AIR Historical :: Merchants Cold Storage
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Merchants Cold Storage

recent history

The Merchants Cold Storage Warehouse was taken down in 1998-2000 as part of the redevelopment of the old Cold Storage Provisions Warehouse District. Jefferson Place stands in its spot now, and the only surviving structure from the warehouse district is the Fruit Warehouse, now under private ownership (thereby making its future uncertain, although all public plans have been for reuse of the building).

Its too bad that this building was gone right before the big trend to turn these structures into housing... the buildings thick sound-dampening walls would have made it perfect to host band practice spaces or even a few techno dance clubs. There is a similar building (built for the same use) in Paris that has been transformed into band practice and recording studios. Its even worse that it was replaced by a building that wont last the same 100 years that the Cold Storage building did.


National Register nomination prepared by Anne Tait and Virginia Adams, 1994, for the Public Archeology Lab, Pawtucket.

The Merchants Cold Storage and Warehouse Company began this large, and architecturally impressive warehouse in 1894 and closed its doors in 1992. The six story warehouse was constructed of solid brick walls with recessed gothic-revival style arches, corbeled belt courses, and drip mouldings, all capped by a flat roof. The building originally contained 300,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space carried on substantial wood beams and posts, a framing system used throughout subsequent additions to the building in 1896 and 1899.

In 1893 Israel B Mason purchased 90,000 sq ft of space on Kinsley Ave to build a state-of-the-art cold storage warehouse. It opened for business on June 1, 1894, with 840,000 cubic feet of space. It was increased to 1,260,000 cubic feet in 1896, and again to 1,800,000 in 1899. It was officially named “Merchant’s Cold Storage Warehouse Co.” in 1911. In 1992, the business closed and was defrosted for the first time in its 98 year history.

Designed by Stone Wilson and Carpenter in 1894, the earliest section of the MCSW lies on the Kinsley Avenue (north) side of the lot. It was eight bays on the north, by eight bays on the west, by six bays on the east. The south elevation possesses the most elaborate vocabulary of architectural ornament on the building, including large, two-story wood sash topped with pointed Gothic arches with decorative brickwork. A belt brick course ran between the second and third stories, and a brick corbelled cornice ran along the roof line. Third story windows were 6/6 wood, double hung sash. Rusticated stone work was used for sills, foundation, and stairs. This section held the three story boiler room, engine room, offices, and tank room.

The six story cold storage area is comprosed of five sections, with solid wood beams and a maze of pipes mounted to the ceiling that carried chiiled brine (salt water) throughout the facility. Walls were composed of two layers of wood holding either cork or mineral wool for insulation.

Until 1993, many components of the buildings mechanical support systems remained in place. The 1894 section included boilers, Harris Corliss high pressure steam engines, and three Linde Compressors built by Fred W. Wolf of Chicago. One Harris Corliss steam engine is now stored at the Slater Mill National Historic site in Pawtucket, and measures 32" x 42" with a 14’ flywheel. In 1910, a larger refrigeration set was installed alongside the original equipment. The ice machine was 16" x 30" with a 100 ton capacity. A more efficient system was installed in the 1950s, including a York automatic compressor, and a 500hp Carrier centrifugal compressor, circa 1946.

Richard A Mitchell Apr 5 2016 Back in the Early Forty when I was growing up In Providence, R.I. my Dad worked for Merchant Cold Storage as a truck driver. He left us in 1948. I want to Thank You for making sure that us kid have something under the tree at Christmas. What I’m looking for is some Picture picture about the Plant. I did fine a Picture with The Name Merchant cold Storage close to one of the side near the top. But has faded. The old back Dock. The Old Train Siding. Would have a Picture of the step Van that he drove for the Company. I’m updating in my the history of our early Life to the present. Richard A Mitchell of Lincoln, Ne.

Andrea May 9 2015 My Grandfather saved lives when they had a ammonia spill in the 40s.

Bill Nov 23 2013 My father worked in Merchants Cold Storage later called Providence Cold Storage for many years as head of maintenance. I worked here many summers in my teen years defrosting the giant freezers, we would cut off the supply of cold brine going to the room, the pump heated brine thru the pipes, then literally, beat the ice off the pipes, shovel the ice up and dump it in the parking lot, 6 foot snow pile in August… I also got to paint the old steam engines that were inoperable but still in the engine room. I did lots of cleaning and painting in and on this building. I also did some exploring, some areas of this building were very creepy. There was a couple old elevators that ran off water pressure to move them, my Dad got them working once just so we could say we rode them (talk about creepy) these were scary and slow, but was an experience I will not soon forget. He worked here until it closed for good, broke his heart when it was torn down… Anyway many good memories with Dad in here.

Brian Sirois Feb 26 2010 My Grandfather used to own Wesco Banana directly across the street in the Farmers market. There was a tunnel that led from the main underground tunnel across the street to Merchants Cold Storage. It was never used during my time there, but my father remembers it. Once, after Maide Rite left the building and PFD was using it for training, a friend and I went exploring and found a door ajar. That building was huge, with what looked like Teak flooring and mazes of stairways. I did venture into the basement to see the other side of the tunnel. I didn’t stay there long because it was dark, humid, moldy, and very creepy. Since I did work across the street I was familiar with the size of the rats and the vagrents that frequented the outside dock area I didn’t stay long. One of the homeless’ names was "Buckshot" who liked to frequent to loading docks after hours to get loaded or take a nap.

melanie June 9 2008 for a brief period in the early 90’s i lived in this building, in the top apartment (if you want to call it that) with the two arched windows. previous tenants had built a sleeping loft, above which there was a fantastic old skylight/window. they’d also had a stage set up along the back wall. there was a huge, heavy door behind the stage, and beyond that was storage – junk (some of it mine, left behind), and stacks of flat cardboard boxes. as you can imagine, it was always a bit chilly in there. looking out those arched windows at the river was amazing. the apartment was broken into at one point, and soon afterwards i moved out. i wish i’d poked around in the building a bit more while i had the chance. looking at this photo certainly brings back memories.

Jayelle Bland, indeed. To think that someone actually replaced this with that cardboard deathtrap is absurd. The new condos must be for out-of-staters who don’t know any better. By the way: 02 “903” is really not a cool place to be.

matt maraia I can remember this massive structure from when i was a child. My Father owned Maid Rite Foods. I spent the majority of my child hood snooping around this building and was very upset to see such a beautiful building get knocked down.

Jenn ;I remember one night when my band and a few other people from other bands that also practiced at the Merchant’s Cold Storage Building grabbed some flashlights and ventured into the basement. We found just piles of old restraunt items and paperwork but behind a large wooden sliding door…
   We came across a tunnel with cages on each side. They held old furniture and other junk. We followed the tunnel to another sliding door and came to a staircase with peeling greenish blue paint. We went up the stairs and realized we were in the warehouse next door. A giant room that was once a freezer or refriderator was the whole first floor. More junk on the second and what looked like an apartment on the top floor. Letters were found in the closet that reviled children working at the factory that “had to get up early in the morning to shovel coal into the furnace before they could start work because it was so cold.” Do you have any info on that or the tunnel of cages?

The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.

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