bill. ArtInRuins came along in 2002 as well to track the happenings of mill buildings and industrial remnants in the state, as well as the plight of artists who inhabit these spaces.
Document the changing architectural landscape and to collect the oral, written, and photographic history of these important places. Be a safe space for storytelling, memory-sharing, and dreaming about the future of our built environment.
As Providence continues to grow, many industrial and historic buildings are being razed to make way for chain stores and expensive loft apartments. What happens to the artists, musicians, and small businesses that inhabited them? What happens to the City as they are forced to move away? What happens to our connections with history? What do we really lose when we don’t preserve our past? These are some of the questions ArtInRuins tries to discuss.
We also want to celebrate the region’s great history. At the end of the 19th century (1890-1900), Providence had the “Five Industrial Wonders of the World”1:
- Brown and Sharpe, the world’s largest tool factory;
- Nicholson File, the world’s largest file factory;
- Corliss Steam Engine Company, the world’s largest engine factory;
- American Screw, the world’s largest screw factory; and
- Gorham Silver, the world’s largest silver foundry.
In 2001, a development corporation by the name of Feldco approached the city of Providence to raze the a mill complex and put in a shopping center. That mill complex was known as Eagle Square and was home to a collective of artists called Fort Thunder. Eagle Square quickly became a rallying cry. Protests ensued. The development went forward but the new plans saved a few of the buildings and converted them to retail use. The replacement buildings were slightly better (than they might have been if the outcry did not happen), with brick facing and massing more similar to their historic counterparts.
While Eagle Square was a failure in some ways — artists were forced to move out and the shopping center went forward, albeit with a more sensitive design — it spawned some important artist organizations, some of which remain today (2020, the year of this writing). Those include The Steel Yard, Monohassett Mills, The Hive Archive, The Plant (alas its non-profit real estate developer, Puente, is no longer), and this blog.
We have been documenting the region since 2002 and collecting the histories that make Rhode Island special in the hopes that we may learn from, and preserve, our past.
ArtInRuins was founded by J. Hogue, Sarah Clover, and Kathleen Griffin. Sarah contributed many photos in the early years, and Kathleen contributed writing about the artists that lived in these spaces for sections called “Interviews” and “Stories.” It proved to be too difficult to continue writing and interviewing people, and those stories have been archived. Sarah has moved on to other parts of the country with occasional visits to Providence and Kathleen is an artist living and working in New York. Both Sarah and Kathleen were graduate students at RISD from 1999–2001.
J. Hogue continues to maintain, design, and take photos for the site. Over the years many contributors have helped collect history or photography, and we do our best to credit them on the individual property pages.
We are thankful to the individuals that have purchased t-shirts, posters, and made monetary donations to the project. You have our gratitude and we will always try to acknowledge your generosity. We are also thankful to the businesses that have hired Highchair designhaus over the years for design and web development projects. In your own ways, you have been helping to sustain this project.
There are a few sources for this claim. Heritage Harbor Foundation mentions it in this page: heritageharborfoundation.org/heritage-harbor-six-big-ideas/wonders-of-the-world/: “By late 19th century, Providence is a world leader in production od (sic) cotton, wool, base metals, precious metals and rubber. Corliss, Gorham, Brown and Sharpe, Nicholsen (sic) File and American Screw are dubbed the ‘Five Industrial Wonders of the World’.” ↩